Arizona Fishing Trip

I recently had an opportunity to go see my folks in Tucson, AZ and since my wife didn't want to stray far from our new grandson, we decided to bring Cayden (FP) along instead. I started researching a couple months ago for new species of fish Gila trout, Apache trout, Sonora suckers, etc. in the Tucson area.  After spending a bunch of time looking for the best opportunities in a couple day trip to do some fishing here's what we came up with.

Sonoran Sucker seemed like a fish close to the area we'd be in and a new species we'd never fished before.  We flew into Mesa and my folks picked us up and took us to the Lower Salt river area, the same area from Casey's report a year or so ago.  It was a beautiful area to explore even though we only had a couple hours before heading south to Tucson.  Upon arrival we found 3 outdoor weddings going on along the stretch of fishable areas from the dam to the canals, along with grad pictures, and hordes of people with kids throwing rocks in the water to the dismay of the local fisherman chasing the stocked rainbows.  One of the locals informed us there were suckers in the areas in the deep pools as it was so shallow but 2 days prior to our arrival they raised the river 2-3 feet and they were now scattered through out the system again and hadn't been seen in awhile, especially with all the people.  Here's some shots of our first day!

Apache trout (numero uno) on our hitlist.  After contacting the Silver Creek Hatchery by Show Low, AZ we found out they had problems with the hatchery that supplies them and their were zero Apache in Silver Creek, they've been available for years and will be again next year.  A call to the area biologist and we found out there are areas to fish them in the White mountains, however you can't reach any of them until the end of April as they're snowed in because apparently Arizonans can't drive on icy roads they don't plow the roads up there lol, and since my folks return at the first of April, not going to happen.  Next plan, Safford AZ and the Gila Trout area was stocked with reproducing populations of Apache, however the Tucson biologist informed me they were wipe out in 2017 by the Frye Mesa fire.  

Scratch Apache, well for this year anyway. On to Gila trout, I actually started researching these a couple years ago, talked to the biologist, read forums and watched everything we could find on Gilas.  The biologist told us, it was a bad time of year for them but there may still be some left up on their mountain. The Gilas were a go, here are a few shots of the Frye Mesa area aka The Horrifying Goat Trail (I'm uncomfortable with one thing.......heights).

The adventure up begins, smiling faces, and the excitement of a new place to fish!

I researched the route here from sat images and read reviews, some saying not bad, some saying will never go back.  I'm in the will never return crowd.  From what I gathered it looked like a couple hundred yards of zig zagging to the top of the mesa and a rough 100 yards down to the reservoir.  Wrong.  From the base the GPS said about 2 miles, aprox 10-12 minutes, hmmmm that should have spelled it out right there.  The hill climbing up a one lane road, check that, think of the worst MN minimun maintenance road then stick it on the side of a cliff, wash outs, chuck holes, rocks, and straight drops on what looked like it was patched together in the Roman empire days.  I know some of you guys have been up there and didn't mind, for us flatlanders it was truly horrifying.  I did confirm I have a strong heart as if I was going to kick the bucket, this road would've did it to me. One particular spot on the outside of a switchback looked as if you were driving into space, we scraped the side of the truck on some brush, backed up a little, barf, and made the turn.  It probably wouldn't be so bad going up again as we'd know what to expect (and know we were indeed on the right path) After reaching the top of the mesa a short trip through a grassy area with some great views brought us to the road down to the lake (supposedly the bad part), it was rough but nothing compared to going up. The pictures never show the grade and height well but some of it you'd probably need ropes to climb.

Once we reached the spot and after throwing up for a bit and letting my blood pressure return to normal we started fishing.  Some locals were already up there having lunch and fishing, they informed us that it was super slow, like everyone who'd fished it recently had been skunked slow.  They said the snow melt running down the mountain had clouded up the water pretty bad and there weren't alot of fish in there anymore since the fire and rains after had wiped out all the work the game and fish dept had done on trying to reintroduce Gila and Apaches.  Not to be discouraged we fished it, it was a beautiful area, here's a few pics of the place.

Here's one of the only residents other then Gila trout and the only thing we caught up here.  It was a trip we'll never forget to this spot and one that made me realize I'll probably never fish Yellowstone or Glacier and stick with the Everglades LOL. I'm really not sure what my deal is riding in vehicles around heights, flying doesn't bother me at all, walking (like I did all the way down from here) doesn't bother me, hell I've snowmobiled out in Cook City and side hilled around mountains above the clouds, but not being the driver in a vehicle on the edge of a cliff is stomach churning.  Heights don't bother Cayden at all for some reason, he filmed the whole ride up, hanging out the window.  I must have dropped him on his head to many times as a baby!

After our enjoyable hike back down the mountain to clear the road before my folks drove their truck back down (you can't meet anybody going up or down or your screwed unless you enjoy backing down a mountain) we decided to hit the upper Gila river east of Safford about 1/2 hour from here.  This spot is a dam before it goes up into the Gila Box area close to the New Mexico border.

We met some families four wheeling here on the upper Gila and it was flooded and running big time.  They said fishing was near impossible with the super fast water, and debris coming down from the melt.  I remembered in Corey's report on the Gila he was looking for any new info on it, from what they told us it was mostly full of channel cats and carp, nothing left of the original native species except for a few suckers on occasion.

At this point we were out of time and headed back to their place in Tucson.  We spent the next couple days golfing, doing some tours, and celebrating my mom's birthday.  We did see our only Apache trout of the trip and some Razorback suckers, Colorado pikeminnows, and Gila topminnows at the Sonoran desert museum, all safe in their tanks.  We weren't allowed to fish them here obviously hahaha.  

Another highlight of the trip was walking the desert at night looking for scorpions with black lights we normally use to shine up glow jigs for ice fishing. This probably isn't super advisable as the desert is not a friendly place at night, or really the daytime for that matter, pretty much everything wants to poke, sting, eat or bite you, but beer has led to some crazy adventures.  If your'e not familiar with it blacklights make scorpions light up like a light bulb, something to do with the protein in their bodies, apparently even fossilized scorps will light up.  Here's one of the bark scorpions we found, deadly little fellas!


On the final day before flying back home, we hit the Salt one last time, this time during the week.  This time the Pebble Beach Rec area entrance was torn up and closed off, so after a nice hike back down to the bridge area we had one last shot in the hopes of finding some suckers.  We fished around several nice pools squeezing in between other people again fishing the stocked rainbows and on the way out finally met one of our native desert targets for the first time in person.  The Sonora suckers had returned to the area now a little over waist deep at the bridge, we watched and fished for them for the last 15 minutes or so before having to head to the airport, seen the mythical spawning ritual as Casey described, planted a crawler dead in the group, waited for the strike ...................... and a fly fisherman waded right thru them and scattered them to the wind again.  That was it, out of time, unless we wanted to walk back to Minnesota.  We learned alot, seen alot, made some great memories (some not so great) and will return to hook into some desert natives again someday. I've been down here a few times, but never fished it, this even though we didn't do well as far as catching was some of the coolest fishing we've done and was an incredible bonding trip with my youngest who is all to quickly becoming an adult, makes me feel damn old.

Oh, one last pic as we didn't get completely skunked and caught some of the desert area locals favorite fish apparently, as these guys were everywhere!


Graceclaw's picture

Snow melt can be brutal - sucks when you put in a lot of effort but it's just not in the cards! At least you gave it the old college try!

Casey Shanaberger's picture

I'm glad my methods were attempted, even if the plan was foiled by an ignorant angler, but hey, you still look like you guys had a great time! Hopefully I have a bit more luck, I'm heading down there next week! 

"I swear if you catch another drum"

RoughFish's picture

Possible "The stick" award? Good effort fellas, shame about the fires killing off those populations. 

FP4LifesDad's picture

Graceclaw: Right on man, it was a great trip regardless of the fishing it was a really cool adventure!

Casey: I seen exactly what you meant about the spawning, if we would've had even another half hour I think we could've hooked up, just not enough time.  Good luck down there buddy, the water was much deeper then it was when you were there last time, I'm not sure how fast it goes back down or if they plan to keep it that high for the rainbows.  I know you were looking for a Roundtail, try the pools at Granite Reef, Coon's Bluff, and Phon D Sutton, (all in the same area) that's what we researched and the fishing reports said.  When we were there, we couldn't really fish it as it's deep (sight fishing not possible) and way to many people, everywhere.

Rough: Thanks!  Ya it was pretty sad, they spent years rebuilding that area and had reproducing populations of both native trout species.  The streams are closed again, only the reservoir is open.  The back side of the Mt Graham is more park like, paved roads, signs, etc. but all the work they did building up the trout streams was destroyed in 2017.  There was a 20 ton boulder on Grant creek that literally washed like a mile down out into the desert, along with all the bridges, and rip rap areas they'd been working on.  The fire burned off the cover and the rain blew it out!  Crazy how much power the water has out there for flash floods.