Friday, March 22, 2013

A Fly Fishing Odyssey Begins, Rumors Of Rainbows and Browns

An Urban Rainbow From Last Winter
One of my fly fishing goals for this summer is to catch all five species of trout that live in Arizona waters. This will require me to do some exploration of places that are a bit off the beaten path. The Three non-native trout species; Rainbow, Brown, and Brook are prolific well established and easy to find in most of the highland streams and lakes, but the two native species of Gila Trout and Apache Trout are only found in certain streams in the larger mountain ranges of Arizona and New mexico These fish are rare and much more difficult to find due to the other three species taking over most of their native habitat. There is also another fish I wish to catch over the summer called the round tail chub. This is a warmer water species native to Arizona and highly protected as an endangered species. There is only one place, I know of, in Arizona to catch this fish and that area is only open for part of the year and is obviously catch and release only. Setting travel plans to the White mountains aside for a few weeks, the first thing I would like to do is explore some rumors I have heard about my local mountain range.

The Tucson area only has one higher elevation mountain lake that is cool enough to hold trout through the brutal summer months. Located at in the Santa Catalina mountain range at an elevation of around 7000 feet Rose Canyon Lake is tucked into a tight rock walled canyon accessible by a short walk down a paved road from the parking area. Rose Canyon Lake is stocked on a bi-weekly basis with rainbow trout and is purported to contain a few small browns that are left over from a long ago stocking program. This pay per use lake and has some really nice facilities including a campground some bathrooms and a sidewalk that goes the majority of the way around the lake. The cool temps, nice facilities, and easy access of this lake make it very popular with anglers in the summer time which means the lake is often crowded, and the fishing is hit or miss most of the time. Rose Canyon Lake is hardly out of the way and hard to get to, but these mountains do contain one other possible option for catching some "wild" fish.

The two streams that may (or may not) contain some rainbows and browns are Upper Sabino Creek and it's tributary Lemon Creek both located in the Santa Catalina Mountains. In the late 70's and early 80's The Arizona Game And Fish department was using helicopters to stock these two creeks with fish on a fairly regular basis, but due to the difficulty of getting the fish into the creeks and a lack of interest from fishermen the program was dropped. It is widely believed that the Aspen wild fire of 1993 sent ash and debris down the creeks choking out most of the aquatic wild life that was left. The next couple of years were extremely dry and left large stretches of the creek without any water in it which could have been the last straw in eliminating the remaining trout. The prevailing opinion is that there are no fish left at all, however I have been hearing some rumors that there may still be fish in the more remote upper stretches of the creeks and the game and fish web site still lists the creeks as containing both browns and rainbows.  I think the difficult and  somewhat treacherous trek down the steep rock walled canyons and bolder strewn creek beds to get  to the wider creek runs and deeper pools these wild trout are in will be well worth the effort...if they are still there.

Lower Sabino Creek has been designated a wildlife preserve and fishing has been banned in order to protect the endangered Gila Chub. This is one of the few fish species that is native to the area and has been absent from this creek for several decades. After the 1993 Aspen fire, that killed most of the non-native fish species that were introduced to the creek over the years, Arizona Game And Fish reintroduced them in as part of a conservation program designed to beef up the native fish populations in the Arizona water ways. But there are populations of native fish in the White Mountains and a few other places that require a weekend trio to get too. Stay tuned for updates on the results of my efforts and maybe some biological and historical information on the fish I am chasing.


  1. Just curious as to whether or not you've tried Sabino Canyon yet or not.

    1. Unfortunately no. Life seems to have gotten in the way of exploration at this point, but I have not given up. Stay tuned.

  2. I heard these rumors when I lived back in Tucson, and I share a similar interest to find these brown trout. I heard some speculation that the AZ Game and Fish department is starting to show interest into sending an expedition out to see if any of the brown trout have survived. Had they, it would officially be a new species, considering it would officially be somewhere in the range of 34 generations since the initial stocking.