Memories of Mongollon Rim Fly Fishing

Taking some time recently to get back out into nature with my 8 foot four weight and Wolly Bugger lure, I found myself in the much welcome peace and quiet. Getting away and having the headspace to think amidst the madness back in the city is something I’d been longing for. Thanks to an article I read online at Shaggy Outdoors recently, I got off my backside and hit the road.

My preferred destination lately has been the Mongollon Rim, a place with fond memories, particularly the norther tributary of Willow Springs Lake.

The Mongollon Rim has to be the most awe inspiring escapement in the Colorado Plateau in my opinion. But maybe I’m a little biased.

My Grandfather would bring me here as a young boy on weekend camping and fishing trips. Memories of Mongollon Rim fly fishing for me are best summed up for me as watching him artfully cast as his lure. It would hit the water causing it to ripple and shimmer in the sunlight.

There’s something about fly fishing in Arizona, particularly this part of the 48th State that is like nowhere else for me. Maybe it’s the quite excitement that this particular area offers with the hidden gems you’ll find behind a curtain of Ponderosa Pines, or in a little known chasm tucked away somewhere.

Either way, it’s my preferred place to be. While my friends would rather head more to the west, out to Fossil Creek, that’s not where my heart sings. Give me Willow Springs.

Memories of Mongollon Rim Fly Fishing

I can remember hiking through Willow Springs Canyon with my Grandfather when I was about 5 years old.

At that age I really wanted to be back home playing with my friends, but he had insisted that I join him on a number of camping weekends.

After his wife of some 50 years had passed away, I noticed that this became a frequent thing. More frequent than before. He was looking for company, and I turned out to be his number one Grandson.

As an old Scottish man, Poppin (that’s what I called him) had a thick accent that went perfectly with his silver hair which curled out from under his cap. He taught me how to tie a line, the one I struggled with the most was a nail knot using a match stick. He had a thing about leaving a piece of the match stick in the knot, which I never understood.

He tried really hard to instill a love for the outdoors in me as a child, Bus as I mentioned, I wanted to be out playing with my friends at that age. I hadn’t developed the appreciation for what he was sharing with me. That was something that came in my later teens. Maybe the seed had been planted way back then.

Rainbow Trout Fly Fishing as a Child

While making my way up towards Chevelon Creek where I planned to double back down to the west and follow the riverbed towards Woods Canyon Lake, I stopped at a few deeper looking hole and tried my luck.

Things got better after about the eleventh bend on a straight stretch, which is just before a place my Grandfather called The Horseshoe. He said it was because of the shape of the riverbed, as it cut into the landscape thousands of years ago.

There are a couple of deeper holes here that are protected from the heat of the day by some generous shade. This is certainly the type of waters that trout enjoy. Cool and clear. In some places you can see down in the stillness right to the bottom.

Fly fishing for Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout in this area has always been something that I love. And it takes the right kind of lure to do the job in my experience.

I can recall as a child copying my Grandfather, with obviously much less skill, and whipping the water with my little rod and lure. I picked a dark looking hole and went to work. My Grandfather, a skilled fly fisher, made sure I was not going to be in his way, or make too much noise and scare the fish away.

Whipping away in my little pool, largely out of 5 year old boredom, I shrieked when I puled out a tiny Rainbow Trout that I had hooked through the side. Quick to respond, and a mindful Fisherman, my Grandfather carefully extracted the hook and let the fish go. He’s always made sure that when the fish were under size that he released them. “We’ll meet that one again next season” he’d say.

Float Tube Fly Fishing

The lakes in the Mongollon Rim are fished regularly and stocked quite frequently too. There have been some challenges over recent years due to track conditions and other obstacles that have seen restocking efforts delayed. With that in mind, it is ever more important that you make sure you stick to the areas as designated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD).

Hopping into a float tube or a kayak is another way that I’ve found I get both some quality ‘me time’ and generally good catches. Bear Canyon Lake is particularly good for this. On a still day the water can be a smooth as glass which makes the casting experience even more meditative. Listening to the line feed out as the lure whisks through the wind and off out into the distance here is worth the 16 mile drive from Willow Springs Lake.

After all, having come this far from Glendale, why wouldn’t you want to take it all in?

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