Well, I wouldn’t have guessed it with how the day started. I took today off because of a combination of things. Life has been weird lately and I just needed a day to myself. Alone. In the mountains. On a stream. I decided to head to a stream that I knew pretty well and figured there probably wouldn’t be a whole lot of people there on a Thursday.
I woke up and left the valley around 5:30. Now mind you, it normally takes an hour/hour and a half-ish to reach the Payson area on a normal day. Currently there is a 100,000+ acre fire right now and the main road up is blocked. So double that and you get a 3 hour trip each way! A lot of dedication for a small stream. As I was driving, I noticed how far away I was from my destination but could already start smelling the smoke from the fire which was 80-100 miles away.
As I arrived to the stream, I noticed that my favorite (or most productive) part of the stream was taken, so I continued on. I reached another area that I enjoyed fishing and was excited not to see a single person in sight. I started unpacking my rod from the case when I noticed something weird. Where was the tip to my rod?? I turned the rod sleeve upside down and out fell the tip of my rod… Ouch… I am not sure how that happened at all because ever since I moved to a nicer setup (Orvis Recon/Ross Animas) i’ve been verrrrrry careful with how I treat my gear, even while at home or travelling to a destination. Well, I already drove three hours and I figured I could still fish with what I had and would deal with repairs on a later date.
I started with my confidence setup (Tan Caddis with a beadhead Caddis Nymph dropper). Within the first 5 minutes, I had my first Gila which hit the dry.
I had gotten used to catching these smaller Gila and knew exactly what presentation I was comfortable with. I’ve always had luck dead drifting a dry/dropper setup over a waterfall or next to a larger rock. I knew I hadn’t actually fished upstream and I like exploring new areas, so I headed up! I found a deeper pool and could see the Gilas darting from the depths and rising to insects. I started firing casts into the front of the pool and had a few hits, but nothing committing. I knew it was a bit deeper so I switched up and went with a smaller black bugger with the same caddis nymph under an indicator. Within a few casts, I had my first fish of the pool. Another smaller Gila, but I was in the zone!
I ended up catching another from this pool around the same size on a black bugger as well. Up to this point, the Gilas that i’ve caught were all pretty small (usually 8-10″ and smaller) but I had a feeling about today. I wasn’t getting any more bites so I repositioned myself and tied back on the same caddis dry that I had on before. Boom, a bigger Gila rose to the top and took it. I was on! I was surprised how hard it fought until I got it to the net. Obviously not a giant but by far the largest that I had caught up to this point.
I took a quick picture and released it when I was someone walking up. I was surprised to see anyone else out there but ran into an older gentleman named John I believe. He was from Pine and had fished here multiple times as well. We talked for a while about different techniques on this stream and then parted ways. I headed upstream a bit more and caught several more smaller Gilas under little waterfall sections. I stopped keeping track of how many I had caught and I was only an hour and a half into fishing.
I moved back downstream a bit and continued catching more and more fish on the Elk Hair Caddis. I absolutely love watching the fish rise up to take a dry fly; I wish it worked 100% of the time haha!
After 5-6ish hours on the water I decided to call it a day. I had another 3 hours to drive back home and was not looking forward to it. I ended up with probably over 20 fish (lost count) and actually netted one bigger (closer to 16-18″) than the one pictured before, but unfortunately didn’t want to cooperate for a quick picture before it dove back into the water. I’ve only been seriously fly fishing for the last year or two and today was by far my most productive day on the water. I was happy with the fish that I had caught, along with taking in the scenery and tranquility.
I truly love this little stream and hope that these Gila flourish and start spawning. Maybe AZGFD will designate part of the stream for C&R only if it’s an established habitat eventually? Who knows, but I’m glad the Gila are back in Arizona to fight another day. Now time to call Orvis and get my rod fixed….