July 6th, 2010

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In Praise of the Smallest of Waters

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

-Mother Teresa

A small stream is Arizona is truly small. Tiny. Diminutive. Consider the East Fork of the Black River. In most places it would be thought of as a tiny stream or dismissed as a creek. Here, we call it a river. In the Desert Southwest, the size of water is  relative.

The size of trout is a relative thing too. A small trout from a big water might well be a big trout from a small water.

So then what is a small Arizona trout stream? In my book, it is a perennial flowing or even ephemeral water which contains trout (preferably wild) which you can step across with an average inseam.

Small Stream

Step Across

These waters have their fans and, in the case of waters with wild trout, these fans are often secretive fanatics. People who fish are often tight-lipped  enough, but these fanatics can take it to a whole new level. Fishing itself is an uncertain search for the elusive. A hunt for a small trout stream in water-starved Arizona is an elusive search for the elusive. Fishing for small streams to fish is thus secretive and elusive squared.

Consider me one of these fanatics to the second power.

This past holiday weekend in the White Mountains, my wife joined me on an another obsessive quest for new water. On a map, I had spied a tributary of a tributary of a tributary of the Little Colorado River. I had been looking at it on paper for several years but did not know if it held fish or not. We embarked figuring that there is only one way to find out for sure.  If nothing else, we were sure to find relief form the masses on one of the busiest weekends of the year up on the mountain.

The stream was not accessible by road, so we left town and sometime after the road turned to dirt we pulled the car off to the side, humped our day packs on, and headed out into the forest in the general direction of the stream. After slipping under a barbed-wire fence we found a long-abandoned road which gently wound down into the canyon. As we neared the creek the mosquitoes closed in on fresh meat.

Pocket Pool

The stream was running and along it was a trail. A game trail was to be expected but this was not just a game trail. This fact was obvious because it had been cleared over the years on occasion by chainsaw. There were cuts ranging from ancient to probably as recent as last year. Why would anyone clear a trail back here in the middle of nowhere? I was not sure, but had a few guesses in the back of my head.

Spooking a small herd of deer, we continued upstream along the trail. The canyon was heavily shaded by old growth Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, and Blue Spruce. I occasionally peered into the water searching for the dart of a trout, but saw nothing. Even if there were no trout, this was a pleasant hike in a pristine environment. I considered this reason enough for someone’s chainsawed-endeavor.

Birds sang and snakes slithered. The trail continued on and where the creek forked, the trail split. We chose the right turn and pressed on until the creek forked again and the path ran out. We decided to make this our turn-around point.

After a lunch in the shade of an ancient, gnarled fir and despite having seen no fish, I rigged a rod. Remember, we are acting on faith here.

I had brought the 8’3″ 4wt because it is a five-piece. I was wishing I had brought the  3 wt. 6’6″  despite its two pieces because this was not going to be a matter of casting. With the thick overgrowth, it was  a matter of just finding spots I could thread the rod through to dap.

If there were any fish in this smallest of waters, I knew they would not be very selective, so I tied on a  Wulff pattern with plenty of hackle so it would float high. Finally finding an opening, I dropped a fly in a pool much smaller than a bathtub. Instantly a trout appeared and inhaled it.

Large Praise for Small Trout

As we continued to work our way back, I dropped a fly in every spot bigger that a shoebox which I could get a rod into. Each time a trout appeared and acted with no suspicions.

While most people would not consider 6-9″ trout very large, there are times worthy of reconsideration. I felt this was one of them in the name of faith in small things.

In praise of  the smallest of waters, now I know why you maintain the path – whoever you are.

I swear to Mother Teresa:  your secret is safe.