Apache Trout Angling

North Fork White River
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North Fork White River Practicalities

Species: Brown and Apache trout.

Gear: You'll need nothing bigger than a 4-weight fly rod on this intimate stream. Wade wet or wear hip waders though lightweight chest waders would be fine.

Flies: Elk Hair Caddis (#12-#18), Quill Gordon, (#14-#18), Trico (#18-#22), Blue Winged Olive (#16-#20), Yellow Sally (#10-#14), Stimulator (#8-#12), Adams (#12-#20), Hare's Ear Nymph (#10-#18), Caddis emergers (#14-#18), Pheasant Tail (#12-#18), Stonefly nymph (#8-#12).

Regulations: The North Fork of the White River runs through the Apache Reservation and is subject to its rules, regulations and permits. The river can be fished year-round but is only so-so in the winter.

Directions: From Phoenix, travel east on US 60 (also known as Superstition Freeway) through Glove to Show Low, then travel south on Highway 260. You'll find access all along the stream.

Lodging: Springerville: Springerville Inn, (520) 333-4365; Pinetop: Northwoods Resort, (520) 367-2966.


Kenny and I walked under a high blue sky through the aspens leaving Horseshoe Cienega Lake, walking to get away from what few folks we saw on the nearby North Fork of the White River, to reach the stretches where we could catch some Apache trout.

We'd been catching browns in the more heavily fished sections the day before but had a hankering to see what the quieter areas of the stream were like. We heard and felt the thunder. A herd of elk came rumbling past us, butts as big as horses, and never paid us any mind. They were running from something.

We walked to the river smiling, pleased to be in the middle of a wild place. We caught about 15 Apache trout each in just a couple of hours by swinging beadheads through the undercut banks. Apache trout are found only in the White Mountains of Arizona and their habitat has been shrinking for the last century.

Keep this in mind when hooking, catching and releasing these primitive jewels. They are not as colorful as many other cutts, but the greenish back and pale yellow flanks and the thousand black spots covering their bodies are pretty enough for me.

The most famous section of the North Fork of the White, for fly fishers anyway, is the Ditch Camp area. In this three-mile-long catch-and-release area, the browns are strong and athletic, bigger than in other parts of the river. I have found this section to be spotty over the years, sometimes providing consistent strikes, other times dead.

Popular, but Still Pristine

Because the North Fork sees lots of anglers, especially in the area around the town of Whiteriver, the river is heavily stocked. Don't let this fool or dissuade you. The river runs through pristine forests. All you need to do to get to the wilder areas is to hike up or downstream away from public access, away from where the road crosses the river.

Fishing is mostly put-and-take near Whiteriver, whereas wild browns and cutts thrive in the upper reaches. You make the call. The width of the river in its prime spots from Whiteriver to Ditch Creek varies from 15 to 30-feet wide, even 50 feetwide in the marginal lower stretches, a big river for eastern Arizona.

At times, when the Baetis or Caddis hatches are on, the river seems to boil with feeding fish. Other times, you'll have to plumb the riffles and pools with a dropper rig, floating a big hopper or attractor on top, a lightly dressed generic beadhead below it (a Pheasant Tail is killer).

Smaller than its sister stream, the East Fork of the White River flows clear and cold for over 30 miles, chock-full of brown and Apache trout holding in foamy riffles, pocket water and deep pools. The river width ranges from 12 to 30 feet wide and is loaded with big rocks.

Seeing fewer anglers than the North Fork, the East Fork holds some surprisingly large brown trout, but you will want to avoid the easy access areas. Still, most of the trout in the East Fork are not huge, but tend to be heavy fish for their size.

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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