Friday, June 25, 2010

Oak Creek, May 2010

(It has been some time (too long) since I posted my last entry, resulting in a serious backlog of trips that are in need of being written up. I have made a New Year's resolution to update my blog into the present, beginning with this post.)

The beginning of May along Oak Creek continued where April left off in terms of fly fishing--with a bang. The stream continued to run with a healthy flow, attesting to the strong winter snow pack that built up over the winter, and resulted in more trout actively feeding. I managed to find a few lovely Browns at the very start of the month, including two solid 20" fish, on consecutive days from different stretches.

The first of these bruisers was a fat hen, pictured above in two images, that I found in a beautiful riffle-run right against a large boulder, in the waning hours of daylight. The fish vaulted from the dark currents repeatedly, providing quite a fight before being brought to hand. The Brown was particularly memorable in two ways--I caught it after a full day of work (I repeatedly find myself counting my good fortune to live in such close proximity to a quality wild trout fishery, where I can pay the stream a visit for even a couple of hours on any given day), and the hen represented the downstream extent of wild trout to date for me along Oak Creek (somewhere between Grasshopper Point and Midgely Bridge).

I prospected along several reaches of Oak Creek the following day, amidst that marvelous time in spring when seemingly all life is growing and thriving, under scattered clouds and vivid blue skies.

I crossed paths with this well-camouflaged canyon treefrog, no doubt with thoughts of feeding and breeding on its mind, consistent with the season.

I fished the head of one productive pool early in the day, and connected with the second 20" fish in two days, this one a male that charged about the lengths of the run, and proved difficult to subdue. The male sported rich coloration along his flanks, as shown in the photograph above.

The head detail also shows the small #18 Beadhead Thread and Copper lodged in the upper jaw--both this male and the female Brown shown earlier struck this pattern. Size 2o blue-winged olives hatched sporadically on these days; I suspect these larger trout took advantage of the nymphal stage of this food source, and took my fly as a reasonable imitation of the naturals. I used the little nymph as a dropper, tied to a larger Crawbugger as a point fly and source of weight, and dead-drifted the double rig on a short line through likely deep runs.

I found several other good fish in the feeding mood on this early May day, including a spooky Brown rising quietly near the brushy bank, near the tail of this glassy run. I fooled it with the most delicate cast I could muster, using a #20 BWO Parachute Sparkle Dun on a long leader ending in 5X, and found myself attached to an acrobatic, chunky 14-15" trout. The fish zipped about the run, but unfortunately the fly simply popped out of its mouth, ending the battle prematurely with a long distance release. Such is the unpredictable nature of cagey older trout and fly fishing, and the fish lost can often be at least as memorable as the ones landed.

I explored various reaches of Oak Creek throughout the next couple weeks, some of them old favorites, and others that were relatively new to me. Through it all, I was reminded once again of the stunning beauty of this place, and the diversity of the stream's moods and character.

Stream flows continued to drop and clear as May progressed, approaching summer conditions, and the trout became correspondingly warier. Better trout seemed to lose some caution during low-light periods of the day, and in runs affording shade, but I still managed to spook my fair share of fish (not a hard thing to do along Oak Creek).

I found myself poking along the edges of the stream while fishing (one of the joys of pursuing trout are all of the other unexpected gems that one can uncover), and discovered other aquatic denizens wrapped up in the web of this environment, including the tiny mayfly nymphs pictured above, and a school of speckled dace hovering in the sunlit shallows of a run below.

On one visit with Regan to the upper creek near the West Fork confluence, she spotted a subadult narrrow-headed gartersnake sunning itself on a large slab of red sandstone.

This aquatic gartersnake has suffered population declines across its range (it is actually one of the animals I spent time surveying for in my work this year); the fact that this species still exists along upper Oak Creek attests to the quality and health of the watershed. Moreover, sightings like these always make fly fishing more rewarding and meaningful for me, and provide a lens into the natural world that few other activities seem to achieve.

On another mid-May day, I fished Oak Creek for a few hours in late afternoon, just as the sun left the water, and the resulting shade invigorated hatching insects and the fish. Midges, a few #16 brown caddis, #20 BWOs, and some #10-12 pale tan drakes all made their presence as the afternoon crept towards sunset. I brought a few decent fish to hand in the 9-12" range by casting a variety of dries, including a #16 orange-bodied Neversink Caddis, and both #12 and #16 tan Parachute Sparkle Duns. The latter pattern fooled a subtle riser in the foam-flecked eddy above, after I took my time approaching quietly, kneeling down, and casting into the backwash.

I was rewarded with another beauty of a Brown, right at 13"; not the largest fish I've caught recently, but a difficult trout, and among the more satisfying I was able to admire briefly in hand this month, before watching it revive and blend back into the clear, multifaceted currents.

Generally, as the month progressed, larger trout became tougher, but the number of smaller fish landed increased, including a day spent wading up through pocketwater just below the Junipine area, where I brought 8 or 10 to hand, mostly smaller Browns, along with a couple stockers and one wild Rainbow, and lost a couple more Browns in the low teens.

This fish went a good foot, struck a sunken #16 Parachute Sparkle Dun on 5X from a neat plunge pool, and stood as the best fish landed on the day mentioned above.

I was able to fish once more later in May, again for the last few remaining hours of daylight, as the shadows grew long and slanted across the dancing stream. I noticed several different species of caddis flying about, so I tied on a #16 Deer Hair Caddis to a long length of 5X, and cast the dry through likely-looking pockets and runs. I quickly caught a fat little Brown from a riffle head, missed a good fish from a deeper run, and rose another trout from a nice shaded pocket, protected overhead by a leafy canopy of hardwoods.

This latter fish materialized from the dark sheltered water, big jaws breaking the surface to inhale the caddis pattern, and vanished in a toilet bowl flush. The trout was larger than I expected given the holding water (although the one constant in Oak Creek seems to be the unexpected), and it proceeded to vault free from the stream once, then race downstream, weaving between rocks and logs, as I rock-hopped after it. Finally, I coaxed it to shore, and gazed down at another spectacular Oak Creek Brown, this one a good 19" male with a developing kype.
This Brown was vibrantly colored like so many that call Oak Creek home, in rich hues of red, orange and gold that echoed some of the surrounding landscape. The trout marked my best dry fly-caught fish to date on the stream. Here are a couple more looks at the bruiser, before I let him go on his way, hopefully to grow larger and produce more magnificent wild trout. He provided a great exclamation point to another generous month from Oak Creek, a stream that always instills in me a profound sense of wonder and appreciation.


  1. Iain,

    Amazing. Thanks for sharing. Once again, those are some exceptional Oak Creek browns. I'm envious in general, but particularly of the 19" male taken on a dry.

    Keep the reports coming!


  2. Will,

    Thanks for the response. I felt quite fortunate to fool a few more large Oak Creek Browns. I think the 19" male on a dry had a lot to do with simply being in the right place at the right time.

    I will continue to update reports--I have several I am working on and will publish them soon!


  3. Awesome story as always. I'm looking forward to hearing the rest of them. This post definitely got me in the mood for a weekend trip to Oak Creek. Thanks again for sharing.


  4. Ben,

    Thanks for the comments; I have several more posts I intend to post shortly. Have a great trip to Oak Creek this weekend!


  5. So great!

    I always let your stories send my mind along the banks of Oak Creek for a quick trip to AZ.
    Great photos as well.

    What camera are you shooting with on the water? I have the Pentax Optio W80 and love it but the pictures are not quite as rich.

    Keep it coming. Your Bright Angel Creek story was awesome.

    Santa Cruz, Ca

  6. Iain,

    Any trips planned to Oak Creek in the near future? I am making a trip to the San Juan later this month and have thought about hitting Oak Creek on the way back to Tucson. How are the flows? water temps?

    Great write-up!

    Blue River Fly Company

  7. Tashi and Jason, thanks for the praise, I really appreciate it, and I'm glad you are enjoying the posts!

    I use an Olympus SP-560UZ--it is not a waterproof camera, so I bring along a waterproof dry bag for cameras by Simms to protect it from the elements. I have been pleased with the images I get with it.

    As for Oak Creek trips, I have not been able to get out on the water so far this year, but plan to remedy that shortcoming in February. I have heard that the water is flowing high but clear, and would imagine that if water temps rise enough, at least a few hungry trout might be on the prowl. I will try to send a report your way (Jason) after my next foray along Oak Creek...


  8. Great pics, and write-up, getting ready for my annual trip to Garland's in late October. Fishing is quite slow by then but hope to pull a few nice holdovers out. Ever fish north of slide rock?

    Tight lines,
    BRFC Founder
    fly fishing flies