The drive east of Flagstaff always has me wondering why I am driving through the desert to go fish. The reddish-tan landscape looks like I’m driving towards Mars instead of trout streams. Slowly the blue/grey hills in the distance get taller and the golden color of aspens start to take shape. Arizona’s White Mountains are like a part of Montana was taken and dropped in Eastern Arizona. With wide, windswept meadows and tress clinging to the leeward side of slopes. The area is dotted with lakes and crossed by little blue lines merging into increasingly larger ones.
Its an area that I have not spent nearly enough time exploring and I am currently doing my best to remedy that. The first stop we took was to a tributary of a tributary to the Black River. This picture perfect creek flowed through a valley that was at times half burned by old fire scars and at others under fir trees covered in Spanish Moss. The floor of the valley was thick with grass and wild rose (not my favorite AZ plant). As soon as the willows at the bottom broke enough to begin casting we moved down to the water and began tossing flies.
With sort of a mayfly hatch happening I tied on a size #14 royal wulff. It is my go to when I’m not sure what kind of hatch is happening and the fly is so elegant I have a hard time not picking one. The first few runs did not yield any risers.
A cast into the bubbling pocket water at the base of a small pour over caused the wulff to disappear in a splash. The first fish on of the day was a pretty little wild brown.
Now that we knew we hadn’t picked fishless water we moved forward more confidently. Casting into every possible slow pocket along the creek led to multiple fish, as well as many minutes spent stuck under rocks..
A few of the fish had brilliant coloration and the red spots seemed almost on fire as they prepared for their fall spawn.
Casting into one skinny and fast run of water lead to a much larger than expected brown! The wulff drifted quickly through faster water when it was interupted by a gentle take. When I set the hook there was nothing gentle about this fish! It drug me under the bank and then across under a rock in quick succession. After coaxing the fish out from under the rock it was trying to dig under and back across the current, I finally had a shot to net the fish. But it was not in the cards and it went on another run upstream. Finally, and with a sense of relief I managed to coax the fish into the net. I was very relieved upon netting the fish because all I could think of the whole fight was the three times too many knotted, franken-tippet I had jerry rigged at the truck, but apparently my knots were good enough today!
We moved out of the forest and into a beautiful meadow with a gently meandering stream and deep pools on the bends of the stream. The water was beautiful and yielded a few rises but the fish were incredibly spooky and long casts were a necessity! After many long casts with no rise or landing in the grass along the channel we were relieved to move back into a steeper forested section of creek.
After many long casts with no rises and many missed cast into the grass along the channel we were relieved to move back into a steeper, forested section of creek. As evening fell a few small risers chased out flies but most of them missed the fly or we missed them. Somehow one tiny brook trout managed to latch onto a mini hopper towards the end of the day.
The walk back did not have any fish in it, but the suns falling behind the hills gave the meadow some spectacular lighting. Some trade offs work out just fine.