The southwest region of the United States is rapidly gaining popularity for relocation, attracting people from around the world with its appealing weather, job opportunities, and a plethora of outdoor activities. While many know the fantastic opportunities for mountain biking, hiking, climbing, and skiing (yes, we have skiing in the desert!), the quality fisheries often go unnoticed. Whether you’re in search of bass in expansive lakes or keen on hiking through backcountry streams for trout, the fishing in the southwest should not be underestimated.
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When it comes to the best fishing in the southwest, Arizona deserves to be at the top of the list. With its mountain streams and vast freshwater lakes, the state offers a variety of angling experiences that will satisfy the desires of many anglers. Here is a list of the 7 best places for fly fishing in Arizona, complete with maps for easy navigation:
LEE’S FERRY AREA OF THE COLORADO RIVER
Situated on the Colorado River near Page in Northern Arizona, Lee’s Ferry is an unsurprising top choice for those familiar with the state. This tailwater fishery stretches over 15 miles downstream from Lake Powell to the northern Grand Canyon. The proximity to the canyon, along with consistently clear and cool water at around 50 degrees F, makes it an excellent destination. The stunning red sandstone cliffs accompany anglers as they seek out wild rainbow trout. This intriguing river offers a diverse range of features such as riffles, gravel bars, and deep pools, making it a dream come true for fly anglers.
The fishing remains active year-round, with summer being the busiest due to the cool water. During late fall and winter, rainbow trout engage in spawning activities, providing an opportunity for sight fishing. However, fishing can be challenging in spring due to the snow melt around Lake Powell. For the best access to the Colorado River in Arizona, head to Lee’s Ferry, especially during the offseason to avoid crowds.
When it comes to fly gear, nymphs are highly effective, particularly midge flies in cream or red colors that imitate larvae, pupae, and adults. While occasional mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis flies can be found, sticking to midges in sizes 14-20 generally yields good results. A 5 or 6-weight rod is recommended for this river, along with a 7 to 9-foot leader for nymphing, including an indicator.
SALT RIVER ARIZONA – RAINBOW TROUT HAVEN
Merely 25 miles from Phoenix, the Salt River offers a convenient fishing spot for those on winter holidays. This tailwater flows below the Saguaro Lake and provides cold water sourced from the lake’s depths. While most of the river supports rainbow trout, it’s primarily a stocked stream with some holdovers. The fishing conditions can be tough during dry years with lower flows, but when the watershed receives sufficient rain, it becomes highly productive.
Trout fishing in the desert might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but the Salt River defies expectations. Among the popular fishing spots on the Salt River are User’s Water Recreational Area, Coon Bluff, Goldfield, and Phon D. Sutton. It’s advisable to give the fish some time to settle after stocking by avoiding immediate visits.
Fly fishing gear for the Salt River includes a 4 or 5-weight rod, a 7 or 8-foot leader for nymphing, and a 9 to 12-foot leader for dry fly fishing. Various hatches occur throughout the year, such as Blue Winged Olives, Tricos, Blue Quills, and caddis flies. During summer, ants, grasshoppers, and beetles become prevalent. When struggling to find fish in winter, using a midge fly as a searching pattern can be effective. Recommended flies include Blue Winged Olive, Elk Wing Caddis, and English Pheasant Tail.
OAK CREEK – A PICTURESQUE TROUT PARADISE
Oak Creek, running through Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona, offers one of the most visually stunning fishing experiences on this list. This beautiful and clear trout stream transports anglers to an idyllic setting, making it easy to forget they are in the heart of Arizona. Trout in Oak Creek are stocked from the Page Springs Fish Hatchery, and while the water warms up near Grasshopper Point, the trout survive throughout the year.
Oak Creek boasts a diverse population of rainbow, brown, and brook trout, with brook trout being primarily found in the North Fork due to the higher elevation. Pocket water and riffles abound in this stream, but it’s important to be aware of fishing regulations, as certain sections between Junipine Resort and the West Fork Trail require single hook, barbless, and catch-and-release practices. For fishing locations, the West Fork is likely the most productive spot, known for its wild brown trout fishing accessible via a hike, which lends a secluded mountain stream ambiance. Starting at Grasshopper Point is another option, with a suggestion to eventually work one’s way to the West Fork. Oak Creek offers plenty of water to explore beyond these spots, with the North Fork meeting the West Fork at Cave Springs, and the river flowing through Sedona before joining the Verde River.
Fly fishing gear for Oak Creek involves a 4 or 5-weight rod, as it is a true trout stream that requires careful selection of spots and reading of the water. Challenges await even the most experienced anglers, but the rewards are plentiful. Flies such as small Blue Winged Olives (size 20), Caddis flies, Sedges, and imitations of freshwater shrimp during specific hatches can prove effective.
BLACK RIVER – SEEKING SERENITY IN THE WHITE MOUNTAINS
For those seeking respite from the heat of Phoenix, the Black River in the White Mountains near Show Low, AZ, provides an excellent escape. Stretching 114 miles, this river holds various fish species and presents a beautiful landscape even if catching fish proves challenging. Similar to Oak Creek, the Black River experiences reduced water levels in late summer and fall. The upper sections of the river are home to Apache Cutthroat, a prized fish for many anglers in the southwest. The lower section boasts smallmouth bass and brown trout. Most areas of the river are accessible via forestry roads, and fishing is best during spring, summer, and fall.
Caution must be exercised when casting, as the surrounding bushes can lead to frustration if not careful.
SILVER CREEK – A CATCH-AND-RELEASE GEM
Located in Northern Arizona near Show Low, Silver Creek is a two-mile stream owned by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, ensuring ample access for anglers. While wading can be challenging, fishing from the banks is productive. Silver Creek is known for hosting Apache and Rainbow trout, including some impressively sized specimens. Catch and release regulations are in effect from October to March 31st, allowing for an opportunity to experience the larger trout Arizona has to offer. A 4 or 5-weight rod is suitable for this creek, and a major fight should be expected when targeting the large fish.
Recommended flies include Blue Winged Olives, blood midges, and leech streamer patterns.
EAST CLEAR CREEK – A SMALL STREAM TROUT HAVEN
Situated near the Mogollon Rim in Payson,AZ, East Clear Creek is a small but ideal trout fishery that branches off from the Little Colorado River. Access to the creek is best found via forest roads along Highway 87. Fishing around Kinder Crossing and gradually moving downstream is recommended. The creek offers a mix of wild rainbow and brown trout, with riffles, deep pools, and numerous runs throughout its course. Hatches on Clear Creek include BWOs, Tricos, Little Black Caddis, and Sedges. A smaller 4 or 5-weight setup is suitable for navigating the tight spaces of Clear Creek. Anglers will find themselves challenged by this beautiful mountain stream.
BRIGHT ANGEL CREEK – BREATHTAKING SCENERY + TROUT FISHING
A list of Arizona’s top fly fishing destinations wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Grand Canyon. Bright Angel Creek, located in the North Rim, is not easily accessible but rewards those who make the effort. A seven-mile hike along the South Kaibab Trail, involving a 5,000-foot elevation change, leads to the creek from the South Rim. The stream hosts wild rainbow and brown trout measuring between 12 and 18 inches. Effective techniques include using BWOs and nymphs to fish the pocket water. Any easily packable rod is suitable for this remote creek.
BIG BONITO CREEK – TROUT AND BASS FLY FISHING
Located in Apache Country, Big Bonito Creek holds bass, rainbow, brown, and Apache trout. This 11-mile stream requires a permit from the Apache Tribe to fish and is accessed via reservation roads Y40, 55, and 70. These roads are mostly dirt, so it’s important to consider your vehicle’s capabilities. Some hiking may be necessary to access the creek, which is filled with boulders and offers successful pool fishing. Trout ranging from 14 to 16 inches and smallmouth bass can be found in the lower sections. A 6-weight rod is recommended for those targeting both bass and trout. Poppers and larger streamers are effective for bass, while trout can be enticed by streamers, BWOs, blood midges, and other patterns. Fishing on Big Bonito Creek is best from May to October, with slower fishing during hot weather.
Fly Fishing Clubs in Arizona:
For those seeking a community of fellow fly fishing enthusiasts, two notable clubs in Arizona are:
- Payson Flycasters: Located near the Mogollon Rim, this club provides an excellent option for anglers interested in exploring Northern Arizona. More information can be found on their website.
- Arizona Flycasters: This club is based in Phoenix and offers a great opportunity for individuals in the greater Phoenix area to learn about fly fishing in Arizona. For more details, visit their website.
Fly Fishing Guides and Other Fishing Resources in Arizona:
- Fly Fish Arizona: This guide service offers trips to various locations across Arizona. Their website provides further information.
- Orvis: centrally located in the valley right off of Camelback. This store has everything you need to complete your outfit and kit. But the most valuable thing are the staff members. They are super knowledgeable, incredibly friendly, and stoked to give you some insight Beta on where to go what to fish, when to go, etc..
- Arizona State Parks and Trails: The official website of the State of Arizona offers information on where to fish, stocking schedules, and fishing regulations. Visit their website for more details.
My Fly Fishing Setup
This is the staple setup that I use for 95% of all my fly-fishing trips. I may change it up based on where I am headed and what I am fishing.
Fly Rod/Reel Combo(s):
- Redington Path Fly Rod Combo Kit with Pre-Spooled Crosswater Reel, Medium-Fast Action Rod. 5 wt 9 ft. Buy on Amazon | Buy at Bass Pro Shop
- Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod Outfit – 5,6,8 Weight Fly Fishing Rod and Reel Combo Starter Kit with Large Arbor Reel and Case. Buy on Amazon | Buy at Bass Pro Shop
- Pants: Orvis Jackson Quick-Dry Pant | Kuhl Renegade Rock Pant
- Shirts: Arc’teryx Cormac Hoodie | Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Hoodie | Free Fly Men’s Bamboo Lightweight Hoodie
- Footwear: Chaco Z/2 Classic Sandals | Simms Flyweight Access Wading Boots | Simms Flyweight Neoprene Wet-Wading Socks
- Waders: Orvis Pro Breathable Stocking-Foot Waders
Packs and Bags:
- Backpack: Gregory Zulu 65 | Gregory Alpaca Duffel 45
- Fishing Pack: Orvis Sling Pack | Orvis Chest/Hip Pack