Story and Photos: A Cabin-Fever Trout Adventure in Arizona

Two-handed rainbows are the best rainbows.

While the world is waiting for this pandemic to end, we all yearn for more time outside adventuring, exploring, or maybe just a safe place to enjoy a drink and a view. After being stuck at home, we felt like the first week of May was an amazing time to break out the float tubes, jump in the RV, and hit a remote lake or two.

This trip was the perfect way to get out of the house . . . and out of our own heads.

Our first stop of the trip was Carnero Lake in northeastern Arizona, an amazing piece of water surrounded by tall ponderosa pines. We were able to camp responsibly with unrestricted views of the water. We kept our ears open, hoping to hear the Mexican Grey Wolves at sunrise or sunset.

While some call tiger trout “abominations,” but we call them awesome.  I love the coloring of these fish.

Carnero Lake is normally healthy with vegetation, which makes fishing from shore or even wading extremely difficult. Float tubes are a perfect solution. As you look across the lake, you can see clear color changes in the water, representing weed lines and openings. A common mistake made on these lakes is cruising right through the middle of these openings. But if you approach these pockets by keeping your float tube in the weedy areas and fish the deeper ruts, you will find fish holding there.

The moment of hook-up on the Little Colorado.

We hit the water early, our best opportunity for finding clear and calm water. After the lake thaws in the spring, the White Mountains wind kicks up like clockwork around 11 a.m., but we don’t let that deter us from spending a full day on the water. The wind is a great excuse to walk back to camp, kick on the grill, and fire up some chow while you wait for the sunset bite. While you’re waiting, watch what’s flying around.  As soon as the sun shrinks behind the tallest trees, the water seems to boil with splashes, slaps, and gulp bubbles. We had great luck with the the trusty Parachute Adams.

Early morning on glassy Carnero Lake is glorious.

Next stop on our social fishdistancing tour is one of our favorite lakes in Arizona–well known to fly anglers, with its mandatory catch-and-release, single-barbless-hook regulations.  It’s not uncommon to catch 18- to 20-inch rainbow and tiger trout. If you’re really lucky, you might get the chance to reel in a wild brown that migrated from the Little Colorado River. Make sure you look up every now and then to enjoy the sweeping mountain views–we were lucky enough to still see snowcaps–and enjoy watching the bald eagles flying around the lake.

Our campsite, with Spencer guarding the grill.

The last stop of the trip was just downstream of Becker Lake to chase wild browns in the Little Colorado. Runoff from last winter’s snowfall had raised the water level to a healthy flow, and the food sources were plenty.  A quick peek under a rock to see four mayflies is always a good hint on what to start with. Even though many pools looked small and unassuming, you never know what’s hiding underneath when you’re clearly not expecting it.

Sending another beautiful rainbow home. . . .

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