The southwest United States is becoming a hotbed for relocation. The enticing weather and job opportunities are drawing more and more people to New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Arizona from all over the world. On top of these features, the outdoor activities are top notch. Mountain biking, hiking, climbing and skiing opportunities are endless. Most people, however, aren’t aware of the quality fisheries.
Whether you’re looking to find bass in a large lake or hiking through the backcountry for trout, the fishing in the southwest should not be overlooked.
Arizona should be near the top of the list for best fishing in the southwest. It has the mountain streams and large freshwater lakes that provide the variety many anglers are pursuing.
Here is a list of the 11 Best Places to Fly Fish in Arizona:
1.Lee’s Ferry Area of Colorado River
Number one on this list is no surprise to anyone familiar with Arizona. Lee’s Ferry is located on the Colorado River near Page in Northern Arizona. It’s a tailwater fishery that flows over 15 miles out of Lake Powell to the northern Grand Canyon. It’s a great spot to visit due to the close proximity to the canyon plus the water stays around 50 degrees and clear year round.
The massive red sandstone cliffs will keep you company while you are searching for wild rainbow trout. It’s an interesting river that has everything a fly angler would want. Riffles, gravel bars and deep pools can be found all throughout the 15 miles.
You can catch trout year-round on the Colorado. The summer is going to be the most busy due to the cool water. Anglers are more than happy to cool off even if the fish aren’t biting. The rainbows will begin to spawn during late fall and continue throughout the winter. Try your hand at sight fishing during the spawn. The spring can be tough fishing due to the snow melt around Lake Powell.
Where to fish on the Colorado River AZ:
Lee’s Ferry is the best access point. If you can time your visit correctly (late fall/early winter), you’ll be able to make your way down river easier due to the lower water. It’s difficult to find access to the Colorado due to the high cliffs, so Lee’s Ferry is your best bet. Try and go in the offseason to avoid the larger crowds.
Fly Gear to use on the Colorado River:
Nymphs are the name of the game. Do your best to get as long of drifts as you possibly can. The majority of the hatches are going to be midge flies. Anything cream or red colored is going to entice fish. You’ll want flies that can imitate all three stages (larvae, pupae and adults). You’ll occasionally find mayflies, stoneflies and caddis, but stick to midges. Anything size 14-20 will do the trick.
Here is a list of a few flies:
Small flies are the key to hooking into these trout. A well placed fly and a drag free drift are the keys to success on the Colorado River.
- I can see it Midge Fly
- Zebra Midge
- Dawkins’s DD Midge
- Little Black Stonefly
As far as rod setups are concerned, a 5 or 6-weight will work. A 7 to 9 foot leader for the nymphs with an indicator are best. Don’t make it too complicated; use a traditional nymph setup that you’re comfortable with.
2. Salt River Arizona – for Rainbow Trout
The Salt River is located only 25 miles from Phoenix. If you’re down on a winter holiday, make a quick trip over and see what you can catch. It’s the tailwater that flows below the Saguaro Lake. It’s cold water comes from the extreme depths of the lake, but only a small section of the river supports rainbow trout.
It’s a stocked stream that has some holdovers, but it’s well-stocked during the winter of each year. If it’s a particularly dry year, fishing can be tough due to the lower flows. When the watershed receives a good amount of rain, it’ll fish extremely well. It’s an interesting type of fishing that you’ll find few places in the world. Most people don’t think of trout fishing in the desert.
Where to fly fish on the Salt River:
There are a few hot spots on the Salt that most people target. The most popular is User’s Water Recreational Area, but Coon Bluff, Goldfield and Phon D. Sutton are other popular areas to fish. If you pay attention to the stocking report, it may be best to stay away for a day or two after the fish are stocked. Let it clear out and you’ll have a good chance to catch some fish.
Here is a good location to access the Salt:
GUIDE TIP: Don’t try and fish a body of water immediately after fish are stocked. They need a few days to acclimate and start feeding.
Fly Fishing Gear to use on the Salt:
You can go ahead and use your lighter setup on the salt. A 4 or 5-weight is plenty of power for you. Use a 7 or 8 foot leader if nymphing and a 9 to 12 foot leader if using dries.
There are plenty of hatches on the Salt River. It’ll hold Blue Winged Olives, Tricos, Blue Quills and numerous other mayflies. Caddis fly hatches range from little black Caddis to Sedges. Also, don’t forget about the terrestrials. Ants, grasshoppers and beetles will all hatch in the summer.
If you’re struggling to find fish in the winter, try using a midge as a searching fly. They will hatch more in the colder months.
Here is a list of a few solid fly options:
- Blue Winged Olive
- Elk Wing Caddis
- English Pheasant Tail
3. Oak Creek – Trout in a Beautiful Place
This will be one of the most aesthetically pleasing fisheries on the list. Oak Creek runs throughout Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona. It’s a beautiful clear trout stream that will make you forget you’re in the middle of Arizona.
The trout are stocked from the Page Springs Fish Hatchery. The water begins to warm near Grasshopper Point and fish struggle to survive any lower. Six miles north of Sedona above Grasshopper Point is a solid spot to start fishing. The trout survive year round. Oak Creek has one of the more diverse populations of trout in the state. It has rainbow, brown and brook trout. If you want brook trout, you’ll need to fish the North Fork due to the higher elevation.
It’s full of wonderful pocket water along with riffles. Be aware of where you are fishing because the water from Junipine Resort to the West Fork Trail is single hook, barbless and catch and release.
Where to fish on Oak Creek:
This is a tough decision. The most productive spot is likely the West Fork. It’s all wild brown trout fishing. It’s accessible by a hike which makes it feel more like a secluded mountain stream. If you want to start at Grasshopper Point, go ahead, but be sure to work your way to the West Fork.
Here is the location of the trailhead to access the West Fork:
Oak Creek has a lot of water to cover so don’t limit yourself to this spot! There is also a North Fork that meets up with the West Fork at Cave Springs. Eventually the river flows through the town of Sedona all the way to the Verde River.
The State of Arizona stocks Oak Creek and you can read about that HERE. Wild rainbow and brown trout also live here, so hike upriver from Slide Rock.
Gear to use on Oak Creek:
A 4 or 5-weight is your best bet. It’s a true trout stream so pick your spots and read the water. It’ll challenge you, but don’t quit. You’ll find fish.
Small BWO’s (size 20) are a great option. These will hatch in late winter and early spring. Caddis flies along with Sedges will start hatching in May. In July, start throwing Tricos (20). A unique hatch on Oak Creek is what locals call freshwater shrimp. Throw a few streamers to imitate this and be ready for a strike.
List of a few flies:
- Woolly Bugger
- Pheasant Tail Jig
GUIDE TIP: For Oak Creek, cast upstream with short casts because of how spooky the trout can be. Try your best to blend in with your surroundings and use lighter leader.
4. Black River – White Mountians are Calling
The Black River is a great option for those who are tired of the Phoenix heat. It’s located in the White Mountains near Show Low, AZ. The Black River is 114 miles long and holds all different types of fish. Similar to Oak Creek, even if you aren’t catching fish, it’s a beautiful stream that won’t disappoint.
The freestone stream will lose water in late summer and fall. The two upper portions of the stream contain Apache Cutthroat; a bucket list fish for many in the southwest. The lower section has smallmouth bass and brown trout. Most of the stream is accessed by forestry roads. Fish it in the spring, summer and fall. Be careful with your casts; the stream is surrounded by bushes so it can be frustrating if you aren’t careful.
5. Silver Creek – a Catch and Release Fishery
Silver Creek is located in Northern Arizona near Show Low. The stream is only two miles long, but it’s owned by the Arizona Game and Fish Department so access is plentiful. Fish it from the banks because wading is difficult. This stream also holds Apache and Rainbow trout. Silver Creek holds some of the larger trout in Arizona. Fish in the mid-20’s have been caught fairly consistently.
Catch and release goes from October to March 31st. You’re able to keep fish from April 1 to September 30. It’s a great place to visit if you’re trying to escape the valley heat. Go ahead and use a 4 or 5-weight rod and be prepared for a major fight due to the large fish. BWO’s, blood midgest and leech streamer patterns are going to catch the most.
GUIDE TIP: Government owned land is great to fish, but beware of the crowds. Go early in the morning or later in the evening for the most peace and quiet.
6. East Clear Creek
This is a great creek located near the Mogollon Rim in Payson, AZ. It’s a small offshoot of the Little Colorado and is an ideal small stream trout fishery. Access is going to be best found off of the forest roads along Highway 87.
Try fishing around Kinder Crossing and work your way down. It has wild rainbow and brown trout. There are riffles, deep pools and numerous runs all throughout the stream. BWO’s, Tricos, Little Black Caddis and Sedges are all going to hatch on Clear Creek. Use a smaller 4 or 5-weight setup because Clear Creek is tight. It’s a beautiful mountain stream that will put even the most capable anglers to the test.
7. Canyon Creek – Restored Beauty
Canyon Creek is a 50 mile long Salt River tributary. It starts in the Tonto National Forest and flows throughout the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. It’s been restored over the years thanks to Trout Unlimited as well as the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The game and fish department placed a fish hatchery on the Canyon.
Fishing from the OW Bridge down to the Apache Indian Reservation is your best bet. A special permit from the Indian Reservation is required if you want to fish on their land. Like most of the other creeks on the list, go ahead and fish with BWO’s and midges ranging from size 16-20. For these, you’ll only need a 4 or 5-weight with a seven foot leader.
8. Bright Angel Creek – High Elevation Trout
What type of list would this be without the inclusion of the Grand Canyon? Bright Angel Creek is in the North rim of the canyon, but access is not easy. The South Kaibab Trail will take you to the creek from the South Rim, but it’s a seven mile hike with a 5000 foot elevation change. It’ll require a night of sleeping in the canyon to get the full proper day of fishing. Since access is so difficult, fishing is successful. It has wild rainbow and brown trout ranging from 12 to 18 inches. Again, use BWO’s and other nymphs to fish the pocket water. As far as rods are concerned, use anything that’s easily packable.
GUIDE TIP: The hike to this stream is extremely difficult. Be equipped with proper survival equipment and don’t try to push further than you are capable!
9. Chevelon Canyon Lake – Remote Fly Fishing
This is an interesting body of water located near the Mogollon Rim in Payson. Live bait is prohibited on this water so fly anglers enjoy fishing it. It requires a hike or a capable four-wheel drive vehicle. You’ll be able to find sizable brown and rainbow trout within the lake. Be careful of all the pine trees and shrubbery on the banks.
Use streamers or small nymphs when the mayflies and midges aren’t hatching. Like most bodies of water, you’ll be able to see when the fish are surface feeding. If they are, throw on a small caddis and you’ll get bites. Don’t be afraid to switch up your fly choice. A 5 or 6-weight rod that allows you some quality casting distance is your best bet for a setup.
10. Big Bonito Creek – Trout and Bass on a Fly Rod
This creek is located in Apache Country. It holds bass, rainbow, brown and apache trout. It’s an 11-mile long stream that requires a permit from the Apache Tribe to fish. It’s best accessed from reservation roads Y40, 55 and 70. They are all dirt roads so be aware of your vehicle’s ability. You may have to do some hiking to access it. It’s full of boulders so pool fishing is the most successful.
There are trout ranging from 14 to 16 inches and smallmouth bass in the lower sections. If you’re after bass and trout, go ahead and bring the 6-weight. Throw some poppers and larger streamers for the bass. The streamers will also work for the trout, but also use BWO’s and blood midges. It’s best fished from May to October. During hot weather fishing will slow.
Here is a link to information on the required permits: https://www.wmatoutdoor.org/wp_view.html?pageid=8
GUIDE TIP: Pool fishing in streams with large boulders is a blast. Position yourself below the pool, cast upstream above the boulder and let your fly float through the pool. Wait for the strike as it flows past the rock.
11. Little Colorado River – Trout Filled Tributary
For the final option on this list, we’ll return to the Colorado. The Little Colorado flows into the Colorado in the Grand Canyon. It’s a small stream located in the White Mountains on Mt. Baldy peak. Again, it’ll take some hiking to reach the best access points. The East Fork of the Little Colorado is a tailwater that starts on the Colter Reservoir and flows into Greer. The most accessible portions are crowded with locals, so you’re better off working your way through the backcountry. It holds brook, rainbow and brown trout with Apache trout in the headwaters. A small finesse setup is necessary. Similar to the other streams; BWO’s, blood midges and small streamers work best.
Fly Fishing Clubs in AZ
Payson Flycasters – Located near the Mogollon Rim, this club is a great option for those looking to tackle Northern Arizona. Here is their website: http://www.paysonflycasters.org
Arizona Flycasters – This club is located in Phoenix. It’s a great club to join if you’re in the greater Phoenix area and looking to learn about fly fishing in Arizona. Here is the website: http://www.azflycasters.org/
Fly Fishing Guides and Other Fishing Resources in AZ
- Fly Fish Arizona – This is a great guide service that offers trips all over Arizona. Here is the website: http://www.azflycasters.org
- Arizona State Parks and Trails – The State of Arizona provides where to fish, stocking schedules and all the regulations. Check it out here – https://azstateparks.com/trout-fishing