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Scouting

After a short drive over from New Mexico we set up camp one more time in Arizona. This would be our last night in the hammocks as I thought it would be wise to get a hotel the following night. The other folks on the plane would probably appreciate it and I could really use a real bed for a decent night’s sleep. We managed a campsite on a river, a tributary to where we’d fish tomorrow, that held wild brown trout and stocked rainbows according to AZGFD. We were short on daylight and the skies were threatening rain so we opted to fish in the campground and hope for the best.

Fishing was great for the hour or so we were on the water. We fished dry-dropper rigs for a little while before realizing that the trout were only hitting our surface flies. The Adams trude was my fly of choice as it stayed afloat, I could see it well, and they were smashing it.

It ended up being a great evening on the water, which surprised me, I guess I had low expectations going into it. I figured those campground trout see everything, but we found a lot of hungry fish and had a good time. Tomorrow we’d target more wild browns, wild rainbow trout too, and hopefully complete Blake’s Arizona wild trout challenge.

As a native trout nerd, it would be hard to live with myself if while I was on a trip to the White Mountains in Arizona I didn’t sneak off one day to chase Gila trout in New Mexico. We were planning on switching campgrounds anyway, might as well trek into New Mexico in the morning and see if we can chase down some Gilas first. New Mexico is the state I most associate with Gila trout, for Arizona it’s Apache trout.

Looking East off Hwy 180 south Luna, NM

It was about a two hour drive to get to a trailhead where we could hike along a stream that held Gila trout in it at some point upstream. Much like the Gila trout stream in Arizona, this creek was ephemeral, bone dry at the trailhead, so we’d be hiking until we made it to water that was suitable for trout to live in. The valley we drove into was very unassuming, even as we parked, but it didn’t take long during our hike for it to transform into one with spectacular scenery.

In about a quarter mile we entered into a narrow slot canyon with steep vertical walls composed of volcanic rock of many different colors, colors that I don’t typically associate with the rocks where I find trout, but not at all out of place in the desert southwest. It was an amazing landscape of sandstone and rock spires with a trickle of a creek running through it.

Our day was made just experiencing this canyon on our feet. Having a fly rod in hand was lagniappe. We made it to a point on the creek where small waterfalls cascaded into pools that were several feet deep; it started to look like good trout habitat. The water was crystal clear, some of the clearest water I’ve seen in a stream. Lots of small fish could be seen in each pool, not trout at first, but other smaller species, longfin dace being one of them as I’d come to later find out. It wasn’t long before the trout showed up as well.

We fished the pools we could with pretty good results, no shortage of fish brought to hand. The places that looked like they should hold trout did. We had a good time bouncing from one hole to the next. Eventually though the holes dried up and we had run into a couple of other anglers walking out that said as much. I didn’t realize we’d hit a dry run on the creek and I didn’t know how long it would last so we had to make a decision of whether it was time to hike out or keep going. We hiked up a little ways trying to find water again and all we found was a little pocket, but that pocket had about a dozen trout in it with some being noticeably bigger than what we had caught thus far. It was exciting watching Blake work a small streamer in the hole, dancing it around, especially when a bigger fish darted out from under the rock on the right and smashed it.

I pulled one out too and then we made our way back to the vehicle stopping to fish a few holes we passed on the way up.

You always hear “pictures don’t do it justice” and that line fit the bill here. It truly was an amazing experience hiking and fishing in this canyon and it’s still hard to wrap my head around the fact that these trout continue to persist in this fragile, arid ecosystem. Drought and wildfire will always be a threat to wipe out their existence and that’s just crazy to think about. It was time for Blake and I to head back to Arizona and find a new place to camp, hopefully on the water or at least close to where we’d access the next place I wanted to fish in the morning, which from everything I read promised to be the best wild trout river in the state of Arizona – how could we not fish there?!

Blake and I spent Election Day in his boat, fishing for redfish and bass. Hurricane Zeta had just come through southeastern Louisiana the previous week so we weren’t really sure what to expect, but we opted to make the trip anyway knowing the ramp we wanted to launch from was open.

As we drove down signs of damage from the storm increased as we went further south into St. Bernard Parish. There were power poles leaning or snapped, houses missing shingles or damaged from downed limbs and trees, the typical stuff you see after a named storm comes through, something our state has dealt with far too much this year. The real eye opener came along Hwy 46, where it’s common for folks to grab their boats and campers that they keep south of the levees and flood gates and park them on the side of the road, above the flood gates, to ride out the storm. Nearly every one of these recreational vehicles had been blown over and was on their side. Bucket trucks and linemen were everywhere working to restore power to the area and as we launched I wondered if we were down there too soon. That’s always a tough call to make.

We motored to where we wanted to start fishing and it really didn’t take too long for us to find fish. We started working some islands in a bay with no luck, then we hit a protected shoreline where Blake picked up a red.

Once we made it into a bayou that connected two larger waterbodies the action really heated up. Fishing spots in the bayou where the water was falling out of the marsh we began catching bass one right after the other. Mixed in with the bass were redfish too.

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Most of my fish caught in the bayou came on a watermelon fluke I had rigged weedless. I didn’t pick up the fly rod until we got into a big pond where we could see fish. The water clarity in the pond was excellent which made seeing fish easy. The wind made casting a little tougher, but I was able to connect with a few fish. The tide was falling hard on us and the shallow pond kept getting shallower which forced us to retreat back to the bayou.

The fishing was hot and we doubled up a few times throughout the day, which is always a hoot. We didn’t know what to expect going into the day, but it ended up being a banner day. One of those days you have every so often where it seems like everything goes right and the fish cooperate. It was nice to just be back on the bow of Blake’s boat fishing, for us to have an awesome day like that was lagniappe.