Fall is always a little bit tough to call in Flagstaff, some years the leaves change and temperatures drop and it all makes sense, other years it skips fall and goes straight to winter, from warm to bitter cold. This year however, summer never really seemed to leave, the only difference being the days have gotten shorter and the temperatures only a little bit cooler. This has been a blessing and a curse for me, there’s something to be said for wet wading and fishing foam grasshoppers in November, however some snow would be incredible at this point!
This fall has held some fun trips and given me time to explore some new spots. Some of the new spots are just new stretches of familiar creeks, while others are totally new to me. Fishing new areas always seems to be very rewarding if a little nervous to begin with. It is all too easy to return to the same stretch of creek you know will always produce good fish rather than explore a new stretch or little blue line on the map. Even when those lines turn out to hold no fish or are dry (we are in Arizona), the trip to a new area is always worth it. Even if that area is a fishless trickle of water surrounded by black berries and locust trees.
If I had stuck to the familiar this fall there is no way I would have been able to get into two of my favorite fish of the fall. The first came from XXXXX Lake outside of XXXXX (sorry I promised not to spill the beans on this spot). I had been told the area held some nice brown trout, however due to the relatively small size of the lake when I arrived I had my doubts the water had stayed cold enough all summer to support trout. With no surface activity I began stripping woolly buggers and nymphs along the reeds and felt a few fish halfheartedly nibble on the tails of the bugger. I continued fishing for the next few hours without any other success and got into the “I’ll tie this fly on because I like it” mode rather than try and match what fish were eating. On this rare occasion it worked. Despite not seeing a single sign of crawdads I tied on a crawbugger and began trying different retrieve rates.
Finally a fish hit while I was stripping in quickly! The fish jumped once or twice and I saw what I believed at a distance to be a rainbow, or at least for sure not a brown trout. As it got closer I realized it definitely was not a rainbow but something else. Finally I got the fish into the net and realized it was a silvery colored brook trout! Not what I had expected at all! The fish was not huge, however it is the biggest brook trout I have caught so far in Arizona!
After a few quick photos the fish darted back into the mud cloud we had created. That was the only fish of the day but it was definitely a nice surprise!
My other two scouting trips involve familiar creeks, but new areas. Both had their rewards in larger fish, if not necessarily high numbers of fish caught. I checked the first of the two areas out in the beginning of October on a 70 degree weekend (not much to complain about there). I began the day as I usually do on small creeks in October, with a grasshopper of course! The familiar pools and runs at the bottom held a few fish and my two friends I was with and I pulled a few small fish out as we moved up the creek. The fishing was consistent but not every cast like I know this area can be.
As we moved up creek the water began to flow both above, and below the rocks. It was wild having the creek lose and regain half of its flow every couple hundred feet! This section had beautiful pools and there was a crazy hatch going on at one point where the cloud of midges was so thick it looked unpleasant to walk through. Naturally the fish were not rising at all but would come up for the grasshopper.. match the hatch? I guess these ones really don’t care about that kind of thing.
In this section of water the size of the fish began to increase, and when I say size I don’t mean monsters, but far larger and more wily fish than lower down. The 3 weight rod and 6X tippet was never truly put to the test, however every once in a while one of these browns would take you on a journey around every stick, rock and log in their little homes.
After switching to a smaller fly (not catching anything) and back to the hopper (worked immediately) we moved into a section with a beautiful plunge pool colored a light bluish color. Unfortunately the fish in this pool seemed wise to our tricks, but just downstream of pools outlet Sean managed to hook a beautiful lightly colored brown that was almost all gold in color. We stopped just upstream of this pool but not before I snuck up to one last little pool. Without much hope I cast blindly around the corner of a rock and saw a splash. A hard fighting little brown went speeding under the rock it came out of, seemingly trying to bury itself in the bank. After a short but spirited fight the fish came to hand and after a few brief pictures it swam back under its rock home. Despite it being a small fish with only a 5 foot pool to run in, this little brown had gotten my hands shaking!
All in all an amazing little creek to fish and very glad I headed into some new spots in familiar water!
The middle of November seems an odd time to wet wade a trout stream, but when it is 70 degrees outside why not? Oak Creek is probably where I have spent the most time fishing in Arizona, however there are many reaches I have not yet explored. Luckily Ryan talked me out of lake fishing and we headed to the lower end of the creek and began moving our way up. The day was overcast and there were glorious hatches of caddis and mayflies out on the water. Naturally we only saw one riser all day. It seemed the fish were munching on so many emergering bugs that they had no need to go all the way to the surface. Every rock we turned over did not really seem to narrow down our search for the right bug, it seemed every stone had mayflies, caddis, worms, some stones and Ryan even found a hellgrammite ( a terrifying insect). . All these bugs spoke to health of the creek, however did not necessarily help us find a bug to use. There were a few reds in the gravel beds and we steered well clear of these but fish seemed to be holding mainly in the usual feeding lanes (warm weather delaying the spawn?)
Finally a beadhead copper john managed to bring a fish to hand. The fish had a beautiful, buttery belly and gave a good account of himself with two jumps and a strong run across current. Thankfully Ryan was able to get him in the net before he was gone!
Despite the day being slow it is always nice to get a nice walk in along the creek. This fishery is a fickle one and a spot a may never truly master, but it sure is fun trying!