Arizona Fly Fishing: The Backcountry

Arizona Backcountry Creeks
Staring into a trail-less abyss

My wife laughed at me when I told her what time I would be getting up on Saturday morning to go fishing. I wondered about the decision myself, but when the alarm clock beeped, I popped up like a daisy. With a little bit of coffee and a granola bar for the truck ride, I met up with Antonio and Keith for a day of fly fishing in the Arizona backcountry.

Arizona Backcountry Hiking
The decent

A few hours later, I was looking over the side of a canyon with no trails or signs of life. In the bottom, I could see a turquoise pool just waiting to be fished and without a second thought, we bailed off the edge and into the abyss. Loose rock, deadfalls, and pricker bushes made for an interesting decent and I tried not to contemplate the return journey which I knew would be miserable after a hard day of fishing.

Arizona Fly Fishing
Long deep pools

The hike/scramble down the canyon wall was well worth it, and the cold morning air felt good as we rigged our fly rods for the day ahead. It had been 27 degrees when we left the truck and in the sunless canyon, I am sure it was a bit colder. We stripped streamers for the first hour or so, but figured the water was much too cold for fish to be active. Antonio started off the day with a bang with an engorged brown trout taking his signature streamer. The picture below proves there are some real predators living in these Arizona streams and how productive Arizona fly fishing can be.

Fly Fishing Arizona
Antonio starts the day off with a bang

Half the reason these fish get to be so big is because they live in these slow ice-cold pools feeding on the plethora of crayfish that also thrive in these backcountry streams, like the one pictured below. Although the crayfish help some of these big browns gain their size, some of these creeks are simply overwhelmed by the crayfish numbers.

Arizona Crayfish
Arizona Crayfish

As the day warmed up, the creek came alive with bugs and rising trout. I walked ahead to a small pool and amidst the dancing midges, I could see a trout finning in the current, occasionally rising for a bug or two. I opened my box and perused my fly selection and settled on a gray-bodied CDC midge pattern. A few casts later, the surface erupted as the healthy brown devoured my fly.

Arizona Brown Trout
Brown on a Dry

I cradled the fish and said a quick thank you before releasing him back into his home pictured below. With the skunk avoided, I was able to relax and get into a fishing rhythm.

Creek Pool
Pool

The browns continued to come and around noon the prolific bug life on the creek came to life. I switched to a mini-hopper and an ice-dubbed pheasant tail and began pulling a fish or two from every pool. We fished our way up a mile or two enjoying the slight breeze and smell of the pines before turning back downstream

Arizona Brown Trout
Mini-hoppers anyone
Arizona Brown Trout
Brown on a Pheasant Tail

As we fished some of the better pools on the way back down, I stumbled upon a beautiful elk shed lying right by the creek. After admiring it and feeling it’s weight, I opted not to carry it out of the canyon and gave it to Antonio who politely posed for a photo below while rocking his Arizona Wanderings T-shirt. (In hindsight, I’m fairly certain the reason he landed his nice brown was because of the powerful mojo found in each AZW shirt – Get yours at the AZW Shop.)

Shed Hunting
Antonio sporting the Arizona Wanderings Logo
Arizona Fly Fishing
Small Stream Brown Trout

I stopped at one more foamy run before our scramble up the hill and pulled 8 fish from the same spot. So much for small stream trout being spooky. Most fish we pulled throughout the day were fat, healthy and ready to eat more.

Backcountry Hiking
The Hike Out

It was a great day on the water with a good couple of guys. Many thanks to Antonio and Keith for sharing the experience with me today. It has been a beautiful start to the season and I’m crossing my fingers that we get some more precipitation to keep the creeks healthy and flowing.

35 Responses to “Arizona Fly Fishing: The Backcountry”

    • azwanderings

      Thanks Brandon. My thoughts exactly. It will just be hard to focus thinking about the next time I get to bail off the edge of a canyon and chase fish.

      Ben

      Reply
  1. mr blur

    oh my – it’s been years since I’ve been there. mostly because of that climb out. that creek can be magical though…great shots great fish.

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      “Magical?” That scramble/climb at the end of the day is a ball buster to say the least. That’s not even taking into account the prickers and briars you have to hack through too. Beautiful country though. Thanks for the kind words, Mike.

      Ben

      Reply
      • mr blur

        hahaha. that’s why I haven’t been back there in years. one thing I have learned is have plenty of water back at the truck because after a day you will run out and unless you have a filtered bottle (which I now do), yer gonna be one thirsty hombre when you get out. and ginger ale? it just doesn’t cut thirst like water does.

        best to spend the night down there eat breakfast fish and head out for lunch on top.

        Reply
        • azwanderings

          Agreed. We had plenty of water and fluids at the top waiting for us. I am looking forward to doing a couple days down there in the future. I just dread thinking about climbing out of there with a heavy pack on. Miserable.

          Ben

          Reply
  2. mr blur

    oh yeah – we’d have to use surveyor’s tape or somesuch to mark the place we entered the creek so we’d no approximately where to begin our ascent.

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks Howard for the kind words. It was a beautiful day to say the least.
      Ben

      Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks Brian. Antonio is a heck of a fisherman and his secret streamer must be tasty because he always pulls nice fish. Thanks for the kind words.

      Ben

      Reply
  3. Erin Block

    Those “well, I hope we make it back out” kinds of places are always the best of fishing. Good on ya for getting down and out and into those beautiful browns!

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks Erin. Those backcountry places sure do hold some nice fish. Looking back, I’m always glad that I went. But in the heat of the scramble back up to the truck, I always wonder what the heck is wrong with me.

      Ben

      Reply
  4. Barry aka long ago

    Looks like another epic trip, way to go! I found some antlers in the same canyon.

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      I think there must be some decent bulls in that canyon. I pity the hunter who has to pack it back out of that canyon.

      Ben

      Reply
  5. shoreman

    Those days of hiking down into a canyon like that are long gone for this Geezer. Now, if the elevator was working, I would be glad to fish that beautiful canyon.

    Mark

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Half of me wishes that it was easier going and that there was a nice elevator. The other half of me knows that the fishing would not be half as good if there was easy access. A catch 22 for sure.

      Ben

      Reply
  6. Tenkara-Fishing

    Outstanding Ben, absolutely outstanding. You have me chomping at the bit for another road trip south…Well that and the plans to be on the road in a couple weeks in search of some fish in remote country.

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Paul, Let me know when you’ll be back down here. I would love to meet up with you, and I have a couple of perfect tenkara streams in mind.

      Ben

      Reply
      • Tenkara-Fishing

        I’m going to be well north of you in 2 weeks if the snow is melted enough at 10,000 ๐Ÿ˜‰ We shall see. Not sure if a trip to AZ is in the cards this year or not, I would really like to but just don’t known. That steam there looks like it would work great and by right up my alley. Spent last week on a tail water in OR pulling 20″ browns on Tenkara rods, lots of fun fighting them.

        Reply
  7. walt franklin

    Thanks for sharing your experiences in a wonderful canyon that makes you pay for the fun of it at the end. Beautiful stream and trout. Makes me look forward to my summer visit to northern NM. Now, if we only get the rain that’s so much needed!

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Walt,
      Thanks so much for the nice comment. I definitely paid at the end for the fun I had that day. I wish you the best in NM and hope we both get a bit of rain to keep the streams flowing strong this summer.

      Ben

      Reply
  8. Rainbow Chaser

    Simply beautiful post and love the pictures and detail. Those Backcountry waters are a treasure that every fly fisher ought to try at least once. Thanks for the effort in making the trip and sharing the rewards!

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks RC. I’ll be heading back in there for sure before this year is up. The backcountry is certainly a treasure.

      Ben

      Reply
  9. Iain Emmons

    Ben,

    Great post and beautiful images–that first brown caught by Antonio is a real pig. I love the milky color of the water too, fishing usually promises to be good in those conditions.

    I really love getting into some of those canyon streams (as you said, the hike out can be a bear), and Arizona seems to be blessed with quite a few, with some outsized trout to match. The crayfish do present an issue, good in terms of feeding large trout, bad in terms of simplifying and damaging the stream ecosystem, although it is certainly fun to tie into predatory fish with streamers!

    We will have to get together soon one of these days, and seek out a few backcountry trout (not to mention Oak Creek on the more accessible side of things)…

    Thanks again for the post.

    Iain

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks for the kind word Iain. The conditions were gorgeous and we had some great fishing. I look forward to getting out on the water with you here in the future. Hope you are having a good spring.

      Ben

      Reply
  10. Doug Burt

    Ben – great write up. I’m no fisherman but i love adventures – which this obviously was.

    The photos of the semi- submersed rod & reel, and the trout-in-hand are fantastically liquid looking.

    PS – loving the mobile plugin.

    Read, viewed photos, and commented from my iPhone.

    Reply
    • azwanderings

      Thanks Doug. I appreciate your support and glad that mobile plugin is doing the trick. Thanks for the kind words.

      Ben

      Reply
  11. Jesse

    Ben, Loved the article. Due to my knees giving me notice of “intent to give out”, I have to limit myself to where I go. Short distance hikes and walks to streams are ok but, those “trail- less abyss” ones are for sure a rescue heli-port ride out, so I will just be there in my mind and let you make the “Arizona wanderings” for me by reading your well written posts and looking at those awesome pics. Jesse

    Reply
  12. William Hartley

    Can I ask where this is?? itโ€™s looks like a blast!

    Reply

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