Spring can announce its arrival in an infinite number of ways--the insistent call of a wren, leaves unfurling from the outstretched limbs of a sycamore, growing light against red canyon walls.
As the snows began to recede from a strong winter in northern Arizona over the past few months, stream flows inevitably mounted, producing that condition known to all anglers familiar with running water, runoff.
I visited Oak Creek often amidst these elevated flows, casting here and there, hoping and waiting for improving conditions, and all along noting increasing signs of spring taking hold, such as the Ornate Tree Lizard basking on a log above, and flowers opening to meet the sun's warmth below.
Eventually, the waters seemed to drop and clear, just slightly, and the creek felt ready to reawaken with the activities of trout...or perhaps more truthfully, I simply couldn't stand it any longer, and started off the new fishing season in earnest, putting in the time and renewed focus along my adopted homewater.
The month of April marked the beginning of a marvelous stretch for my angling endeavors along beautiful, multifaceted Oak Creek, and for me, felt like the true emergence of spring. I explored numerous reaches throughout the season, from above the West Fork through and below Grasshopper Point, both old favorites seen in a different light, and a number of new stretches that at times yielded some fantastic results (and always provided more insight into this demanding stream).
I began the month casting through runs of one section that I had only briefly (and unproductively) explored last summer, on a tip from a fellow angler, and started off with a bang in the run above, drifting a #10 Crawbugger through the high, discolored currents.
A strong fish grabbed the streamer in the middle of the drift, and proceeded to charge about the run, using the flows to its advantage. Eventually, I pulled an 18-19" Brown to the bank, a female by the look of it (and one of the better fish I have managed to land in Oak Creek), and snapped a few pictures before returning the trout to her lair.
I approached another nearby run downstream, with a likely-looking pocket created by a well-placed sandstone boulder. As the photo indicates, the creek was still heavy and frothing with runoff, creating challenging conditions for wading and fishing. While some anglers shy away from these conditions, it has been my experience that the higher water and reduced visibility of spring seem to invigorate the trout, particularly larger Browns, creating more security for fish to actively seek out potential food. In any case, I cast the Crawbugger up against the face of the rock, allowing it to sink and stripping occasionally.
Again, a good fish struck at the fly, materializing as a beauty of a male Brown, right at 16", belly glowing golden in the strengthening spring light.
Yet another fine Brown came to hand in a pool in the vicinity of the above fish, and stood as the third and final trout of a productive early spring day. I wandered upstream, and cast over other likely pools and runs, but to no avail--the fishing that had begun with a bang finished with nary another trout seen or hooked. Fly fishing can be like that sometimes, reflecting the moody, unpredictable nature of the environment, particularly an ever-changing, complex system like Oak Creek, populated with moody, unpredictable Brown trout. I suppose it is that unknown, shifting quality beyond human control that helps keep me drawn to fishing, always tinged with the hope that something unexpected and wonderful could happen, often in the fleeting form of a wild trout.
I made my way up through a pocket-riddled stretch of creek a bit later in April, and found few willing takers on this given day, although the settings were glorious.
One fine Brown of 10 or 11" clobbered a #12 Beadhead Krystal Hare Nymph, and posed briefly for a photograph.
Runoff slowly receded in Oak Creek as the days approached the middle of April, but the flows still remained noticeably higher and tinted as compared with summer and fall.
I revisited a favorite reach of water in the second week of April, with many of the hardwoods still lacking leaves. I spotted a few Browns here and there, fooled a few, and spooked plenty more.
I came upon a familiar run, that contains a deceptively deep slot created by a current confluence flowing right past a root wad of a large tree. It is an easy spot to overlook, but is just the sort of location that would seem likely to hold a good fish, perhaps even a large cagey Brown, under the right circumstances.
I tied on a #10 bushy Neversink Caddis, and trailed a #16 Copper Emmons (my take on a Copper John, consisting of peacock sword tails, fine copper wire for ribbing, a few turns of peacock herl followed by starling for the collar, and a tungsten beadhead) off the end on 5X. I haven't fished a hopper-dropper setup with much enthusiasm in the past, probably because it strikes me as being too similar to indicator and bobber fishing, which I usually prefer not to employ (not really for any good reason, other than being one of those goofy preferences that every angler seems to develop in their own way over time, to fit their own justifications). However, in this instance, the setup seemed to fit the conditions perfectly, so I set aside my preconceived notions, cast up and across, right into the main current seam, and watched the dry drift downstream. As the fly passed near the root wad, it disappeared, and I immediately lifted the rod, to feel a shuddering, unyielding weight on the far end of the line. A powerful fish raced up and down through the extent of the run, causing my reel to scream in protest, and I soon saw the shape of a big Brown, doing its best to part ways with the tippet. Fortunately, the tippet held, and after an extended battle, I guided the brute to the shallows, revealing a hefty, long-jawed Brown just exceeding 20".
The extended jaws and bulk of the bruiser attested to the undoubtedly predatory nature of an older male Brown trout, but in this case, the fish moved for the small Copper Emmons, probably taking it for a small stonefly or blue-winged olive nymph. Note the fly wedged in the corner of the mouth below.
This fish went down as my largest Brown caught from Oak Creek to date, and the first to pass the 20" mark; needless to say, I felt exultant and satisfied to gaze at such a beautiful, impressive trout, before taking time to revive the fish, and then watched him strum back towards the run, fading back into the shifting hues of the currents. This fish also reaffirmed for me the reputation of Brown trout achieving considerable sizes, even in relatively small stream settings, and made me ponder on what other bruisers might be lurking under some of the countless boulder-strewn runs throughout the creek. Remarkably, I managed to cross paths with a few more of these elusive larger Browns throughout the spring, as detailed in some of the upcoming entries.