Arizona Fly Fishing: The Salt River

The Salt River

My mom is in town visiting from the icy Northeast. As we toured around city, we swung by the Salt River below Saguaro Lake. I have always had a love/hate relationship with this stretch of water (actually more just hate), but it’s close proximity made for a quick hour on the water getting my rusty cast back into practice. I threw a few different bugs at the fish there below the bridge and had a few takes on a parachute adams and an orange mini-hopper. Two fish on but both “long-released” for me so I did not have to get my hands fishy.

What is really disheartening about fishing this stretch of river is the seemingly missed opportunities to turn this valuable piece of water into a quality fishery. The flows from the Stewart Dam are irregular at best which has a significant impact on the sustainability of quality trout fishing.  SRP controls those flows and uses the power generated from the dam to help feed the bottomless energy appetite of the Valley. From the different articles that I have read, there has been talk of maintaining consistent flows and turning the portion of the Salt right below the dam into a blue ribbon trout fishery.  The future of that project is unclear as the cost is extremely steep.

Searching for the right fly for the Salt River

Here is the way that I see it. (I could be wrong, but for what it’s worth…)

Reasons for making a portion of the Salt River below Stewart Dam a blue ribbon catch and release section for trout…

1. Close proximity of the Salt River to Metro-Phoenix – A quality stretch of water in a reasonable driving distance from town would be utilized by local fly fishermen.

2. Money – If there was a blue ribbon trout fishery at the Salt River, local fly fishermen would pay just about any reasonable fee to fish it. More money is added to the pot as snowbirds or other out-of-towners come to the Valley looking to experience all that the Arizona outdoors has to offer.

3. Conservation and environmental responsibility – If you head to the Salt River below Stewart Dam right now, although the beauty of the canyon is great, you will be assaulted by the large amount of trash and debris left by tubers, day users, and non-caring fishermen. I believe that if you place special use restrictions on parts of the Salt, one would clearly notice the difference in the amount of trash being left around this beautiful stretch of water.

Maybe someday...

Reasons that it probably won’t happen…

1. SRP – The Salt River Project currently controls the water released from the dam. Generally the flows decrease in the winter and increase in the summer to generate more power to feed the increasing electricity use by the Valley of the Sun. With drought-like conditions the last five or ten years, the flows have been tightly regulated to utilize every drop of water. Convincing SRP to let their “cash flow” (pun intended) go would definitely be a hard and expensive sell.

2. Tubers – During the summer hordes of college kids stampede  to take a comatose tube ride down the river while bringing a good chunk of money to the economy. Alcohol is consumed while trash, clothing  and beer cans litter the banks of this river.  Inevitably, every year the booze and water combination takes its toll and claims lives of multiple tubers. In my opinion, having a quality trout fishery is a more appropriate use of natural resources, but I know I am a little partial to the fly fishermen side of the argument.

3. Native fish – Along with the many different species of fish swimming in the Salt, apparently there are some native suckers or chubs. I imagine, some would argue that making a portion of the Salt a designated trout fishery could impact native fish populations.

4. Water Temp – No one will contest the fact that the summer months are brutal here in Arizona and I have heard some say that the Salt gets too warm for trout to survive. On the other hand, I know of other fishermen who have caught holdovers from years before. If consistent flows are kept, it seems that the water temps could maintain cold enough temperatures to sustain trout life. I would like to see what the impact of stocking native trout would be.  Gila trout have a higher tolerance for warm waters than other salmonoids and could provide a unique opportunity for fishermen to chase these native fish.

– At the end of the day, I am a fly fisherman and not a biology expert. These are simply my thoughts, and I am sure not all of them are plausible, but it is nice to dream of a dynamic fishery that is within easy driving distance. I guess I am just tired of showing up to fish the Salt River and being disgusted and disappointed every time I fish it. I look forward to a day when the Salt River can be utilized to it’s full potential as a blue ribbon trout fishery.

Feel free to let me know what you think.


The Salt River...

11 Responses to “Arizona Fly Fishing: The Salt River”

  1. The River Damsel

    Very thought out post…It sounds like you have done a lot of fishing and research on this river. And it probably should be a “blue ribbon” fishery from the account above. Hope it changes for those who can really appreciate it for what it is.

  2. winonaflyfactory

    Glad to see someone sharing their thoughts on perhaps a sensitive subject. I’m also partial and I’d rather see trout swimming than beer cans, especially if it is supposed to hold trout. That would be hard for me, driving that far to show up only to be dissapointed. Do you have a TU chapter close by that might be able to write grants/petition for some of the changes you’d like to see. Tubers with beer… got no problems with people trying to enjoy things. Got issues with disrespect for nature.

  3. troutrageous1

    I’m no biologist either, but a very thought provoking post. The cynic in me thinks if there was serious money to be had (your point #2 FOR) it would already be done. Perhaps #2 AGAINST is much larger than #2 FOR. But then again, I’m not familiar with the local politics. That said, always support conservation efforts, would love to read what other locals have to say.

  4. azwanderings

    RD – I hope it changes too. It would be nice to have another dynamic trout fishery so close to the city.

    WFF – We do have some great local organizations and TU chapters that do some great work up north. It would be interesting to hear what they have to say about a project like this. That is a great idea to get them involved.

    TR- You’re probably right about the money. In a state where we are just about broke, I don’t see too many people scrambling to spend extra money. And you’re also right in the fact that if there was money to be made, they probably already would have switched things up.

    At the end of the day, this is a rant that kind of took on a life of it’s own. It would be interesting to hear what other locals have to say.

  5. Ty V.

    I live in the Phoenix area and I too love the idea of having a blue ribbon trout fishery so close to home. It is a beautiful area and I frequently enjoyed a quick stop to cast to rising trout on my way home from work last winter. However, I do think there are too many factors working against this portion of the Salt River for it to ever become such a destination.

    All of the reasons you mentioned above are undoubtedly valid. Here is one reason that I think it is unlikely to ever become a blue ribbon fishery- it is too close to Phoenix. You and I, and I’m sure all of your readers, have nothing but the best of intentions and good habits when it comes to conservation of the areas and waters we fish. I don’t think thats true of all anglers. Unfortunately, I think that if the Salt ever started to hold a decent population of trout, urban fishermen and snow birds would hear the news and take over in no time at all. Human population, picnics and river side parties would increase to levels higher than they are now, along with resulting trash and rubbish, etc. This would ultimately still send us to the high country in search of a little solitude anyway. The river would then also have to be heavily regulated and policed in order to even have a chance at creating a sustainable environment for trout.

    I don’t mean to sound like such a pessimist and this may be a bit of an exaggeration. I do have that same dream of having a great fishery so close to home. However, taking into consideration all of the reasons above, I just don’t think the conditions are right for this portion of the Salt River.

  6. azwanderings

    Good stuff Ty. You’ve definitely have put some thought into it and I think you’re probably right. In the end it probably would be more trouble than it’s worth and it ultimately would get abused. It’s too bad and maybe someday things will be different. Thanks for the thoughts. I appreciate your point of view.


  7. Kyle H.

    I think turning the Salt into a Blue Ribbon fishery would be great for us fishermen but as it has been stated once the word is out that something close to town is a guaranteed spot to catch nice trout all year it would end rather quickly. Sometimes it is hard to pull a fish out of one of the urban ponds after only a week from the stocking day. So while it would be great I don’t see it being feasible once the word gets out. And I agree with Ty that if it were to get popular then it would just bring more garbage from careless people. Personally right now I enjoy the Salt River the way it is. They are still able to stock trout all year round and while I still have yet to catch one, I completely enjoy my mornings out there. The scenery is some of the best around and when I do catch one it will be a lot more rewarding because I had to work hard at it and not just cast a lure in an urban pond 10 times. Just some of my views as another local fisherman. Wish I would have seen this article sooner.

    • azwanderings


      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I definitely see your point. More people brings more problems. I am a little bit of an optimist and believe that if it was done right with proper monitoring and support from the fishing community that it could work over time. Probably never will happen, but it’s nice to dream…


      • Kyle H.

        I agree with proper monitoring and with a little education of the fishing community is could work. There already isn’t enough monitoring at the urban ponds though. I see guys with 3 lines in the water all the time and how many of them don’t have licenses, who knows? I would love to see it happen but like you, I doubt it will.

  8. Dzi? Hadadolghaash

    The problem is that the people who run SRP don’t care anything about creating a restoration project, especially if it means them losing money. One only has to look at the SRP Navajo Generating Station on the Navajo Nation to see that. And until we stop getting more immigrants here from the rest of the US, and get an influx of people who have no connection to this land, the river will always be trashed.

    I do like the idea though of stocking Native trout species in the river, but again when AZGFD has 85% of their fish hatcheries dedicated to non-Native fish species that won’t occur either.

    One thing I’ve been thinking of that could help to get rid of the tubers would be to tell the major cities of Maricopa county to invest in some kind of indoor slow moving water tubing tracks. I’ve seen this at new apartment complex at ASU, so I’m sure it’s possible. This could keep the tubers in the city and away from trashing the river, while providing a more safe experience for them that also helps conserve water by recycling it through the course. And if money is an issue here, I’m sure someone could forego the creation of another golf course, and instead build an indoor water tubing attraction.


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