Saturday, March 17, 2012

Before the storm, Oak Creek, March 2012

March was a generous time for me along the banks of Oak Creek, and continued the trend from February of fine trout fooled and (some) brought to hand.  The first half of the month featured sunlit mild weather, before a large winter storm blew through the region, bringing with it much-needed snowpack and precipitation.  This entry focuses on fishing Oak Creek prior to the storm, with the exception of two consecutive days that will be detailed in the following post.
Despite the pleasant weather, the landscape still clung to winter, in the form of bare tree limbs, dried husks of riparian grasses, and the slight tint of runoff lingering in the water. 

Days along the stream generally yielded a few fish, and what they lacked in numbers they more than made up for in beauty, wildness, and memorable moments, including the head detail of a 14" brown pictured above.
I found this striking foot-long rainbow in one pool, with rich coloration and a tenacity that suggested a wild trout, and yet the clipped dorsal fin and worn tail fin identified it as a hatchery fish.  Regardless of the trout's origin, it had clearly adapted well to the creek environment, taken on some of the beauty of the surroundings, and will hopefully contribute to some streambred offspring.
At times I just wandered along certain pools and runs, reveling in the warm tones of sculptured sandstone set against the gray skeletal outlines of trees without foliage, hunched boulders, and the fluid darkness of the stream.
I found a good brown hovering in the currents near here, spooked the trout in short order and watched it vanish like a ghost back into the depths.  These types of encounters often seem to be common in Oak Creek, especially with the large and wiser trout, but I made a mental note of the location to revisit the fish and its lair later in March.
I fished up through a favorite stretch of Oak Creek in the middle of the month, a day before the big snowstorm arrived, and managed to fool a handful of fine browns, including a golden 16" fish shown above, and a 13-14" specimen with vivid red-orange spots like embers in the picture below.  Both of these fish held in the same run not far from an area that receives heavy visitor use, and in fact more than a few people stood and watched while I landed the trout, giving me a somewhat unpleasant sensation of being a tourist attraction.  The browns were beautiful though, and both moved for a small olive #18 beadhead Zebra Midge.
I wandered up to a quiet glide later in the day, that sometimes offers good dry fly fishing for a fish or two, under the right conditions.  Before long, I spied a subtle riser breaking the glassy stream surface, and proceeded to switch through several patterns in an attempt to spark the trout's interest.

A sooty-colored water dipper landed briefly upstream, and kept a watchful eye on both my antics and any food items drifting by in the currents.
Eventually, I noticed some tiny pale midges, and tied on a #22 yellow-bodied Fore and Aft on a long piece of 5X tippet.  Within a couple casts, the fish sucked down the dry, quickly went airborne, and then zipped about the pool.  I brought the scrappy fighter to hand and admired another handsome Oak Creek brown, this one a chunky 14", and one of the first dry fly-caught trout from the stream this year.

With evening approaching and heavy gray clouds settling overhead, I quickly made my way upstream to one last spot, a deep pool that yielded a couple of nice fish last season.

No surface activity was evident, but after moving towards the head of the run, I spied a good brown cruising slowly in the shallows, and lobbed a scruffy #12 beadhead Krystal Hair Nymph its way.  The fish turned, and casually inhaled the fly on the first cast.

This trout also provided a tussle, and proceeded to charge about the corners of the pool, doing its best to tie me off in weed beds and other structure.  I guided the trout to shore, and gazed down at one final brown, a 16.5" male with the beginnings of a kype growing in, a good fish to end any day on.  I caught this same fish almost a year ago, and it had grown a solid inch in the interim--one more testament to the benefits of catch and release, and yet another shining moment to be savored along this demanding and wonderful stream.


  1. Beautiful fish! What stretch of the creek is that? I usually fish the catch and release section, but those look like some great pools.

  2. Hi Cole,

    Thanks for the kind words. Without giving too much away, let's just say that there are some good pools and fish present from above the catch and release area all the way downstream and a bit beyond the Grasshopper Point area. Most folks focus on the C&R stretch (and it is both beautiful and often productive), but there is more to Oak Creek beyond that section...