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Old 12-30-2017, 09:29 AM
Bucksnort Bucksnort is offline
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Posts: 457
First year in AZ fly fishing


I apologize for this lengthy message but I am after some sorely needed information but before I ask, I want to say fly fishing in Arizona has been a culture shock to me. You may know I fly fished in Colorado for forty years. We moved to Giblert to be closer to our daughter and grandchildren.

When I say culture shock, I don't want anyone to think I'm a snobby angler just because I lived and fished in Colorado. My gosh, I take my hat off to the anglers in this state who are willing to crawl around on hands and knees to fish the small streams. But there are differences in the two states. Both states' game and fish organizations do a wonderful job keeping on top of what has to be done to maintain quality fisheries.

I want to explain how I fished in Colorado but before I do, I will say last year, I caught a grand total of two trout. Both were tigers. One came from Knoll lake and the other from Woods Canyon. The poor success wasn't from the lack of fly fishing experience but rather from the lack of knowledge about AZ trout waters. I couldn't have been all that bad of an angler because I was good enough to teach fly fishing through the now defunct Lowry Air Force Base Outdoor Recreation department for seven years until the base closed.

Until my back went south on me a bunch of years ago, I spent a lot of time on the South Platte River all the way from the middle fork above Fairplay down to Waterton Canyon, which is about five miles from my former home in Littleton. When it comes to moving water, I prefer short line, high sticking, indicator, pocket water. I was mostly a nympher but when hatches occurred, I would change to a dry fly and I did well with dry flies.

After back problems came around, I began heading for small high mountain lakes where I could drive with a 4X4 vehicle.

This is what I learned last year. The lakes southeast of Flagstaff don't do anything for me because I prefer clear water. I went to the White Mountains during the monsoon. That was a mistake. I went back to the Whites in October and didn't catch anything.

I took my grandson to Woods Canyon where both of us caught a 9 or 10 inch tiger. We also caught some sun fish - sun fish are part of my problem.

The lakes I sought in Colorado all had lots of fish but, just like AZ, most of CO's high mountain lakes would not have trout without stocking. I prefer lakes where trout regularly rise to the surface. I either cast a bead head nymph at a rising trout then quickly strip the fly or place a dry fly in the vicinity. If there are no rises for periods, I cast and strip and can sometimes entice a trout to take my fly.

I am not into the dropper method of nymphing and I'm not into sun fish. I don't mind trolling a large fly deep to get away from the tiny fish but would prefer action on the surface or just below. So, I'm looking for small lakes like Lee Valley or Aker Lake where I can get away from sun fish and find some rising fish. During the monsoon, I fished Lee Valley, where there were some fish rising, but didn't have a hit. I was soon run off the water by storms.

When I saw Aker Lake, I thought I had died and gone to fly fishing heaven. It is small, in a beautiful setting and had rising fish. I had one strike but no fish in hand.

Part of my problem is I'm not giving some bodies a fair shake. I went to Carnero and left because of the vegetation and where the best method is the dropper style. I visited Becker Lake and avoided launching because of white caps. During the October trip, I visited many lakes in the White Mountains. Only Becker and Carnero had someone fly fishing. All others had bait and hardware anglers.

Please help with suggestions.

I want.

1. clear water
2. surface activity
3. no sun fish

Last edited by Bucksnort; 12-30-2017 at 09:31 AM.
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Old 12-30-2017, 12:16 PM
Bucksnort Bucksnort is offline
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I have not explored any still water south of Flagstaff or south of Williams or around Sedona.
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Old 12-30-2017, 01:23 PM
Fly Rush Fly Rush is offline
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Join Date: May 2017
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I have fished most of this state, and when you find a lake that fits your criteria here in AZ let me know because I have yet to find one.

Christmas tree lake on the Res would be the closest one to what you are looking for.

Good luck!
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Old 12-31-2017, 08:36 AM
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david vaughn david vaughn is offline
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Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Payson
Posts: 1,265
Having fished the Rim waters for many decades, I have learned that the very best time for topwater action is very early or an hour before full dark. The sunfish don't seem to bother me too much in those time frames either.

I gauge surface action at Woods Canyon when the sun just starts to hit the western tree tops and continues dropping. The summer temps in Rim Country will keep most of the trout around 20' down. Being in a float tube with the legs in the water, I have found the cold water channel which keeps the trout in a somewhat tight pattern around the main body of water.

Same for Willow Springs with the sun starting to dip low on the horizon. During the day, I'll head south from the boat ramp and target smallies, or the trees east of the ramp for crappie action.

Consider spring and/or fall as the best time for trout action. During the heat of the summer, I know the action slows significantly, however waiting for Labor Day to arrive is agonizingly slow for me.

Labor Day for me signals the start of smaller crowds on/around these waters, as parents are prepping their kiddos for school; or prepping for hunting season.

Halloween signals nearly vacant and cooler waters, which turn the trout into active feeding mode.

Thanksgiving signals that "Ah Hah!" time, when the colder waters are turning the trout on to active feeding and nearly no-one anywhere near the Rim lakes.

Christmas is for the diehard fly-fishers, braving shelf ice for hours on end. THIS is the time for some of the best trout fishing on the Rim.

Not sure if you have a pontoon or tube, but I highly suggest you getting one as you will be better suited to getting into those pockets of water where the fish lurk. A kayak or canoe will work well, but not being able to feel the water temp's may hinder those channels of cooler water which hold the fishies.

Regarding water clarity, I don't think you'll find the same conditions as you were fortunate to experience in Colorado. Just another fishing style to learn, adapt and conquer.

Anytime you want to head up to the Rim waters, give me a couple days warning, as I'd need to make sure my empty calendar stays empty on those fishing days!

When we moved out of state 4.5 years ago, there were no sunfish in Woods or Willow Springs that I was aware of. Like yourself, I love topwater action and throwing in front of the cyclic patterns, groaning when an iddy biddy sunfish takes my fly. Sooo, I'm adjusting to these pesky little dudes.

I need to make the time to get onto Knoll Lake, as it's been a long time since I've dropped my tube onto those waters.

CC Cragin, aka Blue Ridge, should be worth the wait next year as well.

I shall also be picking up an annual fishing permit from the White Mountain Apache Tribe, which shall open up so many quality fishing waters as well. I fished several several months ago with Bill, and had limited success. A-1 treated me very well, while Bog and Dog (?) laughed at me. Lots of good looking water, just didn't know the pattern which would have hooked me up with the fishies.

Willow Springs had some open water from the boat ramp a few days ago, which makes me salivate to get up there and go on the hunt for some more Tigers and Rainbows.
- David

"Mistakes do not define you...mistakes refine you"
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Old 01-02-2018, 10:45 AM
Bucksnort Bucksnort is offline
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Join Date: Feb 2016
Posts: 457

Not all water in Colorado is always clear. I can think of a bunch of lakes that suffer (anglers are the ones who suffer) from turn over in mid-summer. I've caught fish in these conditions but still prefer clearer water. Waterton Canyon, where the South Platte leaves the mountains, can sometimes look like churned up chocolate milk. When I encounter these conditions, I find clear water.

Thanks for the information. I will contact you later in the spring for a day on the Rim. Yes, I do have a pontoon boat.
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Old 01-03-2018, 10:23 PM
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Mike Lyons Mike Lyons is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: North Scottsdale-winter/Pinetop-summer
Posts: 109
You are missing a bet...

Buck snort,
Carnero looks difficult and messy to get into and out of. It can be. Go anyway!! The lake has an EPIC damsel hatch early/mid June for about six weeks. IF the lake does not winter kill (about a 1 in 3 chance). With a little luck, and the right damsel pattern, 50+ fish days are not uncommon.

The good fish this year were 16-19". With the food base in the lake they will be 18-21", and a few around 24" in 2018. I get to spend all season long in Pinetop, and this is my favorite lake. There is also a cutthroat spawn on Big Lake that is not to be missed.

If you find your self in the Whites next summer, give me a call and I will give you current info or, if we can stand each other, we can try fishing together.
Happy New Year!
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Old 01-04-2018, 04:24 AM
Seldomseen Seldomseen is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 4,671
Look for best water conditions in May and June. Try the Whites again then although we may be facing catastrophic fire conditions come late spring at this rate.

Most invertebrate activity will be during the low light hours.

Once the monsoon arrives around the 4th of July, warmer overnight lows drive up the water temps and when we get a couple days with heavy cloud cover, you can really see the algae bloom results.

These days it seems often well into November before the waters turns and clears.
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Old 01-05-2018, 09:20 AM
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ejcrist ejcrist is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2013
Location: Desert Hills, AZ
Posts: 19
I haven't fished many lakes here in AZ since we moved here in 2007, but of the few I fished I liked Bear Canyon the best. I have a float tube which I prepped and packed down the hill to get to the water. I've had 3 back surgeries so I know what you mean about bad backs, but it's work-able if I take my time. The best time for me was a week or two before Memorial day before the crowds came in. Oftentimes me and my buddies caught our limits in a short time - it's put and take but I'm guessing holdovers were in there too. The water was always clear when I went there.

As for moving water I like Lee's Ferry walk-in the best. Oak Creek is ok but whatever you do don't go there during the summer when there doesn't seem to be anywhere without massive amounts of people swimming. Fall-winter-spring has been best for me at the Ferry. Summer is ok but you'll encounter water releases in the late morning-afternoon which makes for some hard fishing.

Just something else to think about, but maybe try some warm-water fly fishing. I moved here from MD/PA where I used to fish salt (Chesapeake Bay) and fresh, and when we moved here I kinda figured my fishing days were over, at least the kind of fishing I knew. But I adapted and became interested in cold water and trout and had just as much fun as I had back east. Later I got a Bass boat and now I fish the lakes and moving cold water. For a while there I thought I was only interested in trout but then I realized I'm happy as long as there's fish to be caught regardless of what they are. Since getting the boat I've expanded to Bass of course, Stripers in Lake Pleasant, bream, and Pike (Lake Mary). I've also had to tie a lot more flies as a result - something I love doing.

Anyway, long story short, I never thought I'd have so much fun fishing for warm water fish with a fly rod but I'm really glad I gave it a go. There's a lot of really fun fish to go after locally and most are very close by. Just something to think about.
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