Sunday, May 20, 2012

AZ Brookies, May 2012

Among the diverse fishing opportunities in Arizona, wild brook trout are some of the more unusual and highly regarded quarry sought after by small stream anglers in the state.  The char tend to inhabit the highest elevation streams, where the water runs cold and clean through subalpine meadows and stands of spruce and fir, in settings reminiscent of more northerly latitudes.

Several creeks on the Mogollon Rim hold self-sustaining brook trout populations, so I explored a headwater tributary of one watershed during my fishing excursions in May, and to my delight found some willing and beautiful little char, including the individual above that grabbed a scruffy Krystal Hare Nymph.  

The creek was generally small in stature, but did pool up with some frequency, creating runs of surprising depth that provided holding water for many of the finned inhabitants.  

I fooled a couple of brookies from one long slow pool, including the fish above.  I've always thought of brook trout, and char in general, as some of the most striking salmonids, and it was a pleasure to see the jewelled spots and bold contrasting colors of these fish in hand once again.  

Brook trout shared the stream with some spooky browns, including the specimen below, coaxed out from beneath a small log jam.  Like the brookies, the fish was adorned with some red-orange spots that seemed to burn like embers.  

Both the browns and brookies topped out around 10-11" for the most part, just about the perfect size for their small stream settings.   I spotted one larger fish that proved elusive, and the deeper pools seemed capable of harboring additional surprises--all the more reason to revisit this gem of a creek.

As afternoon wore on, forest shadows crept across the creek surface, and fish began rising for the odd mayfly and terrestrial floating by.

I tied on a #12 black foam beetle, and cast it up into the sluggish currents, watching the fly drift back downstream.  Often enough, the drift was interrupted by the splashy rise of a cruising fish, sometimes culminating in a streamlined handful of vivid spots and bright colors.

The silhouettes of looming conifers touched by the day's fading light reflected upon the glassy surface of the creek's pools, fractured periodically by a quiet rise or the fall of my fly line.  

A few more fish responded to the beetle before evening settled, including this lovely male brook trout that displayed some fight for its size.  

The day's search for a few Arizona brookies had been more than successful, in settings that matched the trout's beauty.  I finally said goodbye to the precious stream, until next time.


  1. Beautiful pictures and great story as always! This was a fitting post read this evening as I just got back from a day of chasing brookies. They are definitely gorgeous fish and its nice that they aren't usually too picky as well...

  2. Well done story,as usual...and we all appreciate your discretion regarding specifics.

  3. David, great to hear from you, and to see that you are settling in nicely in your new Colorado stomping grounds. Brook trout are gorgeous, and it is a gift to have a few streams in AZ that support them. Thanks for the good words.

    Curt, thanks for the comments, and I agree about the discretion part--some fishing destinations are better left unnamed (especially the small vulnerable streams), at least on a public site, both to protect the fisheries and to allow a sense of discovery for other adventurous anglers exploring the small blue lines of the state.


  4. Lain, wonderful write-up as always. Take a look at my last post... I believe we have a fondness for the same steams!!! Last October I was lucky enough to video tape 2 browns spawning, and a brookie snatching the eggs up right from behind them. It's a gem of a stream.

  5. Cole, thanks for the comments, and yes, it looks like you recently had a successful visit to the same stream! I might just have to explore that place again this fall; as you said, it is a gem of a stream. That is pretty neat that you were able to watch and record a pair of browns spawning with a brookie grabbing eggs below them.

    Thanks again, Iain

  6. Ian, my name is Chris Kurnik and I run a little blog, I am from Reno but I am living in AZ for the month of Nov. to work on research. I have been here two weeks and I am already desperately deprived of wild rivers. I am trying to figure out some places I can escape to for the weekends. I was wondering if you had any advice about Oak creek you would be willing to share. Feel free to send me an email at

  7. Hey Chris, nice blog, it looks as if you are no stranger to chasing after some bruiser wild trout up around Reno and beyond! I'll try to send you an email on some suggestions for Oak Creek, and a few other locations as well...

    Thanks for visiting,


  8. Great write up, enjoyed reading it. Have a couple questions before heading up there from Tucson. Is it true that I have to release all trout I catch at oak creek and if so should I not get a trout stamp?

    Thank you, Joe from Tucson

  9. Joe,

    Thanks for the good words, and no, you do not have to release all trout caught from Oak Creek (although I would strongly recommend releasing any larger wild fish). The C&R section of Oak Creek is from Junipine Crossing (next to the Junipine Resort) upstream to a road crossing above the West Fork confluence (~2 miles of stream), the rest of the stream is regular regulations.

    Speaking of regulations, you do need a trout stamp if you are fishing a stream that is predominantly inhabited by trout, according to AZGF license rules.

    Good luck and tight lines,


  10. Thanks for the reply and the info. I'll be camping in the pine flat, Manzanita, or cave springs campground. Not decided on which yet. Hopefully in that area I'll be alright!

    Thanks again.


  11. Iain,

    Where have you been? I'm looking forward to more of your great posts on fishing and the backcountry. I'm guessing work, life, etc has caught you up. Can't wait to see whats next!