Apache Trout Angling

Mountain Lakes
  |  Gorp.com
Mountain Lakes Practicalities
Species: Apache trout, rainbow, grayling, brook and brown trout. The draw here for most lakes are the big Apache trout but several lakes have chunky rainbows and fat squaretails. Fishing for grayling is more of a novelty.

Gear: 8½ to 9-foot for 5- or 6-weight fly line. I recommend sinktips and sinking line in addition to a weight-forward line. The best way to get to the big fish is from a float tube or other personal watercraft. Few of the lakes are intensely cold but if you plan on fishing for long, especially in the spring, wear neoprene waders.

Flies: Adams (#12-#20), Damselfly nymphs (#10-#14) in various patterns, Crayfish (#4-#10), Bunny Leech (#6-#10), Hare's Ear (#14-#18), Pheasant Tail (#14-#18), Peacock Lady (#8-#12), Woolly Buggers (#2-#10), Callibaetis Emerger (#12-#16), Midge patterns (#18-#22), Scuds (#16-#20). Make sure to visit an Arizona fly shop to take a look at the incredible selection of local fly patterns including the Sunrise Special, JR's Mayfly, the Ugly Bug, Possum Bug, Diamond Bugger and so on. You'd be surprised how many variations on a damselfly nymph a madman fly tyer can invent.

Fly shops: Bob's Flyfishing with End of the Line Hand-Tied Flies, Greer, (520) 735-7293; Mountain Outfitters Fly Shop, Pinetop, (520) 367-6200; Pine Top Sporting Goods, Lakeside, (520) 367-5050; Paradise Creek Anglers, Pinetop, (520) 367-6200;

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The variety and number of lakes in the White Mountains are staggering. This area is blessed with so many great trout fishing lakes, it would take several summers for the ambitious angler to effectively fish them all.

On these lakes try Muddler Minnows and wet dressings like the Hare's Ear, Brown Hackle and Peacock Lady. For most of these lakes, typical lake patterns like Woolly Worms and Woolly Buggers in black, yellow, olive and brown work well. Zonkers in various sizes are popular, and so are Peacock Ladies.

The insect hatches are mayflies, caddis, damselflies and midges. Attractor patterns are successful but at times you will need to match the hatch. Local shops sell a lot of strange-looking, black, orange-butted flies and claim they do well on most of the lakes.

Plan to fish very early on the lakes.

Using a float tube is the best plan; cast into the weed beds using a sinking tip or slow sinking line and stripping a Zebra Midge, Killer Caddis or Mosquito Larva.

Here are thumbnails of some of the White Mountain's top lakes:

A-1 Lake

This high-altitude lake (8,900 feet) on the White Mountain Apache Reservation provides good fishing for rainbows and brookies in its 24 acres with easy roadside access. Located about 20 miles east of Pinetop, this is a good option to cruise in your personal watercraft (rafts, bellyboats, kickboats, canoes). Anglers can fish from the shore and have easy casting room.

Becker Lake

This 85-acre irrigation impoundment lies in the middle of grassy plains two miles northwest of Springerville. The lake opens in the spring, closes at the beginning of winter, with this time-out creating a trophy trout fishery for rainbow and brown trout. The lake's not much to look at but a spring helps keep the water clear and the temperature steady, and as a result, the trout in Becker Lake grow rapidly and to impressive sizes.

Big Lake

Big Lake is a 500-acre lake in the White Mountains, 9,000 feet above sea level. That's a pretty big lake for such a high elevation. Big Lake holds rainbows, cutts and browns, and is best fished by boat or float tube. The lake can get windy, so be prepared. Big Lake is an extremely fertile fishery. Dry flies are useful in the shallows and sinktips are handy to get down to the fish when they aren't looking upward. Anglers do hit the lake in great numbers and is popular for campers and families. Despite the pressure, the lake is one of the best producers in the region.

Christmas Tree Lake

This 40-acre impoundment five miles south of Hawley Lake on Route 26 holds obscenely fat native Apache trout and some brown trout, but has a daily fishing fee and a limit of 20 anglers per day (first come, first served). Christmas Tree Lake has good dry-fly fishing especially at the inlets of Moon and Sun Creeks. If you want a chance to catch a monster trout, a record trout, Christmas Tree Lake is the stillwater choice for you. Just get up early.

Earl Park Lake

Fly fishermen love this tree-lined lake. The scenery is spectacular, the large Apache and rainbow trout rise willingly in shallow water to dry flies and the regs say you must release all fish you catch. Why wouldn't they like this lake? Located near Hawley, anglers can fish this 47-acre lake from the shore but the best method to fish for lunkers is from a float tube or other personal watercraft.

Horseshoe Cienega Lake

This 120-acre lake is popular, and one of the most fished of the reservation lakes. In the summer, the lake becomes weedy but don't let that discourage you — weeds mean a haven for insects especially damselflies, Baetis and Callibaetis. The state record brown trout of 16 pounds, 7 ounces was caught here. Horseshoe Cienega has some great dry fly fishing at times. The hogs are finicky and most of the trout you'll catch are on the smallish side.

Lee Valley Reservoir

This picturesque 35-acre lake is restricted to lures and flies, and has a possession limit, so check regulations. Anglers fish here for rainbows and Apache trout, brook trout, and for a change of pace, grayling. Lee Valley Lake lies at the foot of Mount Baldy and is one of the most scenic lakes in the state. The lake can be reached along Highway 273.

Mexican Hay Lake

There's a reason the word"hay" is in the name of this lake. The lake is often so dry it is just a hay field in a meadow. Even when the snowpack is heavy, the lake is only about 10 feet deep. Located about 15 miles from Springerville on Highway 273, Mexican Hay Lake doesn't hold any trophy trout but plenty of catchable-size rainbows. Shore fishing is almost impossible for the weeds so you'll need a float tube.

Sunrise Lake

This is big water, some 900 acres when full. Sunrise Lake is perhaps the crown jewel of the White Mountain lakes, complete with high altitude (9,100 feet) and big fish — lots of them. Sunrise holds big rainbow trout and the average size runs from 11 to 15 inches. The lake is also stocked with graylings, some of notable size. Even the brook trout can reach two pounds here in this fertile lake. Sunrise is located 30 miles east of Pinetop. Since the lake isn't ringed by trees like other lakes, the wind can be a problem at times.

Other productive lakes in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and reservation lands include Greer, Lyman, Mexican Hay, Hurricane, Luna, Nelson, Scotts, Concho, Rainbow, Show Low, Drift Fence, Fool Hollow, Pratt and Crescent Lakes (and these re just a few of the quality lakes).


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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