The Arizona Wild Trout Challenge, Day Five

Written by: Tyler Coleman

My first successful fish of the day felt great, and I couldn’t wait to find some more.
Photo by Anastasia Coleman

On the final day of our trip, we’d be fishing for my favorite wild species, the brook trout. Just a refresher: our goal was to catch all five species of the wild trout in Arizona. There is no time limit on the Arizona Wild Trout Challenge, but being competitive, I decided to make a five-day camping trip out of it. By the fifth day, we were all pretty tired from the long hikes and just being on the road with a newborn for so long. Sebastian is the happiest when in the woods, but today he was ready to be free from the Kelty baby carrier and play around on the ground. This made things a little slower for us, since making him happy comes first on our trips. Sebastian loves all the textures, smells, and sights of being outdoors, so we took some times to let him explore once arriving to the creek.

We couldn’t help but smile waking up everyday to views like this one.
Photos by Tyler Coleman, except where noted

Our campsite had some local morning visitors.

Sebastian practicing his netting skills to be prepared for our next big trip.

Once we began fishing, it struck me right away that something had changed. The creek is small and not too often fished, but the decor of flies stuck in trees and some bait-fishing gear left on the ground alerted us that the season change had brought a little fishing pressure. Brook trout are known for being aggressive feeders, and in the past these locals were some of the best. I have seen a good-size fish from this creek rise enough to eat my dry fly in the air on the bounce then run up creek to escape the sting of the hook. The warmer weather also means vegetation growth rapidly increases each week, making it more difficult to place a fly on the water.

When your hear of small creek fishing in Arizona it means small.

The first few pools showed no signs of fish, which was strange to us because they are usually pretty productive. I wasn’t sure if the fish had just moved, were taken home to eat, or not properly handled when caught. This spot is pretty special to me, as it was the first place I caught a wild trout and my first brookie, which sparked my love for small-creek fishing. We decided to move on and hike farther up the trail to find some areas that would be less likely to have been fished.

Not the longest fish we have found here but one of the healthiest for sure.

I stopped to try a pool where I had caught a fish over twelve inches in the month or so before. No matter how I presented my fly, it seemed only trout fry wanted to rise for it. I switched my dry to a different pattern–which is usually the key to getting them to eat–and that did the trick. I watched a nice-size trout shoot from its tiny hiding place to nail my fly. I joke that the battle in these creeks is similar to playing pinball. The fish bounced side to side and then back under the log, freeing itself from the hook. Barbless fishing is all about keeping tension, and sometimes an obstacle on the water is exactly what the fish needs to shake you off your game. Losing this fish was pretty frustrating, but I moved on to check the next bend ahead.

Anastasia getting a strange angle on a fish hiding in the undercut.

Just as I had climbed into position through the foliage to hide for a quick cast up stream, I heard Anastasia celebrating and knew the first fish of the day had been landed. I set my gear down, grabbed the camera, and ran up to see what she had in the net. Not only was this the first fish of the day, but it was the biggest brook trout she had ever caught. It was great to see a thick fish that had been feeding well and surviving in this delicate ecosystem. She was pretty excited to have successfully completed the trout challenge, so we shot some pictures and let the fish return to its home to be caught another day.

Anastasia with another nice Brookie.

We each had officially caught all five species of wild trout in Arizona, but the day was still young and our love for these fish kept us going farther into the woods. The next pool was a pretty tough to get to, but that makes it more likely to be holding some fish. When I finally got my fly into the water, I watched it drift down stream and the line get tight. My wife was just a few feet behind me with the net, and we wrestled the overgrown plants and welcomed the small trout into our net.

“Pinball in the pools” seems to be the best way to describe a brook trout’s fight.

Over the five days, we hiked more than 40 miles, drove more than 700 miles, fished seven creeks, camped for four nights, stepped on one rod, lost more than a handful of good-size fish, donated a couple flies to the trees (but found 6 flies!), and lost some blood and sweat. But we had completed our goal. This experience was something I will forever remember, and the stories will live on through our children. We are making a book for Sebastian to look at when he gets older to see the wild thing he did before even turning one year old.

A quick pit stop on the way home to enjoy the view.
Photo by Anastasia Coleman

I feel we have learned so much more about Arizona and especially about how the wildlife survives in the areas we visited during this challenge. The smallest change can impact their environment for better or worse, and it’s up to the outdoor enthusiast to make sure we leave as little trace as possible. Every place we hiked to had its share of trash left behind by careless people who made the journey into the woods only to leave it less beautiful than they found it. People post social media pictures talking about how amazing these places are but don’t take the time to pack out everything they brought in or clean up the trash they come across. The ecosystem is delicate and should be treated as so. I feel very grateful to be able to see a different side of our state, and I can only hope it continues to be available for everyone’s responsible enjoyment.

Along with great life experince Arizona Game and Fish has a care package for those who complete the trout or wild trout challenge. These certificates are my favorite part and will be framed on the wall as a trophy for all our
hard work. You didn’t think we were going to give up these spots that easily did you?

I want to take the time to thank everyone who made this trip possible. First of all, thank you to Tom Rosenbauer from Orvis for seeing the potential in our dreams and giving us this platform to share our journey with the world. Thank you to everyone at Orvis, Poler Stuff, K2 Coolers, Off The Grid Surplus, Gatorwire, Kelty Brand, Boze Flyworks, Upslope Brewing Co., Tenkara Rod Co., Sawyer Products, Jared Deanda, Braven, Ricky Furbee, KC Badger, Paul Williams at Become Co. and anyone who supported our outdoor adventures. Thank you to Mike and everyone behind the Trout Challenge program at Arizona Game and Fish. Also a big thanks to all of you following our trips by reading these posts, social media likes, shares, and reposts. This is just the start for us and future trips will only get more exciting. Fly fishing has much to offer and we soon will be chasing natives across the western United States.

Click here for “The Arizona Wild Trout Challenge, Day One”
“The Arizona Wild Trout Challenge, Day Two”
“The Arizona Wild Trout Challenge, Day Three”
“The Arizona Wild Trout Challenge, Day Four”

Tyler Coleman lives in Arizona. Check him out on Instagram: @thecolemancollection

9 thoughts on “The Arizona Wild Trout Challenge, Day Five”

  1. I got 3 out of 5! This program is a ton of fun and I have experienced some new water in the process. Great post and thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Tyler. Jeff from New Hampshire here. Thanks for the great journey and sharing your stories. Anastasia’s shirt says it all: ‘Off the Grid’. No matter where we live, there is always an ‘Off the grid’ spot somewhere. With a little effort, we can find them.
    My son is now set in North Phoenix. We are planning our first fishing adventure later this fall. I can’t wait.
    Again, thanks for this.

  3. Congratulations on your accomplishment and for make it a family expedition. Your memories will be cherished for a long time.

  4. I cannot help but notice that on your certificates for the AZ Wild Trout Challenge that you caught the first species on March 30th, with your second species starting on April 1st and ending on the 4th. Since March has 30 days, that means it took your family 6 days to complete the challenge and not the 5 species in 5 days that you boast about in every post.

    1. 30th-3st1 (1), 31st-1st (2), 1st-2nd (3), 2nd-3rd (4), 3rd-4th (5). . . . I count 5 days.

      How many days did it take you to complete the challenge? please provide the link to your article, id love to read your story.

    2. Anthony it was done in 5 days and that mistake on the date was made by AZ Game and Fish. We could have actually completed the challenge much sooner if we were out to just catch one fish each and move on. I’m sorry the date mistake on the certificates has upset you. Tight lines.

  5. This was amazing to read and the pictures are great. I recently learned about the trout challenge and am looking forward to earning both certificates as I learn and complete the challenges. It is inspiring that you made it a family trip! Good luck in your upcoming fishing, I look forward to seeing what you accomplish through the pics you post on instagram.

    1. Brandon- all of the posts are available here on the orvis site from the trip. Feel free to email mei f you need help finding them. We did the trip in 5 days, it is possible to do it faster but we spend 1 day fishing each species all day pretty much. We wanted to have fun catching each species not just catch one each and move on. Either way it was great and thank you for the kind words. I have been posting many photos and a few blog posts since this trip if you are interested in those too. Thanks again and have a great time getting your certificates!

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