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