Whether expert or novice fisherman, you’ll find a wide array of areas to cast a line. Trout- both stocked and stream-spawned- inhabit many of the streams and lakes surrounding the Mogollon Rim. The lakes, reservoirs, and lower-elevation rivers are home to a variety of warm-water sport fish.
Several of Arizona’s fishing records have been achieved in and around Rim Country waters, and draws people from near and far.
Before you plan your trip, be sure to check for forest closures and restrictions from the Tonto National Forest Service.
Before You Fish
While visiting Payson, several lakes and streams are within easy access and fun to fish. Be sure to have a current license when you fish any Arizona lakes or streams. Licenses are good for a full year from purchase. They can be obtained online at www.azgfd.gov under the fishing tab. You can also purchase them in town at Walmart and Big 5. Some lakes and streams in Rim Country may have specific tackle requirements or different daily bag limits. Be sure to check the fishing regulations, including the special regulations and seasons section. More information on Rim Country Fishing is available in the Rim Country Fishing books published by the Payson Roundup. These books are available at the Roundup office, Walmart and Bashas’.
Make Fishing Better for Everyone
If you plan to release your fish, please handle them carefully so that they can be returned to the water unharmed. If a fish swallows the hook, cut the line just outside of the mouth and the fish will generally make a full recovery. If the fish is bleeding at all, then please consider keeping the fish. Trout are especially fragile. Handle them gently, and ideally with wet hands, to avoid compromising the protective slime on their bodies. When you release trout, it is best to allow them to swim off on their own, rather than tossing them into the lake. If they go belly up, they can often still be revived by moving them forward and back to get water circulating through their gills; but if not righted and revived, they will likely die. Used fishing line and trash is not only unsightly at our favorite places to fish, it can be harmful, if not fatal to fish and wildlife. Please be sure to take your trash with you when you fish Rim Country lake and streams.
New to Fishing?
Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) has a short four part video series on Youtube to learn the basics of fishing that will help you catch fish in Rim Country!
Rim Country Lakes
Whether you are looking for a quiet get away from the hustle and bustle or a busy weekend of fishing and hiking, Rim Country Lakes were made for your enjoyment.
Green Valley Lake is actually three lakes which are part of a 45-acre park located at the west end of Main Street in Payson, Arizona. As part of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s community fishing program, the three lakes are stocked with rainbow trout from mid-October to mid-May. Bluegills, crappies and bass are caught regularly by anglers all year. There is a playground on the north side of the park that families can visit after fishing.
Bear Canyon Lake is about a 45 mile drive from Payson including traveling on gravel roads (FR 300 and the turn-off to the lake). The 60- acre lake is stocked about once a month from April through September. A steep trail limits access to the hardy, just right for keeping the crowds down. The contrast between the blue water and green pines is absolutely stunning.
Black Canyon Lake is stocked with rainbow trout April through June. There are also largemouth bass in the lake. The shoreline is often extremely weedy, so it can be a challenge to fish from the bank. The lake has a paved ramp and campgrounds nearby. Located 18 miles Southwest of Heber on Arizona 260, FR 300 & FR 86 at an elevation of 7100 feet.
Formerly known as Blue Ridge Reservoir, C.C. Cragin Reservoir is a narrow man-made lake that covers 200 acres when full. Take SR 87 north past the Lake Mary road turnoff, then turn east on FR 751. The lake is stocked in May with rainbow trout. The easiest time to catch fish is in May while they are near the boat ramp.As the summer progresses, the fish move deeper throughout the lake, which often experiences an algae bloom in June and July. The shoreline is steep, so a small boat will provide better access.
Chevelon Lake Is one of the largest but most difficult lakes to access. Take SR 260 east to the top of the Rim and FR 300 north for approximately 13 miles. Turn right on FR 169 for an additional 12 miles and then turn on to FR 169B. Access is accomplished by hiking or by a quad or small side-by-side (50 inches wide or less). The banks are steep and heavily forested. A small boat, canoe, kayak, or float tube will provide better access. This lake has trophy rainbow and brown trout, but be sure to check the angling regulations for this lake to keep this a trophy trout destination.
At nearly 8,000 feet, this lake covers 75 acres. Take FR 300 (a gravel road) north past the Woods Canyon Lake turnoff for another 21 miles. Rainbow trout are stocked by AZGFD during May and June each year. There is a 35 unit campground. You can fish from the shoreline, but the banks are steep. There is a boat ramp, so you may want to consider a small boat or float tube for better access.
Willow Springs Lake is the closest lake to access from Payson on the Mogollon Rim . It is a fun lake to fish. Take SR 260 east. About a mile after cresting the Mogollon Rim, look for the Willow Springs Lake sign (FR 149). Turn left to access two paved parking lots and a boat ramp for boats up to 10hp. Continue east on SR 260 and turn left on the first dirt road (FR 148) to access a somewhat less crowded part of the lake. Summer weekends are busy, so plan on getting to the lake early. The lake is stocked from April through September with rainbow and tiger trout. It also has largemouth and smallmouth bass as well as a large
population of green sunfish easy for youngsters to catch along the shore.
Woods Canyon Lake is one of the most popular recreation areas in all of Arizona. Head east on SR 260 from Payson. At the top of the Mogollon Rim, turn left on FR 300 for approximately four miles, then turn right on FR 105 for about a mile to the lake. Amenities include: boat rentals, picnic area, five campgrounds, and nature trails. The lake is stocked with rainbow and tiger trout from April through September. Like Willow Springs Lake, Woods Canyon Lake gets crowded during summer weekends. Arrive early for best access.
While not a Rim Lake, it is one of Arizona’s favorite water playgrounds. Located 35 miles southeast of Payson, it covers 19,000 surface acres and is 25 miles long and up to two miles wide. The lake is home to largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, channel, and flathead catfish. It is also a playground for water skiing, sailing, wind surfing, jet skiing, and swimming. Camping facilities abound in the area.
Rim Country Streams
The streams in Rim Country are generally small, but fun to fish. Some have wild trout populations that are under restrictive gear and catch and release regulations, while others are stocked regularly during the summer with rainbow trout or Gila trout and can be fished with any gear and the statewide daily bag limits apply. Be sure to read and understand the fishing regulations on Rim Country streams.
During monsoon season or during winter flows, Horton Creek flows into Tonto Creek just upstream from the Horton Creek Bridge, but for much of the year the lower section dries up and goes underground well upstream of the confluence. To access Horton Creek, follow the directions to Tonto Creek. The Horton Creek Bridge parking area is located just across the single lane bridge which is about a mile north of the turn-off from SR 260 on FR 289. The trail to Horton Creek begins across the bridge from the parking lot and near the entrance to the Upper Tonto Creek Campground at the top of the hill. After about 30 to 45 minutes of hiking, you will begin to see where Horton Creek is flowing above ground. Fish
can be found in the creek all the way up to the Horton Creek spring, but they are quite wary in this small stream. Horton Creek is a catch and release fishery where only single point barbless flies or lures may be used. No bait is allowed to fish for the wild brown trout that reside in this beautiful stream
Canyon Creek has two very different sections in terms of regulations and stream surroundings. The section that draws anglers seeking big brown trout is the lower meadow section of the creek. It is under special regulations. Anglers must quickly release all fish unharmed, and only single point barbless flies or artificial lures may be used. No bait is allowed. The upper section flows through a thick forest and the stream is characterized by fast pocket water with few pools. This upper section has a few smaller brown trout, but unlike the lower section which is not stocked, the upper section is stocked with rainbow trout weekly throughout the summer. Bait is able to be used in the upper section. The daily bag limit for this upper section is four trout. Do not attempt to access Canyon Creek if the road conditions are snowy or muddy. The road can be treacherous. Travel east on SR 260 from Payson. Past the Willow Springs Lake turn-off, take the Young road (FR 512) for three miles. Just before FR 512 turns to gravel, turn left on to FR 33. Five miles down FR 33, the left fork (FR 33) leads to Upper Canyon Creek. Most folks fish near the bridge
that crosses the creek before the turnoff to the Canyon Creek Hatchery. Take the right fork (FR 34), then FR 188 to get to Lower Canyon Creek.
Tonto Creek is less than 30 minutes from Payson. Approximately 21 miles east of town, turn on to FR 289. Rainbow trout are stocked in the Kohl’s Ranch area downstream of the SR 260 Bridge, but several more fishing opportunities exist on the upstream side of the SR 260 bridge. Be aware of parking restrictions along the narrow road that follows the creek especially in the Horton Creek Bridge parking lot area. Travel north on FR 289 and several of the pull-outs along the creek are stocked weekly from April through September.
You can fish for Gila trout, one of two native Arizona species of trout, on the East Verde River, less than 30 minutes from Payson. While Gila trout are stocked weekly and the fish can be kept up to the daily bag limit, these fish also have the ability to reproduce naturally in the East Verde River if they are released unharmed. Take SR 87 north. Just past the second roundabout, turn east on Houston Mesa Road. The 1st Crossing, Water Wheel, 2nd Crossing, and 3rd Crossing parking areas are between seven and nine miles from the Houston Mesa Road turnoff. Please be aware of the parking restrictions on the narrow
road near the Water Wheel site.
The Upper East Verde River is a very small stream with a population of wild rainbow trout. These fish are small, often less than six inches long, but very pretty. The Upper East Verde River is a catch and release fishery where only single point barbless flies or lures may be used. No bait is allowed. The Upper East Verde River is the creek that flows through the Washington Park area. It is about 30 minutes from Payson. Follow the directions to the East Verde River fishing sites listed above. Continue past 3rd Crossing Bridge through Whispering Pines, veer left on the Control Road for less than a mile. Turn right on FR 32 heading to Washington Park. After about four miles, turn right on to the FR 32A/B spur. Take 32A to Washington Park. There are several pull-outs that provide access to the creek on the road up to Washington Park.
Folks camping at the Christopher Creek Campground enjoy fishing the creek as it flows through the campground. Upper Christopher Creek is a beautiful section of Christopher Creek. Access to this upper section begins at the See Canyon Trailhead. Early in the spring this creek can run fast and deep from snowmelt from the Rim, but by mid summer, the flow is greatly reduced and stocking of rainbow trout is discontinued for the year due to the shallow water. There are wild brown and rainbow trout in Christopher Creek as well. This creek is under normal statewide regulations. Head east on SR 260 from Payson and take the Christopher Creek Loop road to FR 284. Two miles up FR 284 the road ends at
the See Canyon Trailhead parking lot.