Intermittent.. Or is it?

When I first began exploring Arizona with a fly rod the word intermittent was a dreaded word. To me it meant lifeless water, a tease. A little creek that contains no fish, a wasted trip. Even the dictionary definition of the word looks grim when related to fly fishing.

Intermittent: of a stream or body of water appearing and disappearing seasonally sometimes dry. -Webster’s Dictionary

Worst of all is that Arizona is full of these ‘creeks’.

My opinion of these creeks has begun to change in recent times. With a few successes at these so called ephemeral streams there seems to be much more permanence than the name suggests. A hidden pool shaded by sycamores or a short reach of flowing water seem to be all that southwestern fish need.

Fishless water or hidden gem?

My most recent attempt at an ‘ephemeral’ creek fishing trip began how most of Arizona fishing trips do. A dry, boulder filled stream bed to scramble through. I saw a puddle here and there, but it has been a very wet winter so that did not necessarily mean success.

Not so fishy looking

After hiking around the boulders of the creek bottom I began to have my doubts as to the ability of the valley to hold fish. I was very successful in scaring lots of doves (coming back in the fall with a shotgun maybe?). The walls of the canyon itself was unique to the southwest, a volcanic rock cap over brilliant red/orange sandstone.

The first pool of significance I came to was nestled right along the sandstone wall. At first glance the pool appeared empty except for a few water beetles and a heavy covering of cottonwood seed fluff. I put a woolly bugger followed by a midge on the line and dropped it in the pool. More so because I’d hauled a rod up this canyon so I might as well fish it. The second cast hit the water and small fish darted out and tried to eat a bugger that was the same size as it was! Ah fish at last!

The pool had surprising depth and despite the warm week proceeding my visit the water was cold. The groundwater must be hitting this pool and refreshing it with cool, fresh water.

By my fourth or fifth cast I had hooked a tiny fish. Upon closer inspection it was a roundtail chub! Of course, what other fish could live in a creek that is both a small home swimming pool sized hole in 100 degree weather or a snowmelt swollen torrent pouring down the rocks. A truly impressive fish that evolved for just these kind of conditions!

One little chub, I’m not sure how it managed to get hooked

There were quite a few small fish in the pool and a few larger which looked to be in the 6-10 inch range. I continued upstream to find a few more pools a fish or two and a lot of scramblin’ over a very uneven channel bottom.

Pool seemed to be too shallow to hold fish
A section of surface flow
A jungle in the desert
Shady pool with cruising fish
Big snake getting bigger with a new skin
A long, dry stretch

The fishing was slow and the fish were no trophies but it was a fun day on ‘the water’. Always rewarding when a dry wash actually has fish in it.

A few more examples across Arizona and New Mexico. There are fish in the most unlikely of places and hope for a new fishing spot springs eternal in the desert southwest!

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