Friday, March 30, 2012

After the flood, Oak Creek, March 2012

One of the most significant storms of the season moved through northern Arizona in the middle of March, depositing much-needed snowpack on the landscape over several days.  Once the snow began to melt, runoff and swollen waterways inevitably followed, with heavy turbid flows present in streams, including Oak Creek.

While many anglers view runoff as time best spent away from the water, it has become one of my favorite parts of the season for pursuing good-sized trout.  The high discolored water creates challenging conditions for fly fishing, but also provides cover and an influx of food, causing some large browns seem to feed actively and lose some of their caution.

I visited Oak Creek when runoff was still in effect, but water levels had dropped noticeably from the previous days.  The stream remained extremely turbid, but with enough visibility for feeding trout to notice some larger offerings, like the Crawbugger and San Juan Worm shown above.  The dirty water also let me get away with heavier leaders and tippets.

I prospected through several sections and runs in search of active trout, and while I only encountered a few fish, they were hefty specimens.  Unfortunately, the first two threw the hook after spirited fights, but I managed to hold on to another that grabbed a #10 Crawbugger and proceeded to tear downstream, rolling over the leader and trailing fly in the process, and trying its hardest to break off in the process.

Eventually, I steered the bruiser into the shallows, and gazed down at a brown that measured 20.25", showed some girth, and featured abundant spots against simmering olive brown tones.  The fish came from a glide that runs low and clear for most of the year, and runoff conditions probably provided one of the few times when the brown could be successfully approached and fooled.  I snapped some photos of the high water brown, and watched it vanish back into the tea green currents.

I returned to Oak Creek near the end of the month, on a bluebird day teetering between late winter and early spring.  Runoff was all but over, and the stream had regained most of its clarity, save for a slight tint to the water.

I wandered along a few pools and runs, and managed to connect with several fish on subsurface offerings, including a handsome 14.5" brown from the location above, that escaped my grasp before I could get a photograph.

I approached another spot downstream, where a good trout or two sometimes make an appearance, and cast a double rig consisting of a #10 Crawbugger trailed by a smaller nymph up into the tail of the run.  A good brown in the upper teens materialized from an undercut bank to grab one of the offerings, raced back towards its hiding place, and promptly parted ways with the leader.  After shaking my head and laughing, I proceeded up to the deeper heart of the pool, cast another double rig, and after a few drifts received a strong yank from another energized brown.  This fish charged about the depths of the run, repeatedly tried to tie off against various submerged boulders, and generally did its best to elude capture.

Thankfully, I brought the fish to hand, and admired another gorgeous Oak Creek brown, this one taping out right at 20", a richly-colored male that I recognized from last year, and one that had grown a couple inches in the interim.

I took a few pictures of the long-jawed brute, and then watched him revive and strum back into the depths, hopefully to grow some more and fight another day.

March ended on a generous note, capping one of the finer months of fishing along Oak Creek I have experienced.  I reflected again on my great fortune to call such a beautiful stream "home water", populated by difficult browns that once in a while let down their guard, and never fail to impress.

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