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Arizona Trout Safari May 2002
Dale Saverud  

A few weeks ago my wife Georgia and I had the opportunity to spend a week at Kohl’s Ranch. Kohl’s Ranch is located on the banks of Tonto Creek about 25 miles northeast of Payson on Arizona 260. Here are a couple of high points of that week in the mountains.

One day we decided to set out across the Rim Road (Forest Road 300) intending to visit several places we had not been before. First on our list was Bear Canyon Lake. Bear Canyon Lake is located about 8 miles west on FR 300 from Woods Canyon Lake. The road was rough but was not as badly rutted as I expected for that time of year.

The drive in took almost a half hour as we stopped to check out a small herd of elk and a wild turkey. As we turned off FR 300 for the last several miles to the lake, I started noticing sign that we were not alone in the area. Most of the rotting stumps and fallen logs showed evidence of recent visits by Ursus americanus. Maybe there is a reason this is called "Bear Canyon Lake"!

I was reminded of the power of these critters as we got a close up look at a recently dismantled stump along the trail to the lake from the parking lot. Access here is steep with many switchbacks to get the ¼ mile down to the lake. Although the scenery was magnificent, the fishing here wasn’t. After about an hour of standing in the cold wind we decided to continue on across the rim to the next likely spot, Knoll Lake.

Off we go for another 15 miles of washboards. The drive across the rim is spectacular with many places where the road is literally feet from the edge of the rim. There are also several large burn areas that you pass through. These reveal the significant benefits that fire brings to a forested area in terms of lots of new browse for critters. It was also very interesting to see how varied the level of dryness was as we moved from area to area.

Upon arrival at Knoll Lake, I knew we were in the right place. There was almost constant activity of fish on the surface. That bonus stocking by Game and Fish a couple of weeks earlier had really done the trick. And can you believe it? We had the whole lake to ourselves! I could hardly contain myself.

I grabbed my poles and headed for the shore below the dam. Once I picked my spot on the rock, I didn’t budge for almost 3 hours. I kept trying different spinners from my tackle box to find one that wouldn’t catch fish. I could not find one! What a blast!!!!

They may not be huge, but they're scrappy!

Tossing a spoon out in the lake usually got a strike. If not a strike, then at least 1 or 2 following close behind. I starting doing something very foreign to my instincts -- practicing catch and release (mostly because if I didn’t, I would have to stop fishing WAY TOO SOON!). As I only kept the fish that were hooked badly, I was able to keep fishing for as long as I wanted. Finally, I was just plain old tuckered out and decided to catch my last fish using an old Popeil Pocket Fisherman that I had inherited from my mom. Yep, I even caught a fish on that! My day was complete -- just clean the fish and head back to Kohl’s Ranch.

Georgia was kind enough to agree to drive back, so we headed out. As we are heading back, the effects of almost 50 miles of washboard road is taking its toll on both of us and on my poor old Blazer. About 2 miles from the pavement it happens. The driver side mirror falls off! It’s just dangling by the control cables. What to do? I just roll down the window and stick it inside, as the weather is fine for open air driving at least at dirt road speeds.

We start up again and go about 500 yards and what should we meet, but a road grader. The rest of the dirt road was smoother than the blacktop. If only the mirror would have held out a little longer! But that’s OK, nothing a little packing tape won’t hold until I get around to getting it fixed.

A couple of days later, after our kidneys had recovered from the rim road, we headed out for the White Mountains for a day trip. We couldn’t recall ever going this route to get to Pinetop/Showlow so it was fun to see some new country. After a quick lunch at Hon Dah we set out for our ultimate destination, the Little Colorado River just upstream from Greer. This is one of our favorite spots. It reminds me so much of the kind of places I grew up fishing in Montana that it feels almost like home.

Apache Gold!

Georgia gets her chair and book out and is comfortably reading even before I get a line wet. The worm and small spinner barely hit the water when I get one of the best surprises of the trip! I have hooked an Apache Trout! Georgia looks up from about 50 feet away and asks what is that? The color is such a brilliant orange that it is breathtaking. I continue fishing and have luck catching several more including a nice 13" Apache. In total, I harvested 4 Apaches and 1 rainbow that day and had the pleasure of meeting several more.

And by the way, the fish tasted real good too! I would strongly recommend that you grab your stuff and head out to one of the lakes on the rim. We never made it over to Blue Ridge, but like Knoll Lake, Blue Ridge received a bonus stocking of 10,000 trout this April and should be excellent fishing as well.

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