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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.

It took a while to go to sleep the night before, thanks to the noisy neighbors, but once I fell asleep I was out.  It was the only night we would be sleeping above 10,000 ft and I feared it would be the coldest night of the trip, but it wasn’t, it was actually quite mild and I was very comfortable.  I needed a good night’s sleep too as we prepared to hike in about three miles to the lake we wanted to fish.  This time we would be targeting arctic grayling, another new species to us.

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We planned to fish Marjorie Lake, a lake that according to Utah DWR was last stocked in 1952 with grayling, so the population has been naturally sustaining itself ever since.  I don’t think grayling were ever native so Utah, so I’d say that was as close as we were going to come to a natural population – at least on this trip.  Here’s more from Utah DWR about fishing for grayling in the Uintas:

The hike in from the Crystal Lake trailhead was relatively flat, there is one mountain you have to skirt around, but the grade is not killer.  The hike takes you past several ponds, open meadows full of wildflowers, a few creeks, and it has great views of some of the nearby mountain peaks, like Mt. Watson for one.

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About two miles in we ran into some local wildlife, a herd of cattle.  It’s kind of amazing to see them at such a high elevation.  They had a bull with them who was keeping watch, thankfully he wasn’t aggressive and we were able to navigate around them.

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I had some time to think during the hike and I was a little nervous that when we’d arrive at the lake we’d find that it was just like the lakes we fished yesterday and action was going to very minimal – I didn’t know what to expect having never been there.  The good thing was that there are several other nearby lakes so we had options should one not work out.

The lake was so beautiful at first sight that any kind of mild apprehension I had of how the day would go vanished, because even if the fishing sucked, at least the scenery didn’t.

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When we got alongside the lake we noticed several rising fish just at the edge of our casting distance.  There wasn’t any discernible bug coming off the water so I tied on a Griffith’s gnat and hoped for the best.

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After a few misses I was finally able to get one on the line.  They have very quick takes and you really have to be ready to lift the rod when they eat.  I also suspect we were around a lot of small fish and they were just a bit harder to hook.  Catching them was just a matter of casting to a rise ring and waiting for the eat.  If you could get it in the ring shortly after you saw one then chances were good it was still in the area and would find your fly.  Thankfully the fishing here would not suck!

We started making our way around the lake, looking for bigger fish.  Fish were rising all around the lake so it wasn’t like we were leaving fish to find fish.

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I didn’t have to go too far to find the big fish on the day.  I made it to a point that was surrounded by deeper water and cast to a rise out in the deeper water and was rewarded with a good eat from a solid fish.  With the water being a bit deeper any fish with size put a bend in the glass rod and this one was giving me some solid runs.

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I don’t know what his size was, I just know he was the biggest on the day, and he was bigger than I anticipated we’d run into.  I caught a few more fish off that point before I caught back up to Blake.

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When I did catch up to Blake he was catching some nice fish from some old tree trunks sticking up out of the water.  Someone came up here and sawed them off years ago and now they made for great casting platforms.

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After catching several grayling we decided to make a move to another nearby lake that I read had a population of cutthroat in it.

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I had read some good reports from Long Pond so we decided to check it out.  The name is pretty self explanatory, it’s a long pond that is part of the outflow to Long Lake.  There were not nearly as many fish rising here, but we managed to catch a few.

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They just weren’t cutthroat, they were brookies.  It was still a pretty place to fish though.

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As we were fishing Long Pond the clouds began to grow, thunder started to roll, and our once bluebird day turned into one that looked pretty ominous.  Rain started to fall and that even turned into hail at one point so we decided that we should probably hike out.  We caught our grayling, we were currently only catching brookies, and we still had a slam to complete so it was time to move on.

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Thankfully, we got back to the trailhead without getting soaked.  The rain was fairly light and patchy, but the clouds were still dark and foreboding, so we drove on down the mountain to go find the last campsite we’d need on our trip.  We were on the home stretch, just needed to catch a Bonneville cutthroat to finish out the slam.

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With it being Sunday afternoon finding a campsite was a breeze and after setting up our hammocks we headed to a Weber River trib right off the highway to try and complete the slam.  It looked fantastic from the road and I think we both thought finishing the slam today wouldn’t be much of a problem.

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I should have known that if the only fish to attack my fly in a good pool was some kind of shiner that we’d be in for a tough afternoon.

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We covered a lot of ground, fished a lot of good looking water, there just wasn’t many fish.  I have no idea why they weren’t there, the water was a bit on the warm side, that might of had something to do with it.  Blake was finally able to catch one small cutthroat and with that he had completed his slam!  The pressure was off now for him so it was now up to me to catch one.

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I never caught one though.  It was a bummer, but we still had tomorrow.  It would be our last day to fish, so I had to complete the slam then.  We headed back to the campsite, got a fire going (with wood someone had graciously left behind), ate dinner, then called it an early night.  This time there weren’t any neighbors around to keep us up.

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