The Apache Trout once swam the length of Mogollon Plateau, stretching from Western Arizona into Eastern New Mexico. Black spotted, on a background of butter-gold, like someone took a Sharpe and dotted a gold bar, the Apache trout is a spectacle to behold. Feisty when hooked known to leap more than look, the Apache will commonly tail dance across the water when fooled by an anglers well placed imitation. Fighting with the gusto of a much larger fish trapped in its little brother's body, a sizable Apache will measure in between fifteen to sixteen inches, most not clearing the foot mark. There are a few larger exceptions, if you know the right places to look, holding sizable specimens extending to and past the twenty inches.
One of those places to look is a "pay-to-play" lake called Christmas Tree on the White Mountain Apache reservation located east of Show Low Arizona. Permits are purchasable for per day at the Hon-Dah Ski and Fish shop located in Hon-Dah Arizona. A limited number of anglers per day keeps the pressure off the fish encouraging a willingness for the already fly-friendly Apache to take flies. My favorite time to fish Christmas tree is in the summer months, when fish are looking up for Damsel flies, beetles, and Ants. Explosive surface action, tickling the most finicky of fisherman, can be a real kick in the pants. Often lasting throughout the day and into the evening, as fish switch from insects to more meaty patterns like mice. Last year during the fall Caddis I pulled a giant fish, weighing close to six pounds who had been sipping Spent wing caddis under an overhanging branch for hours, but wouldn't take my imitation. Finally, in fading light, the big buck Apache Trout ate a Moorish-Mouse thrown onto the bank from my pontoon and dragged ten feet in front of him. It was a grand success of my 2009 season, a three hour ordeal casting to one fish, not spooking him with cast after cast, finally to convert on meat: I get warm inside recalling this memory still.
If planning a trip, there is camping all over the area, but for those intending to stay on the reservation make sure you get a camping permit from the fly shop before you spend the night. Outside the reservation on what is deemed, "State-Land" anglers can camp for free. Consult the local fly shop or Arizona Game and Fish to ensure you're on non-reservation grounds before you camp.
The East Fork of the Black River is another key location, especially for the angler looking to sting an Apache in moving water. Stocked heavily by Arizona's Game and Fish Department there is an abundance of both Apache and Brown trout in this River. Ten years ago, I would fish a location called Diamond Rock quite frequently, and it still holds good fish. Now, unfortunately, it holds many anglers too. I tend to shy away from places receiving a plethora of foot traffic. I'm getting old, what can I say.Fish in the river's are generally easier to catch, although on average smaller in size. I will commonly fish a Dry-Dropper rig consisting of some attractor pattern with a Pheasant Tail underneath. Many people I fish with like the Copper-Bob as their Dropper, and it works well in all the rivers in Arizona. See Montana Flies for the original fly, just saying.
I've caught Apaches in streams all over Arizona, especially water that would be considered off the grid. Like life in general, if it can survive it will. A poetic similarity with the Apache Trout, against all odds: fires, droughts, and human interference it has carried on. Not respected as a trophy by many and known by few, the Apache is a worthy fin to chase, as worth as any I know. Rare, beautiful, and forgiving to the novice angler, I would suggest a trip to the Desert to anyone looking for adventure in the lands carved by Billy the Kid and Geronimo, because only where life shouldn't be, will you find this gem of a fish.
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