Apache Trout Angling

The White Mountains of Arizona
  |  Gorp.com
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I can't believe I am telling you about this place.

When I first heard about undiscovered trout streams running clear and cold through aspen forests in a state more associated with scorpions scooting around in hot deserts, I called my brother-in-law Kenny and we lit out for this promised land for a week's angling.

We've been back many times but this is the first time I've written in-depth about it.

More than before, the cat is out of the bag, at least for Arizona locals. Two or three good guidebooks have come out in the last three years exposing the blue ribbon trout streams and lunker trout mountain lakes of the White Mountains of eastern Arizona.

The high country scenery would look right at home in Colorado or Montana but without all of the crowds. Fishing for the rare Apache trout on sparkling small streams remains somewhat of a solitary experience even with the increased exposure.

The drive from the Grand Canyon is just too far for most tourists and honestly, most folks just don't know about the fruitful trout streams of the White Mountains. The gentle White Mountains rise from the desert floors (from searing heat to cooling breezes). Retreating glaciers carved out U-shape valleys with wide meadows and steep-sided canyons.

Rivers Born on a Volcano

The forests are thick with Engelmann spruce, white pine, ponderosa pine, aspen, fir and cork bark. The White Mountains aren't as tall as many ranges, nor as rugged. The tallest mountains rise to 11,000 feet.

Four rivers (Black, Blue, White and Little Colorado) have their headwaters on the slopes of an ancient volcano, Mount Baldy (11,403 feet), the second highest peak in Arizona. Mount Baldy is a sacred place and off-limits to all but the Indians of the Apache Reservation.

Because of the geographic isolation, few anglers (compared to Colorado for instance) fish these waters. Trails and old forest roads lead deep into the backcountry past high-altitude riparian habitat, through vertical breaks, along singing creeks, and between big rock pinnacles.

This is remote but intimate country, a primitive place where an angler can drop a line in a stream where no one else has fished in a year or more, maybe longer. The hues of green and orange of the grassy hillsides and dark forests are cut clean by twisting blue rivers, dotted by turquoise lakes.

A Rare Opportunity

The state is stocking the rare Apache trout in headwaters. In some places, you can catch big fish in small streams, but most of them are in the 912 inch range. Some lakes and streams are fishable year-round, and you can fish in the spring before other states' trout fishing turns on.

The big draws are the mountain lakes. They hold large fish in spectacular mountain settings. The streams are not grand by western standards but are worthy in their own right. But the big boys are holding in the stillwaters: big rainbows, big Apache trout.

The White Mountains offer perhaps the best trout fishing in the state, containing more than 600 miles of fishable streams and over 24 major trout lakes. Anglers can fish for rainbows, browns, brookies and cutthroats.

For those anglers who have a goal of fishing for every species of trout, this area is also home to the unique native Apache Trout. In one of the artificial lure/fly lakes you can even enjoy fishing for the aggressive Arctic grayling.

The trout waters of Arizona are underfished, underpublicized, and remote, making them the sleepers of the West. Twenty-inch trout are taken from relatively small streams (like the Little Colorado and White Rivers), and the lakes of eEastern Arizona produce many lunkers over 20 inches, more often measured in pounds.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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