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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.

The view southwest at the top of the Mogollon Rim

We made the trek east to the White Mountains and set up camp at a very clean campground with a very welcoming host. This site would be our home for the next two nights. Campgrounds out west are always inevitably better cared for than those we have back east. I’m inclined to believe it’s because the people who utilize the resource here actually respect it as opposed to just taking advantage of it, like they tend to do back home. We may be polite to each other in the South, but we’ve historically been terrible stewards of our environment and it’s a real bummer at times.

Joseph R. Tomelleri

After setting up camp we set out on a local creek to search for Apache trout before dark. The scene was a high alpine meadow with a little meandering creek full of cut banks, what I would consider to be the perfect habitat for high country trout.

As it tends to always work out Blake struck first, with an Apache who looked like he’d been hooked before. Fishing would prove to be slow though as we continued to work upstream.

Finally I had beaten the water enough to finally land the World’s smallest Apache. Beggars can’t be choosers, so I was happy to get the skunk off my back. We pressed on and eventually made it into the tree line with Blake catching a couple more fish, including a brook trout.

I generally plan trout trips out west with goals in mind and this one was no different. First and foremost I wanted to catch the native Gila and Apache trout. I didn’t know it would be when I planned the trip, but that one was kind of low hanging fruit as it was accomplished on our first day of fishing. The next goal I had in mind was to complete the Arizona Wild Trout Challenge. To do that we had to catch a wild Gila, Apache, brook, brown, and rainbow trout, so Blake was off to a great start.

We fished into the trees a bit, but as the light began to fade and it grew darker the further we got into that valley we decided it was time to head back to the vehicle. We stopped to fish a couple holes along the way and in one spot I was able to upgrade my Apache trout to something a little more respectable.

We didn’t catch many fish here, but the picturesque setting more than made up for it. We headed back to camp to ready to cook up some dinner and have a celebratory beer. The Apache trout here left me wanting more so we planned to target them again tomorrow and hopefully the fishing would pick up.