When it comes to Arizona, I still consider myself a novice angler; I have fished a handful of destinations with at least some success, but there are many more streams and rivers (not to mention lakes) that I have yet to explore.
One of the great things about the state is the number of rugged streams that beckon to the adventurous angler willing to put in a few miles of hiking, and offering potentially great fishing for streambred trout in wild settings. I decided to visit one of these, East Clear Creek, for the first time in early June. I had heard reports of good brown trout fishing at times, and figured it was time to test out the stream for myself.
East Clear Creek reminded me of the other major watershed draining north from the Mogollon Rim, Chevelon Creek, with its abundant stands of ponderosa pine, beautiful cliff walls flanking parts of the stream, and a wilderness setting once you made the descent into the stream canyon.
Some differences existed as well, including improved access in the form of several hiking access points, easier driving conditions, and closer proximity to human population centers. Consequently, I encountered more people on the day I hiked one of the trails down to the stream, although they thinned out completely (with the exception of one other fly fisherman headed in the opposite direction) once I wandered upstream and away from the access point (a pattern that seems to hold true with most fishing destinations). The flow seemed to be less than Chevelon as well, although the creek pooled up often, with some runs becoming more than deep enough to harbor sizable fish.
I began by catching a couple of small but chunky dark, wild rainbows on a bushy #10 Neversink Caddis in occasional small riffles and pocketwater, but focused most of my efforts in the deeper pools for the remainder of the bluebird, early summer day. I fished an attractor dry in some of the pools with little success, and finally settled on a #10 Crawbugger attached to 5X. Crayfish were thick here, no doubt providing a great food source for larger trout, but also posing a hazard to smaller aquatic flora and fauna; I noticed aquatic vegetation was sorely lacking along most of the streambed. I cast the streamer into likely holes, and used a slow strip and pause retrieve. This technique proved considerably more effective--I received strikes from several good fish in the mid to upper teens, judging from their flash and weight (presumably Browns for the most part), but unfortunately they all came free before being brought to hand.
I then happened upon one run that deepened against a cliff wall, and featured a ponderosa pine snag that had fallen into the water and created some cover. I took the time to slow down and observe, and found two large rainbow trout present; a surprise of sorts, as I expected bigger fish here to be browns. One of these was a large colorful male, the other a bruiser female in excess of 20" (one of the largest bows I have seen in the state); I suspect they may have recently been a spawning pair here this spring. In any case, the male was cruising in a circular pattern about the pool downstream of the snag, while the female seemed to stay put beside the downed timber. I made a number of short casts to both with the Crawbugger, trying to elicit a strike. The female seemed uninterested, but after much coaxing I eventually convinced the male to grab at the fly--fish on! The buck charged about the run, thrashing at the surface occasionally, and finally I managed to guide the fish to shore, where I gazed up close at a stunning rainbow, measuring a solid 20".
The male was garbed in vivd crimson on the gill plates and flanks, as the photos indicate, and showed some kype in the elongated jaws.
As it turned out, he was the one sizable fish caught on the day, and a great one at that. The rainbow felt like an unexpected gift, and on my first visit to East Clear Creek, no less.
I admired his hues and sleek form a bit longer as the trout revived, then pointed the brute back toward the pool, and watched as he finned back into the security of the shadowed run.
I suppose I am biased as a fly fishing nut that tends to prefer catch and release, but it only seems natural that a big wild spawner like the one above should be released, both to sustain the population, and because a rare large trout is so much more beautiful to behold in a stream than in a pan or on a wall mount, at least from my jaded perspective.
I passed by several other great-looking deep pools and runs, that almost certainly harbored a large trout or two, but I was unable to connect with any other fish for the day, and no browns came to hand on this visit (although I spooked a few in the 12-16" range).
I did cross paths with a fellow angler back up at the trailhead at day's end, who seemed to be a regular along this stream. He mentioned that some of the pools can really alive near dawn and dusk, when browns will rise freely for mayfly hatches and other available food items.
I encountered some gems along the creek that made the day richer, including the canyon treefrog above, and the wildflowers in a riot of color below.
Individual cactus blooms glowed amongst the rocky ground as I began the hike back up and out along the access trail, providing splashes of color and a way to end the day on a high note.
My first visit to East Clear Creek was one of those high quality, low quantity fishing days (generally the way I prefer it, given the choice) along a scenic canyon stream, harboring some intriguing fishing possibilities, combined with a measure of solitude--all qualities I treasure when pursuing trout. I suspect I will be revisiting this creek in the near future, in search of a few more of its finned inhabitants.