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This blog is all about fly fishing for native trout. On it I cover trip reports, fishing tactics, conservation, the latest news about native trout species and much more. This site provides a companion to my web page Nativetroutflyfishing.com.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

September in the Southwest: Part 2 Apache Trout

Day 3: Thursday September 3rd 2009: Although I am not a huge fan of cities or Las Vegas for that matter, we got just what we needed out of our stay there; some recovery time. Also Derek had never been to Vegas so the stop also gave us some time to take in the sights. With the day time high being around 105 degrees F though, most of the sight seeing was pretty much reserved for the evening and night when things got a little bit more bearable.

The fountain show at the Belagio

Day 4: Friday September 4th 2009: This was another driving day as we had to do a diagonal across the state of Arizona to reach the White Mountains and the Apache trout's native waters. Since we were already going to be sitting in the car for most of the day Derek and I decided to make a stop at the Grand Canyon, after all it would only add a couple more hours to our trip. I had been to the north rim of the Grand Canyon a few years ago, but I have to say that the south rim is much more impressive. Whereas with the north rim you look out across a side canyon, with the south rim you can look straight down into the main canyon several thousand feet below.

The Grand Canyon

After a quick stop at the canyon we once again got on the road and made our way across Arizona. As we began to close in on the White Mountains a massive thunderstorm formed on the horizon would follow us the rest of the way across the state. We arrived in the White Mountains shortly after dark and with a few wrong turns didn't end up finding our way to the stream until around 10PM. Being that the storm was still raging outside we opted to just sleep in the car instead of setting up our tent in the rain.

Day 5: Saturday September 5th 2009: We woke up in the morning to clear blue skies and found ourselves in a beautiful board meadow valley surrounded by gently slopping spruce and aspen clad peaks. Right through the middle of this picturesque valley flowed the slowly meandering stream that was said to hold the Apache trout that we were looking for. I was pretty anxious to get to fishing, so after a quick breakfast I rigged up the rods and we hit the water. Although though I could probably get a little more original with my fly choices I decided to start out with my old standby a royal pmx and copper john dropper, while Derek went with a hot butt caddis. We decided that we would work our way upstream towards the headwaters of the creek and upon approaching the stream I could see several schools of Apache trout fry holding in the shallows. A good sign!

The first few pools were relatively shallow and showed no sign of any catchable sized trout, however not far upstream I came to a promising looking pool that had grass overhanging it. I tossed my flies upstream tight against the bank and almost immediately an Apache trout darted out from the cover and attacked my nymph. I set the hook and got a few decent headshakes before the fish tossed my size 18 copper john. Looking back on it there probably wasn't much that I could have done to change the outcome of this situation, however at the time I wasn't to happy about this fish coming loose. This wasn't helped by the fact for the next mile of stream Derek and I only got three of four takes between the two of us. Part of the problem was that the necessary habitat just wasn't there, as it seemed that every decent looking piece of water was about half of the depth that it needed to be. We came to a point where a small tributary flowed into the creek and although everything about this spot looked great it was as void of trout as the rest of the stream. However just upstream I found a tiny pocket with an undercut bank and sure enough when I tossed my fly in a trout materialized from under the bank and grabbed my nymph. I got a good hookset on this fish and although he tried as he might to shake my fly I managed to bring him to my net after a quick battle.

My first Apache trout

There is something special about catching a new type of trout, but when compared with other trout that I have encountered the Apache trout is one of the more unique and beautiful fish that I have seen. Beyond their odd coloration and spotting pattern, for their size Apache trout seem to be very deep bodied and also have a thicker caudal peduncle than other fish that I have caught. The only hard part of catching such as unique fish is that there are only a few moments in which the admire it before it is time to set it loose and watch it swim away.

Not long after releasing my first Apache trout the ominous sound of thunder echoed across the valley and clouds began to form in what had been a clear blue sky. Even with a thunderstorm brewing in the mountains around us, we continued to work our way up the creek and before long I found another decent looking and was rewarded with another slightly smaller Apache trout that this time took my took my dry fly. After catching this smallish Apache trout I found large pool that looked very fishy, so I decided to try one of my favorite slow water techniques of swinging and stripping a nymph through the current. I decided to go with another old standby fly the zug bug, and on my first cast a big (~13") Apache trout darted out from an undercut bank and attacked my fly. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a good hookset and the fish felt my hook meaning that I had missed my chance for catching anything in this spot.

Apache trout waters

I fished the zug bug through the next few pools, but this method is best employed when fishing downstream in relatively deep pools and soon I once again found that a change of tactics were in order. This prompted me to go back to my dry and dropper rig and with a few casts of this change I found another idea piece of water and sure enough tight against the bank there was another large Apache trout. I managed to place my flies within a few inches of the bank and the trout emerged from his hiding place to grab my dry fly. From the fight it was obvious that I was hooked into a decent fish as he was putting a good bend in my fly rod. However as with most small stream trout he really didn't have any where to go and I was able to being him to my net. At around 13" this was quite an impressive fish for a stream this size.
My big Apache trout

After getting this fish I decided that I would try to help Derek get into one as well, as he had still yet to catch one. From the looks of the weather and the ominous sound of thunder in the distance it didn't look like we had a lot of time left on our hands anyways. So playing the part of the guide I spent the next half an hour working getting the cob webs out of his casting and pointing towards some likely looking lies where I expected to find some Apache trout. Before long we found a likely looking section and he placed his cast just about where it needed to be and a nice Apache rose to it. I told him to set the hook, but unfortunately his reaction timing was a little off and he only connected with the fish for a second before it spit the hook and darted for cover. It was starting to rain and get downright nasty outside and since we had wandered upstream a solid mile and a half to two miles we decided that we better start to work our way back to the car. Of course we would be fishing a few likely looking spots on the way. About half of the way back to were the small tributary added its flow the to the stream we came upon a nice pocket and Derek finally got his Apache trout, a healthy 11"er. After releasing it the weather told us that our time on this stream had come to an end so we hurried back to the car.

Right about the time that we hit the road again it started raining in earnest and by this I mean it started POURING! With a good fifteen or twenty miles of dirt roads I was a bit anxious to get on the move before driving conditions got to hostile and with good reason as a couple miles out, the roads started to look more like muddy creeks themselves. However after a bit of soggy driving and a lot of hydroplaning the storm started to lift and we were in the clear again, with our next stop being on the edge of the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico.

As we entered New Mexico the spruce and pine forest of the White Mountains thinned out and the countryside open up, becoming more arid dominated by small scrub pines, yucca plants and cactus. Along the way we ran into a few periodic thunderstorms, but these were nothing compared to the massive wall of black clouds hanging over the Mogollon Moutains where we would be starting our hike. By mid-afternoon we found our way to the trailhead along a rough but reasonably well maintained forest service road and started to get our gear ready. We had initially planned on starting our hike upon arriving, but the weather quickly changed our minds as it was clearly rather stormy in the mountains we would be heading into.
Storm clouds blocking our route into the creek
Some trailhead friends

With conditions less than ideal, we decided to set up camp at the trailhead and cross our fingers that the weather would improve in the morning.

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