Decades ago as a teenager, I was on one of my first Arizona rifle deer hunts under the Naegelin Rim where I was glassing for a buck in canyon country.
What caught my eye was an intriguing deep pool of water on Haigler Creek. After a short hike, I was at the water’s edge and saw numerous large rainbow trout feeding. They got me hooked on trout fishing in the backcountry also known as the wilderness.
Since that time I have fished the 15 miles of this stream from its headwaters to the confluence with Tonto Creek below Hell’s Gate.
The trout are predominantly rainbows, which are now stocked at various locations near the Haigler Creek and Alderwood campgrounds where the Chamberlain Trail road parallels or crosses the stream.
During the spring and summer the stock truck makes the journey to this out of the way stream twice monthly until Labor Day.
The headwaters of Haigler are best reached by the Fisherman’s Point access trail off the Chamberlain Trail, which is actually an old jeep road, which goes to the water’s edge.
The upper three miles of the stream is wild trout habitat that was last stocked in 1990 with rainbows and German browns and these trout have been naturally reproducing since that time.
The stocking was quite an ordeal with the aid of mules and metal panyards making several trips to the stock truck from the canyon floor.
This portion of the stream still has a healthy population of both species of wild natural reproducing trout. I would recommend this portion of the stream for only the most avid wilderness trout anglers because of the deadfalls and treacherous footing.
To reach Haigler Creek from Payson, travel 24 miles east on Highway 260, then turn right on the Colcord Road, FR 291. The first three miles of the Colcord Road are paved, then there are two miles of gravel before turning right on the Chamberlain Trail, FR 200.
The last seven miles to the stream is a narrow steep dirt road, which can be impassable during the rainy season and winter snows, making a four-wheel-drive vehicle recommended.
Haigler Creek is a popular camping and fishing destination on weekends, but Monday through Thursday is a different story. It is possible to be the only angler wetting a line during the week if solitude is important.
You can reach this out-of-the-way trout stream in an hour and 15 minutes. The forest service campgrounds are closed because of the COVID-19 issue, but the stream is still being stocked with rainbow trout. The portion of the creek between the campgrounds has easy access and relatively safe footing.
A half-day trout-fishing trip is so easy, living in the Payson area. Within an hour plus Tonto, Christopher, Canyon, the East Verde, and Haigler are all within reach and the hatchery stocking trucks are frequently visiting these popular Rim Country streams.
During the week it is the perfect place to take youngsters fishing with a good chance of catching trout. The pools up and downstream from the campgrounds usually have a hungry trout ready to take power bait, corn or a worm.
The thrill of reeling in a fighting rainbow may be the catalyst for the next trip to the outdoors. Catching fish catches on, especially for a youngster with their first fish.
I encourage you to make some special family memories in the Arizona Rim Country, God’s creation.