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The campground host notified us of bear and mountain lion activity in the area across the river the year prior as we were setting up camp last night. Not to be deterred we actually got the best night’s sleep we’d had all trip, which is usually how it works sleeping in a hammock. It takes me three days to get used to it and by the time I get a normal night of sleep it’s back to real life.

Our last fishing day in Arizona had arrived. Our goal for the morning was wild rainbow trout, we’d each need to catch one to complete the Arizona wild trout challenge, but from what I had read about the river we planned to fish we would have the opportunity at some better-than-average wild brown trout too. That same literature pointed to this river as being the finest wild trout water in Arizona; couple that with the success we had the night before, and the anticipation of getting out on the water, at least for me, was very high.

The hike in

As in other places we’d come across in the White Mountains it was hard to escape the damage caused by previous fires. Hiking through hillsides that have been entirely burned up is an eerie experience and one that is new to me on this trip. Coming from an area of the country that is covered in water, the persistent extreme drought and fire danger of the desert Southwest is a shock to the system.

The closer you got to the river though the fire damage faded away and our focus turned to the trout and the beautiful place they call home. We hiked a little ways and began to work the water with our dry-dropper rigs heading back upstream. After about half an hour Blake struck first with a trout on top. We weren’t quite sure what it was, but it kind of looked Apache-ish, not out of the realm of possibility here. I wasn’t sure it’d pass for a wild rainbow. Maybe another half an hour passed before I brought my first fish to hand.

With parr marks still visible and fins intact I figured this rainbow trout wasn’t stocked and if it was it was at least naturalized enough that it looked wild. Just as we thought we were figuring them out a passing thunderstorm forced us off the water.

We ate lunch in the rain and I had a break to reflect on my food of choice on the trip. I had never had biltong, which is not all that different from jerky, prior to this trip, but after picking some up at the store to snack on for the week I am now a fan. It wasn’t as chewy as jerky and tasted more like a good steak than just seasoned meat.

The lightning didn’t stick around too long and we were able to get back on the water shortly after lunch. Soon enough Blake got his rainbow to complete the Arizona wild trout challenge. I know the rainstorm had him a little nervous, but with the monkey off his back he could relax and fish better. It’s funny how that works.

The strikes began to increase for us from that point on, but I didn’t manage as many fish to hand as on previous days; my average was way down. I expect that when fishing barbless flies, but I was also slinging a 6wt here instead of the 3wt glass rod I had been throwing, which may have had something to do with it. Any of the larger fish I hooked on the day I never got a picture of. I’m certain we caught a few browns mixed in with the rainbows, they were just camera shy. Par for the course.

The river had a few huge sections of still water that we didn’t effectively fish. We had no idea what to do with the slack water other than strip streamers through it, which I tried to do unsuccessfully, albeit it not thoroughly. If we had more time to really focus on that style of fishing it may have been productive, but at this point I was a little antsy.

I knew I still needed a brook trout to finish off my wild trout challenge and that wasn’t going to happen here. We decided to hike out and make the long drive to the Rim and over to the only other stream I knew they lived based on prior research. It was at least back in the direction of the airport and a hotel so it made sense to give it a shot.

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.