Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Oak Creek, November 2009

I spent a few days prowling the banks of Oak Creek in November, particularly near the red rock formations around Slide Rock State Park. The low light was beautiful against the sandstone and fading leaves at this time of year, set against azure skies and the waning days of autumn.

I spotted this pair of Western Bluebirds drinking water from the stream; the ruddy breasts of the birds bore a striking resemblance to the sandstone.

I have become particularly fond of this section of Oak Creek lately, with the spectacular landscapes it provides, challenging fishing conditions, and abundant sunlight, resulting in somewhat warmer temperatures than upstream (the latter characteristic being more significant this time of year, in late fall and winter).

The photo above shows a redd (the white, smaller gravel in the center) from recent Brown Trout spawning activity. I spotted some redds upstream near the end of October, but many more throughout the stream in November and December. I made sure to avoid these, to help ensure the survival of the precious cargo inside. I also spied a spawning pair of Browns one late afternoon, near the end of this month. The male was dark and 12-13", and dwarfed by the brighter female (she looked to easily measure 18"), that occasionally fanned a patch of gravel, preparing the redd--wonderful to see, and I left the fish alone, to conduct their business.

I also managed to catch a few lovely Browns that were in feeding mode, including this 12" specimen, that took a #12 BH Krystal Hare Nymph drifted through the riffled head of a run.

More fall colors blazed from the vegetation and sandstone cliffs overlooking these deeper pools.

I found a good Brown feeding quietly near the tail end of one such pool, during an afternoon hatch of size 20 tan mayflies. I tied on a #20 tan Parachute Sparkle Dun to a long section of 5X, and cast softly upstream of the fish. On the second or third cast, the trout rose slowly, inhaled the fly, and proceeded to race through the pool, causing the reel to sing.

I guided the fish to shore, and admired a 14" dark male Brown Trout, with hues that seemed to reflect the simmering colors of late autumn.

On this same day, I found another fine trout near sunset, holding in the middle of a foam-flecked backeddy. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a splashy rise, so I tied on a #10 Neversink Caddis, and tossed it out towards the fish. The Brown immediately hammered the bushy dry, and then peeled line off the reel, charging through the length of the run. Eventually, I pulled in a colorful, sleek fish, just under 15"--another marvellous wild Oak Creek Brown.

I suspect I briefly hooked and then lost this fish a couple of months ago, while nymphing the same run. Many of the better fish I've fooled from Oak Creek have shown themselves once or twice, when the right conditions arise, but otherwise remain aloof and hidden, and bringing one to hand is always a significant moment, not to be taken for granted. That is one of the lessons I've learned from Browns in this stream--the larger trout do not make many mistakes, and successfully landing one stems from a combination of observation, technique, and good timing.

I caught this 13" Brown in the middle of November, and it was the only fish caught on that day (but one is enough). The trout rose for a tan #20 Parachute Sparkle Dun, during an afternoon mayfly hatch; it felt good to be able to match the hatch and take some good Browns from the surface this month.

Here is an image of Slide Rock State Park, blissfully free of visitors near the end of November. Late fall was a good time of year (particularly on weekdays) to visit this part of Oak Creek for that reason. Also, the stocking of hatchery bows was largely absent throughout the stream at this time, and the creek seemed to revert to a more natural, wild trout state.

I dead-drifted a large, #4 Crawbugger through a deep run in this vicinity, and received a sharp yank, followed by head-shaking and sulking near the bottom of the pool. I coaxed the good fish to the surface, and photographed a solid 16" female Brown Trout in the shallows.

This was a fish I had seen and spooked several times in the past, and I felt fortunate to have enticed the trout into striking on this occasion.

Here is another image of the trout, a great fish by Oak Creek standards, as I prepared to return the Brown to the clear, cold currents.

I experienced some great fly fishing later in the afternoon in several runs, combining for one of the finer days I have had along Oak Creek, beginning with the small, crystalline glide above. I sneaked up on a fish holding in a small depression of the streambed, and hid behind boulders to avoid detection. I tossed a tan #20 Parachute Sparkle Dun upstream, and then watched as a colorful Brown sipped the fly off the surface, and soon lay in front of me as a golden, foot-long male trout, adorned with a few large spots of black and crimson.

I approached another run upstream, and lobbed a #12 BH Krystal Hare Nymph above a boulder that created a likely-looking lie.

The leader went taut, and I played another strong, chunky wild Brown, this one a solid 13", and a toothy, golden-olive male, again with beautiful spotting.

I included a closeup of the head, to show the abundant teeth, and because I thought this fish was particularly striking against the red sandstone--a classic nice small stream Brown in spawning colors.

I took another picture of a photogenic pool that I included previously in this post. Compared to the shot taken earlier in the month, the foliage was all but gone by the end of November.

Later in the afternoon, I revisited a long, flat run that I had fished and observed in the past few months. While I had seen a couple of larger trout milling around, I had not been able to effectively approach the run without spooking them (and perhaps the fish were not actively feeding in late summer and early fall). On this day, I slowly crept up on the west bank, and sat on a flat stone to watch (I often spend as much time observing a run as fishing it, especially along Oak Creek). Shadows draped across the glassy surface of the stream, and as luck would have it, several fish dimpled the water with subtle rises, a beautiful sight, and I had finally hit this run at the right time. I tied on a new length of 5X to the leader, and attached a tan #16 Parachute Sparkle Dun, as mayflies occasionally drifted down the slow currents (most a size 20, but some larger size 16 specimens were mixed in), and disappeared in a small swirl. I managed the softest cast I could muster towards the tail of the run, and watched it float downstream, over what seemed an endless amount of time. All of a sudden, a dark snout tipped up, breaking the creek surface, and the dry fly vanished into the jaws of a cagey old Brown.

The fish bolted up and down through the long glide, and I could see the outline of a large Oak Creek trout. I crossed the stream, brought the fighter in, and gazed down at an impressive, long-jawed spawner male, close to 17", and a beautiful Brown.

The pectoral fins were somewhat frayed, and the bottom of the jaw featured a recently healed-over red welt, perhaps an injury incurred from fighting with other male fish. In any case, this was one of the top Browns I had been able to land from Oak Creek this season, and I appreciated the warm russet golden hues and rusty-red spots running along the sides of the fish. I righted the trout, and watched him quickly shoot back into the glassy flows, to continue feeding and probably frustrate anglers again.

I managed to fool another good fish from the head of this run, which also grabbed the mayfly pattern, and emerged as a healthy, olive and gold Brown Trout just under 15".

The pelvic fins on this fish were frayed, and the head and gill plates featured some scarring--indicators that this was also a field-tested Brown, and probably a male. I watched this trout fin back into the icy water as well, and almost instantly blend seamlessly with the colors of the stream once more.

And here is one last wild Brown painted in vivid dark spawning hues, that I hooked with the same mayfly pattern as afternoon shifted into evening, by casting near the head of a deep pool, and waiting (hoping) for the wary fish to take. The rich coloration and slightly curving jaws pointed to another male, this one a good 13".

I made my way back to the vehicle as the colors of the surrounding landscapes bled out with the day's end, and concluded another wonderful month of exploring and fishing along beautiful Oak Creek. Fall approached its end along with November, and my favorite season had been kind to me in its offerings along this often challenging stream. I found myself looking forward to the coming fishing season, and autumn's splendor next year, but I was jumping ahead of myself, because more fishing was in store before the end of 2009, as documented in the following two posts.


  1. I hope you stayed dry with all that weather. You'll have to give an update on how the creek looks. As always, I really enjoy reading your stories.


  2. Hey Ben, thanks for the comment. Yeah, the weather has been kinda crazy, although I'm staying dry in Flagstaff (lots of snow, and it is still falling). I will definitely provide an update on the creek when the weather passes; I'm interested to see how it looks!


  3. Iain, I have been reading your posts the last few months and just want to compliment you on vivid and informative narrative you provide about your trips. You do an outstanding job (in my opinion) of capturing the romance of fly-fishing...

    Well done...

    Ray Redstone