I was lucky enough to draw a javalina tag this fall and found myself in beautiful northern Arizona sharing a camp with my good friend Austin and a couple of old-timers who could fill an encyclopedia with their stories of hunting and fishing. Last year was my first year out after javelina and, although I spotted them several times, I was unsuccessful in bagging a “pig.” Friday morning found us stuffing gear in Austin’s trailer and rumbling up north, stopping for our last taste of real food at a small Mexican place, and coming to a halt in a shady little spot by one of Arizona’s beautiful gurgling creeks. By 3:30 we were setting up tripods on a small knoll and glassing on of the bigger hillsides near our camp. As is generally the case, Austin spotted a fairly large herd of 15-20 javelina. We made a plan and the stalk was on. Within a half hour I was 20 yards from several of the herd. Luck was not on my side and I was unable to connect with the fat rodents and my commotion sent them scurrying towards my hunting partner. He was also unlucky and darkness found us a few arrows short and javelina-less. The rest of the weekend rolled quickly by with mornings, generally the best time to spot javelina, empty. We got into one more herd later on Saturday, but again could not connect on anything. Hunting camp was a highlight. Big campfires, good food, and plenty of laughs will not soon be forgotten. We still have several weekends left to get back and put some miles on our boots, but are a little less optimistic with the passing of opening weekend. More to come next weekend and I will try to remember to bring the camera…
This has become a nightly routine to sit down and tie several flies after dinner. It is quite enjoyable seeing these flies come to life. Even though they may not be perfect or even border-line good, I have never been more excited to go fish and see how they perform. At this rate, It will be well after Christmas before I return to Arizona and put these flies to water and the anticipation is already killing me…
Update from 2011: As I was looking back over some of my old posts, I was extremely embarrassed over some of these earlier flies. I debated taking down the pictures, but I decided not to. I am not a great fly tier now, but I’m not this bad anymore…
After tying several wooly buggers, it was time to move on and start trying some dry flies. Several suggestions came down and I decided to keep it simple. The Griffiths Gnat is a extremely basic dry fly that is tied similarly to the wooly bugger. Sitting down today, I tied up 4 and by the fourth (bottom left) I felt like I actually knew what I was doing. If you look at the picture, you can see the hackle getting smaller and smaller as I realized I needed to use the smaller feathers. I enjoyed myself immensely and am looking forward to tying again soon and maybe using some of the elk hair.
Reports have drifted to my ears that the Salt River is a toxic hole that occasionally is stocked to please local Phoenix fisherman. In my opinion these rumors have always seemed a little harsh and I decided to always wait to pass judgment until I could form my own thoughts. After fishing today, I can appreciate what others have reported. The Salt River is not the finest river in the West. I was amazed by all the garbage and trash littered on the banks. People say that the River is “mobile spring break party” once the temperature heat up and the tubes hit the water, and I can see from the evidence that this is correct. I was disappointed to say the least. I saw several fish rising later in the day to a Blue Wing Olive hatch, but was unsuccessful in hooking a single fish for the few hours I was there. Not the best experience I have ever had.
There were several positive things that I did appreciate about the day. Number one, I did not have to wake up at 3:30 to drive two and a half hours to fish. Number two, I did not freeze my hands off. Typically on the Rim or in Sedona at this time of year, you would have found me huddled in my truck at daylight attempting to tie a fly to tippet with frozen fingers. Number three, because the fishing was subpar, I was able to scout and look at several different areas that I could possibly fish in the future. Number four, I met a really friendly and pleasant fly fisherman on the river who was fishing with his girlfriend(?). Pete stopped by and gave me several different flies to try as well as a bag of elk hair to tie up some different flies in the future. We talked extensively about tying and he invited me to come to a Arizona Fly-casters meeting and tie with some different members. Always nice to meet good people.
Final Analysis on the Salt River… I hate getting skunked. I’m pretty upset with the River and with all the people who leave their garbage everywhere. I was not thrilled, but due to it’s relative closeness and a feeling that I must go back and redeem myself, I will definitely fish the Salt again.
With the holidays fast approaching and the temperatures dropping rapidly, I really wanted to fish the mountain streams one more time this year and give my Frankenstein wooly bugger a good try. Like any good coach, I gave my new fly plenty of game time throughout the day, hoping that I would see him rise to the occasion and put up big numbers for me. Apparently the trout were not as impressed with my tying skills as I was and Frankenstein will have to wait for another day. I was fortunate to pull in one decent size brown and several smaller rainbows on a parachute adams. (Note: In these small streams, I have seen bigger fish lurking, but “decent” to me is anything over 12-13 inches) I did hook onto one of those lunkers later on in the day. He slammed my dry fly as if he had not eaten in a week and ran a ways up the pool. Jumping several times, he showed me his glistening white and orange belly before spitting my hook. When the scene was over, I could do nothing but stand there with my mouth open as my mangled fly floated past me. He looked to be well over 17-18 inches and would have been quite a fish to reel in and hold. The day flew by and before I knew it the sun was already dropping behind the canyon walls.
From what I have read, the Mogollon Rim turns off for the winter except for the occasional warm up where some fishermen brave the snow and ice to tempt some hungry trout. There are several other streams and rivers closer to town that I would not mind checking out as the weather turns to winter. I’m looking forward to tying up my wooly buggers and learning and practicing some other flies to tie.
I have taken a step. One I hope I will not regret. Diligently I have been reading and pondering the pros and cons of tying my own flies. With the possible advent of a “fly fishing club” beginning at my school, I decided it was time to begin. I settled on a DynaKing Kingfisher vice which is quite simple but durable. Gathering the other necessary tools and supplies, I decided to begin by tying just one type of fly. The “Wooly Bugger” was the first victim on the operating table/vice . Broken thread and wild fibers lead to frustration, but in the end I finalized a bug that somewhat resembled my goal. He may not be perfect, but this little Frankenstein looks alright to me. The quality of his character will be tried tomorrow on an Arizona mountain stream.
It becomes difficult to tie knots with 5x tippet when the temperature drops to near freezing and your fingers refuse to work. This is the dilemma that I found myself in yesterday morning. While everyone else was clocking in bright and early on a Monday morning, I was looking at an ice cold creek attempting to will my numb fingers to submit and listen to my brain. By some miracle, I was successful in tying on a small dry fly to my brand new TFO rod. After logging many hours of painting these past two weeks, I convinced my fiance and ultimately myself that I had earned a new fly fishing rig. With a few months of researching, reading reviews, and trying then retrying different rods, I settled on a Temple Fork Outfitters Finesse 3 wt. My patience and deliberation payed off yesterday with the enjoyment that I experienced on Oak Creek. I actually had a bit of a scare with my new setup. By the second or third pool I noticed that something was wrong. The rod was either not casting or the line was not shooting correctly. After careful inspection I observed that the guides of the rod were starting to ice over. This was my first experience with ice (because who expects ice in Arizona) and for the first few hours in the morning I spent a good portion of time picking ice out of the guides.
Fishing was very slow with only two fish landed all day. I took my time and was able to spot several pods of fish before they were aware of me, but nothing that I was casting was appealing to them. I fished all day and found myself in a large still pool about the time the sun was leaving the canyon. In this large pool, trout were rising to what appeared to be caddis flies. I tied on several different flies to try and “match the hatch” but again had no luck. The size of my #16 flies seemed to be a tad larger then the flies they were feeding on, but the experience of actually seeing a hatch was very inspiring. Hunger, the cold, and a desire to see my fiance (and Budder) drove me back to the truck. Roaring off to the valley, I realize I am hopelessly addicted to fishing.
Words and pictures fail to describe the beauty of the Arizona desert at sunrise. My buddy, Travis, and I arrived while it was still dark to one of our usually productive quail spots. This year has been a difficult year for the quail coveys with a drastic lack of water, but we have been successful in bagging a few birds each time we head out. The morning started out on a bad note when, as we were gearing up and drinking the last of the coffee, a large pickup truck passed and could be heard parking just a 100 yards down the wash that we were getting ready to hunt. Apparently, “our” spot is not as hush-hush as we have hoped. So instead of hunting the wash and the adjacent hillside, we headed off at an angle that would take us away from the other hunters. The brisk 45 degrees quickly disappeared as the sun warmed the hillsides. On our way into a tangle of mesquite, saguaros, and jumping cactus, we busted a few small coveys, but most of the birds in this area were pretty keen on what we were there for and kept at least a 70 to 80 yard distance from us. No matter how hard we tried to be quiet on the crunchy desert floor, it always sounds as if you are walking on bubble-wrap. We hiked farther than usual and looked at some different country, but were unable to capitalize on the quail that were in the area. We were on the other hand successful in bringing down several doves, whose season just opened Friday.
The morning ended on a festive note as we stopped by Campbell Mercantile Store, a cornerstone of the Peoria community, and feasted on the morning’s special of biscuits and gravy while drinking copious amounts of coffee. Without a doubt, the morning was a successful way to start of my week long Thanksgiving break. The rest of the week should hold some more wanderings, perhaps into the water. Did I mention I love being a school teacher?