The Arizona Wild Trout Challenge, Day Three

Written by: Tyler Coleman

I hope this spot, overgrown and forgotten, continues to stay a secret.
Photos by Tyler Coleman

We ended Day Two with about a four-hour drive to the next destination. After setting up camp in the dark again, we finally got to relax and reflect on the day’s adventure. The next species on our list was the rainbow trout. I feel these fish don’t get much credit because they are so widespread and mostly hatchery fish that have been stocked. I have felt the same way about them in the past but decided to reach out to a friend for advice about a stream that is off the beaten path and not often talked about. I had read about this stream before but didn’t get the chance to scout it out before our trip. A new spot, with a time crunch and all of the other pressure of the trip, made me a little nervous, but we are pretty determined people, so we went for it. We slept in longer than expected, but after the long hike and elevation gains of the day before it only made sense to be tired. Anastasia made breakfast, while I got the car packed up, and then we drove a short distance to park and hike in to the creek.

I don’t think they had people like us in mind when they designed this car, but it seems to do just fine.

Even after a long night’s rest, Sebastian was quick to take a nap on the trail.

A local I had talked to in the past told me stories about the rainbow trout in this creek when he was a kid, which was over 50 years ago. The area has no record of stockings that I can find since about that time era. As we hiked along the trail, we started seeing small pools, which looked promising for a place that would hold trout. The plan was to head farther upstream before fishing, so we kept our distance and were on our way. This creek had immediately caught my interest because it seemed like we were going through completely different-looking environments every ten minutes or so. At one point, each pool we passed had a completely different color substrate and plant life than the last pool, which then had me concerned how that would affect our fishing.

A stretch of this creek even has the red-rock, flagstone look of Sedona, with some really cool mini canyons.

With all the variables involved in fly fishing, I was a bit curious if the quick changes in the habitat could play a role in the trout’s behavior. We decided it was time to try our luck and got our gear set up. Instead of our typical flies, I thought it would be good idea for us to each try something completely different than the other one. Anastasia was using a Tenkara rod and a traditional Tenkara-style fly. I decided to go with a small leech pattern that I had tied before we left. It soon was clear that presentation was more important than the type of fly. With the basic knowledge we had about where trout hold in small pools, we were pulling a fish out of almost every spot where we presented our flies.

Anastasia with her first wild rainbow trout. The buggy look of this fly had trout jumping out of hiding spots to take a bite.

I was using my usual fly-rod set up most of the day and was happy to have a little more room than usual to actually cast. It seems that more often than not, the creeks we fish are so small or over grown that you spend the day feeling like you are archery hunting for wild trout. If you have not yet perfected the bow-and-arrow cast, fishing small streams will make you a pro.

Yellow fins and eyes with black eye bars are typically an Apache trout trait but these are 100% pure rainbows.

As I mentioned before, each pool had a unique look to it, and soon we found out that the fish in each area did, too. Only rainbow trout had been stocked in this creek, so these fish have pure blood, but they have adapted to the environment over the years. If the streambed was dark, the trout seemed to have colors that matched; if the streambed was tan gravel, the trout blended in perfectly. The concept that “Nature finds a way” was clear here. These trout have found a way to survive by blending to their environment and avoiding predators.

This rainbow was living in a dark brown muddy pool and is one of my favorite wild trout I have caught so far.

In one of the pools, using the Tenkara rod this time, I took a different approach about where I placed my first cast. The shape of the pool was not normally what most people would even stop to fish, but off of the tail end there was a strange sort of cul de sac-looking pocket. In the middle was what looked like a little crack between some gray rocks, and I hoped that my instinct would be right about a fish inside. My fly landed right in the center of the pocket, which was perfect for how small it was. The tiny splash sent a quick shock to the otherwise calm water, and a nice size fish came charging out to eat. I set right as its mouth closed and watched my rod bend until he was finally in the net.

The gray rocks gave this guy the perfect hiding place, and for his size in the small steam, he was a blast to catch.

A tan gravel substrate made for some nice tan and yellow colorations of rainbow trout.

The sun started to pass over the mountains, and still tired from the previous day, we decided to head toward the car. Rods in hand, it is always hard to pass by the creek without a cast, so we fished our way down and managed to fool a few more into eating our flies. This would be the first time we actually got to set up our campsite before sunset.

Hungry fish with nice coloration made for a refreshing day.

Even the smallest pockets held 6- to 8-inch fish on this creek, so nothing was passed up.

The view from our campsite was incredible.

We drove to a spot that looked like it would be nice to camp at, even though there was no close water. When we approached the end of a trail, we knew this was where we wanted to call home for the night. The view was so impressive that we almost forgot to unpack the car and prepare our site. As the sun finally set, it was time to relax with a hot meal cooked over the fire and some cold drinks while planning our the fourth day of our Wild Trout Challenge. Although today was a success, the next species of trout has always been tough for me, and a few times I have left the streams they call home with no fish ever touching my net.

Follow our adventures in search of wild trout each week for Wild Trout Wednesday and stay tuned next week to read about our fourth day on our Arizona Wild Trout Challenge trip.

Click here for “The Arizona Wild Trout Challenge, Day One” and Day Two.

Tyler Coleman lives in Arizona. Check him out on Instagram: @thecolemancollection. Follow the Colemans’ Wild Trout Challenge experience here for the next few Wild Trout Wednesdays.

A little planning makes for a much more comfortable night.

The Camp Vibes dog is an organic beef hot dog topped with avocado, seasoning salt, and Sriracha.
Do yourself a favor and try one as soon as possible.

On a more recent trip for wild rainbows, I was able to find some much larger fish holding in a few small creeks.
At just about 14 inches this fish made all the miles on my boots finally pay off.

13 thoughts on “The Arizona Wild Trout Challenge, Day Three”

  1. Tyler, where was the “red rock with mini canyons” ? Don’t have to be specific but naybe general area. I’m moving to phx and want to know some good fly fishing places.

    1. Kerry,

      This specific creek I will keep a secret but there are a ton of beautiful places to fish only s couple hours away from Phx depending on where you move. The best thing you can do is buy a local book and read everything you can. That is how I found most of the spots I fish. The white mountains, Sedona and Mogollon Rim are the general areas of some trout creeks. Good luck and tight lines! Enjoy AZ.

  2. Really cool trip. My wife and I are having our first child in August so these types of stories are encouraging–seeing others get out and enjoy the outdoors with infants.

    1. Andy,

      That’s really good to hear and I’m happy that we are making other have high hopes. I feel that most people I know look at having children as a drag and they won’t be able to go out and do whatever it is they do. My wife teaches ballet with our son in a wrap, we have hiked more miles this year with him then I probably ever have hiked and he has been in a Kelty pack seeing more wild trout then a lot of fly fisherman have this year haha. The biggest thing we have noticed is to put the babies needs first. They get tired of being In the pack even though it’s comfortable, they may get cold, gassy or hungry and when that happens if you ignore it then nobody will be happy. It’s easy to get carried away trying to get a fish but in the end we always have to make him the priority on our trips. Look into the Kelty packs for outdoors, the wraps are awesome for daily duties and enjoy these times. Cheers, Tyler

  3. I dont need a scale for the work I can eye ball perc. Flats look like flapjacks pancakes you ain’t know

  4. Very cool!! I find it so interesting that the trout are different colors depending on the streambed. How amazing and beautiful!

    1. Gina, that was one of the coolest things we have come across so far. The hybrid Apaches had some differences in color but that was based on genetic traits. I want to do more research and speak with a local biologist but to me this almost seems like the fish have adapted to their environment. Natural is an amazing thing and I feel very fortunate to be able to experience it.

  5. This story almost makes me want to fish. I will live through your stories. I love reading your adventures.

  6. Hi Tyler. You are killing me with this trip. Enjoying it with your wife and child is great. I know you will cherish these memories. As I mentioned several days ago, my son is moving to AZ. Can’t wait to visit and explore!!! By the way, any snakes?

  7. Congrats on your Days 2 & 3…nice and apparently different streams than my wife and I fished. You and your wife are lucky that you are doing this challenge when you are young…more memories to share with your family when they are older.

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