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Whenever I research a slam trip like this I make sure to have backup options for each species in mind for just this type of situation. If I wanted to complete the Arizona wild trout challenge I needed to catch a brook trout and I was down to my last afternoon/evening to do it. Insert your clever sports cliché here. I knew of three creeks with brook trout in Arizona, two in the White Mountains, one on the Mogollon Rim. I’m sure there are several more, but in my research I only came across three. No one publicizes small streams, even ones with invasive species, so it’s up to me to try and develop intel with the help of local knowledge or books, other publications, and things I come across online.

Blake and I drove a couple hours from the Whites to the Rim to a lake outlet stream that I had heard held brook trout. After striking out twice this was last my chance so I took the lead on the creek. This creek was unlike any other we’d come across thus far on our trip. It was a narrow creek, one you could jump across in spots, but it held deep, still tannic water so you couldn’t see the bottom where it was deepest due to it being so dark. It was full of submerged vegetation too and really seemed like a good place for any coldwater fish species to live.

I started with a dry-dropper rig and really worked the spots faster than I should have been as Blake ended up catching a brook trout in a likely looking spot behind me.

It had come out from under a rock and hit the dropper nymph. I continued to cover water ahead of him at a faster pace than I should have, throwing a rig I probably shouldn’t have been. I was too focused on targeting the one dumb fish that every stream has, you cover enough water and you find him. Every once in a while I’d see a fish holding near the bottom, but they never took interest in my offering. After some time a young lady fly angler came by on the adjacent trail heading downstream of us. I took the opportunity to gather some much needed intel and switched up my rig after speaking with her. She convinced me to go small streamer and the closest thing I had was a tungsten jig bugger that my local Orvis in Baton Rouge always has in stock. I use it a lot for the bass and sunfish at home, it’s a good all purpose fly. The first or second hole I dropped it in and starting swimming along a weed edge I feel the rod come tight.

It was a damn brown trout. A gorgeous one, but these things are apparently like cockroaches in Arizona. I sent him back along his way and kept at it. I was looking for the obvious spots and fishing them hard. After Blake’s fish came from under a big boulder I had structure in mind.

Eventually I was able to swim the fly by a submerged log and out came the brook trout I was looking for. After a quick pic and a sigh of relief I realized just how far ahead of Blake I was and started trekking my way back toward him.

After I met back up with Blake that same young lady fly angler came walking back by. I thanked her for her help and I’m sure she thought I was completely nuts, but I had blinders on before talking to her and she showed me the light! With daylight fading we made our way back to the vehicle and continued on up to Payson. In Payson we found a hotel, had a proper Mexican meal, and found a local IPA worthy enough to count as a trip capper.

There is only one place in the World to catch an Apache trout in their native range and we were in that place so that was the goal on our second morning in Arizona.

We hiked up past where we thought the majority of folks fishing would access the stream. I recommend doing this on any stream you fish, usually if you are able to put even a half a mile between yourself and the nearest parking spot the fishing will improve. A mile or more is even better. It was still a holiday weekend too, so that was also in the back of my mind. Fishing was slow very early on, but as we moved further upstream the action picked up. I was throwing a dry-dropper rig early on, but after all the takes were on the surface I quickly ditched the nymph and went straight dry – an Adams style trude fly was the ticket for me.

This stream was a lot of fun and exactly what I’d hoped for when I had planned to fish here. It’s hard to beat native trout on dry flies.

We fished our way through the meadow section only stopping for a brief lunch. Once we made it into the tree line the stream started gaining elevation and we decided it was time to hike back to the vehicle. It was a fantastic morning and as we were walking back on the trail it was hard not to admire the stream along the way back. It is definitely one of my favorite places I’ve ever fished.

One thing that struck me on our trip was the amount of wild irises we came across in the White Mountains, sometimes in great big patches. We have plenty of wild and native irises in our wetlands back home, but I did not expect to see them in such dry conditions. I thought it was pretty cool that, much like trout, the irises have adapted well to different habitats.

As custom a celebratory beer was had as we came up with where we wanted to head next. If we wanted to complete the Arizona Wild Trout Challenge we’d need to shift gears away from the natives and start targeting the usual suspects, brown, rainbow, and, for me, brook trout.

After driving north through the Ouachita Mountains and the Arkansas River valley we made it to our next destination with daylight to spare.  At an overlook we got to see the river we’d get a chance to fish over the next couple days, it was as it looks in a summer time aerial image, low and teal in color.  A sign told us the color was due to the high mineral content in the water.  Large quantities of sulfur, manganese, and iron combined with the sediment load carried in the water causes it to appear aqua in color.  We continued on and got camp set up fast to walk down to the river and try our luck.

Chucking spinning rods it didn’t take long to get into fish.  The big green sunfish were ever present on this river as on the last, but so were the juvenile Neosho smallmouth.  We were able to catch a few before it got dark.  I even managed to catch a rock bass, a fish I haven’t caught since I spent some time in the Tennessee River watershed in North Alabama.  This river was quite different than the last, far less elevation change, no more big boulders, but tons of gravel.  Big long gravel bars along big long pools, not many fast flowing sections.  A tougher place to fly fish due to the slow water, but we’d give it a shot tomorrow.  I wasn’t too worried about tomorrow at this point, I was looking forward to dinner.  The NY strip, onions, and potatoes that were made on the cast iron pot were incredible.  I think we are getting better at camp cooking, even with interruption from dive bombing cicadas.

The next day was spent dodging rain showers and spot hopping along the river.  There were several access points upstream of where we camped that we checked out.  We fished at a few of them and probably should have spent more time at some rather than others, but that’s the joys of scouting.  It was nice to have a road alongside the river for much of the way, the only slight annoyance was when the large groups of ATVs drove by.  We must have been near some major OHV trails with the amount of ATV traffic that was in the area.  The fishing was pretty good, no real big fish, mostly smallmouth with some spots and sunfish mixed in.  There were plenty to keep us interested though which was nice.

After lunch we drove up to the local general store to have a look around.  The Ozarks seem to have no shortage of these types of places.  We each got a slice of caramel apple pie a la mode that may have been the real highlight of the trip.  Really good stuff.

After pie we hit arguably the best spot on the river that we had found, where a major trib emptied into the main stem of the river, we fished sections of each and caught multiple Neosho smallmouth.  This spot had more riffle and run than any other section we fished and that suited us perfectly.  Wish we would have stumbled upon it earlier.  It was there we wrapped up the fishing portion of our trip.  We had a long drive ahead of us on Sunday so we would not be hitting the water in the morning.  We had another solid dinner that night when Blake cooked up some chicken fajitas that had been marinating a couple days in the ice chest.  The trip, even with the shorter planning period, came together nicely.  I don’t know where the next one will be but I always have ideas.