Thursday, April 19, 2012

Oak Creek, April 2012

Spring grew in leaps and bounds with the passage of April along Oak Creek.  The season announced itself in countless ways, large and small, from the varied birdsong of neotropical migrants to the subtle lengthening of days.  Somehow, all of these signs combined with a certainty of life unfolding, and the wheel of the year turning.  

I paid a couple of visits to the stream during the first part of the month, including an early April jaunt up through a section of the catch and release area, where the trees were still reluctant to don their foliage.  The trout were a bit reluctant too, and spooked easily to my presentations.

Still, I managed to fool a few gems, including this scrappy 12.5" brown that pounced on a #12 Krystal Hare Nymph drifted under a boulder near the head of the run pictured above.

A spring storm in mid-April deposited a thin layer of snow on the higher reaches of the canyon, while the welcome smell of moisture clung to the stones along lower reaches of the stream.

New green leaves provided a warm contrast against red sandstone walls, and the curling whitewater pushing through, all merging into an untamed canvas.

With the recent precipitation came an influx of water that boosted stream flows, and seemed to invigorate some of Oak Creek's finned inhabitants.  This chunky little brown moved for a #16 Copper Emmons drifted through a riffled run, and sported red spots glowing like miniature embers.

I lobbed a pair of nymphs into the run below, and another fish struck just as they passed to the right of the partially submerged boulder in the foreground.

Oak Creek breeds tough trout that often fight above their weight class, and this 13.5" brown proved no exception to that rule, using the tumbling currents to its advantage.

As shown in the image below, the fish took a #18 beadhead olive brown Zebra Midge, indicating a preference for the little nymph over the Crawbugger that I had also been casting.

Leaning hardwoods draped a run further upstream in dappled shade as afternoon wore on.  This glide is deceptively deep, and can harbor good fish at times.  I managed to hook and lose a large brown here on a dry a month ago, and was curious to test the reach again.  Sure enough, I began noticing riseforms periodically dotting the surface, and the shadowed sweep of a trout's tail underneath, always a sight to get a flyfisher's blood stirring.

After studying the stream I noticed the occasional size 12 March Brown and a smattering of smaller tan caddis drifting atop the lazy currents.  Whenever the larger mayflies passed within range, a trout would rise up and suck the insects down on an unhurried fashion.  These mayflies never seem to hatch in abundance, but whenever even a few are present, the trout take notice.  They have quickly become one of my favorite aquatic insects to see and match along Oak Creek.  I tied on a tan Parachute Sparkle Dun in matching size to an extended leader tapering to 5X, cast up towards the shade of the opposite bank, and managed to put a fish down within several drifts.  I rested the run briefly, then cast again with more care, and was rewarded with a snout that lifted over the dry--fish on!  The fish raced about, jumped repeatedly, and looked to be a pretty 15-16" brown, but I got sloppy for a moment, and the trout made one last run under a branch, snapping me off in the process.

After a few choice expletives followed by slow deep breaths, I tied on a new fly and length of tippet, and as luck would have it, another fish rose quietly in shallower water closer to my side of the stream.  I let the line unfurl towards the riser, and again, a trout broke the surface to intercept the low-riding dry.  I lifted back on the rod, and immediately a big brown went airborne, a breathtaking sight.  The fish was all over the place, thrashing about and then dogging down in deeper water.  Eventually I coaxed the trout to the shallows, and gazed down at a beauty of a 19" brown.  It was a female by the looks of it, and among the largest fish I have landed on a dry from Oak Creek, a satisfying catch to say the least.

Soon after releasing her, I spied another subtle rise in a run just upstream, where a channel funneled between two exposed boulders.  On the first cast, another trout rose confidently for the mayfly pattern, went airborne, and then barreled straight towards me, making me reel in frantically.

This fish also fought tirelessly, and again I managed to draw it in close, revealing a golden olive, red-spotted male brown of 16", just a flawless-looking Oak Creek trout.  The browns in this stream never cease to get me with their beauty, and certain fish like this one are true stunners.

The brown certainly wasn't interested in my admiration though, and after several photographs he was off like a shot, back to his lie.  I called it a day soon after releasing this fellow, and reveled in that crazy magical hour or so when good browns were taken on top, a time that always seems so brief in fly fishing, especially in a place like Oak Creek, and yet lingers on in the mind, for days and years to come.


  1. Thanks Ben, it was particularly nice to fool a few good browns on top.


  2. Nicely put together. Where can I take my 9 & 11-year-olds for a half morning of fishing Following the rEcent rains.

  3. Thanks anonymous, and I would suggest trying the upper stream after rain events, meaning somewhere upstream of Slide Rock (or even Junipine Crossing in the C&R area). The flows decrease as you head upstream, making for easier wading. That said, it has not rained in the last couple days, so Oak Creek has probably dropped back to lower levels all through the canyon.

    Tight lines, Iain

  4. Iain, I recently moved to AZ and in an effort to find places to fish have stumbled upon your blog. I have fished Oak Creek twice and am extremely envious of your ability to not only find but catch large fish in this creek. Your ability to take in the surroundings, to consciously and correctly match the hatch to the very size is astounding. I feel like I have just scratched the surface of what Oak Creek has to offer. I can't wait to get back up there and dip my line in the water to see what I can turn up. I look forward to browsing through all of your posts - your poetic style is a pleasure to read.

  5. Cory,

    Thanks for the kind words, I appreciate it. Oak Creek is a gem of a stream in my mind, both for the trout that inhabit its runs, and the scenic beauty of the place. It can be demanding, but has a lot to offer (I feel like I learn something new on every visit), and tends to reward the persistent, sooner or later.

    I have a number of posts to update, both from Oak Creek and beyond, so stay tuned. Thanks again for the thoughtful comments, and tight lines!


  6. Iain --

    My family and I are heading to Sedona next week. I'm glad I found you blog, as there are not all that many resources about fishing in the area.

    I'm packing a 3 wt and am hoping to get out on Oak Creek for a bit. Without spilling any of your secrets, do you have any advice for an out-of-towner on the best place to access and fish Oak Creek? Just looking to catch and release a few fish down there....way to cold here in MN to fly fish right now.

    Thanks -- outstanding blog and photos.


  7. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the good words, and thanks for visiting the site! I'm rather behind with the posts, something I plan to remedy in the near future...

    If you don't mind, send me your email and I'll be happy to pass on some suggestions.

    Thanks again, Iain

    1. Iain --

      THanks for the response. My e-mail is We are boarding a plane in a few hours and should arrive in the Sedona area tonight I'm hoping to get out for a half-day on Oak Creek. My wife and 17 month old son will be along, so if there's a good "family friendly" stretch of stream with decent fish, that would be ideal. I'll have my son in the backpack, so we are able to do a fair amount of hiking in as well. Thanks for the great site, and willingness to share some information.


  8. Wow! Your blog has the best writing and photography of anything I could find regarding fishing in the Sedona area. Very impressive - I hope to read more in the future.

    I am up in Sedona with my mother (an avid fisher(wo)man who has taught me all she knows) for a wedding and she really wanted some time in the water with rod and reel. It seems like the Oak Creek section north of Junpine Resort is a good location. Also, given the flow rate, as far as i have seen myself, it appears to be fairly pacific. Is this true?

    My real question has to do with the west fork of Oak Creek. She can walk fairly well but a steep elevation change, or scampering over boulders would be difficult for her. Would this be a good location and/or doable for myself and my 65 year old mother? If not, could you offer a better suggestion? Thanks

    Thomas (thomas at mccannta (dot) com)

  9. Hi Iain, First........... awesome blog I love reading your stories about Oak Creek. I have never fly fished there. If you wouldn't mind, I would like to chat with you about technique. Here is my email address....... If you wouldn't mind, email me and I will send a return email with a few questions. Thanks.....

  10. Hi Iain, I'm a huge fan of the blog. Not sure if you're still in the area and fishing as often, but I'm wondering if you have any insight about how the browns in oak creek fared through the slide fire? Thanks, Evan

  11. Hello Ian! What an awesome blog. I've been fishing oak creek for several years now and can't believe its taken me so long to notice your blog. Normally my wife and I camp at Manzanita during the Thanksgiving holiday. I've had little to no luck during these days. Do you have any suggestions for increasing my odds during the colder months?