Tonto National Forest implements Stage III Forest Closure beginning July 1. Click to read more.
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.
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 urban fishing program, the three lakes are stocked with rainbow trout from October to May. The program provides convenient, affordable, and fun fishing for anglers of all ages and abilities.
A lake, where bank casting after rainbows and browns, is a productive way to spend a day. The lake has a paved ramp and campground nearby. One veteran angler says he has never been “skunked” here. Located 18 miles Southwest of Heber on Arizona 260, FR300 & FR86 at an elevation of 7100 feet.
While not a Rim Lake, it is one of Arizona’s favorite water play grounds. 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 large and small mouth 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.
Has outstanding access, a paved ramp, and a campground nearby. Fish the upper ends of the two long coves that form the “Y” in the lake for rainbows and brown trout. From Payson travel east on SR 260 towards Heber. At the top of the rim turn left onto FR 149 (Willow Springs Lake turnoff) about 1 mile past Woods Canyon Lake turnoff (FR 300). 1 mile to lake.
A fisherman’s favorite. The 60-acre lake holds rainbows, brookies, cutthroat, and arctic grayling. 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.
Dammed in 1956, Woods Canyon Lake is one of the most popular recreations areas in all of Arizona. Features boat rentals, picnic area, five campgrounds, and nature trails. Stocked with catchable trout. Best in spring and fall.
At nearly 8,000 feet, this lake covers 75 acres. Features stocked rainbows and browns plus a campground. You can fish from the shoreline that runs from the boat ramp toward the island. The cove just beyond is good, too.
Rim Country Streams
The Mogollon Rim in Central Arizona is home to some of the best trout streams in Arizona. Rainbow and Brown trout live here in abundance. Almost all of the streams have deep pools. Those pools are home to the large Brown. Some anglers have seen as big as 20 inches plus Browns in these pools. You will catch mostly fish in the 6-12″ range. If you are lucky, you will have a chance at large Brown.
Tonto Creek is less than 30 minutes from Payson. Exactly 21 miles east of town, turn left at the sign for Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery to reach an improved campground with restroom facilities, picnic tables, and barbeque pits—and Tonto Creek. In the vicinity of the campground, 1.3 miles of beautiful water spills over softball-size rocks with intermittent gravel. The stream bubbles along under a canopy of trees whose limbs can prove somewhat hazardous to fully loaded fly boxes.
About 1 mile from the highway, along the road to the Tonto Fish Hatchery, the Horton Trailhead marks the beginning of a 2-mile hike down to the pocket water stretches of Horton Creek. This beautiful, pristine stream twists and turns through limestone cuts covered by a branched canopy. Recent drought years and low water levels have taken their toll on Horton Creek’s population of wild brown trout and these days, anglers must probe the pocket water stretches to find the few browns remaining.
Twelve miles from the turnoff to Tonto Creek, Highway 260 crosses Christopher Creek. For access, head into the city of Christopher Creek and turn north onto Forest Road 284 to reach Sea Canyon. The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) stocks this part of Christopher Creek bi-weekly from spring until fall, creating fairly good fishing from May 1 through late August or early September. Little more than a thread of water, this tiny brook begins at about 8,100 feet on the rim and runs for 3.3 miles. Its banks are shaded by poplar and spruce, which offer ideal shady cover for stealthy anglers.
Six miles north of the town of Young, Highway 288 crosses Haigler Creek, which eventually dumps into Tonto Creek at Bear Flats, near the boundary of the Hellsgate Wilderness. Haigler offers rainbows and browns all year long. At a slightly lower elevation than other rim creeks, Haigler produces reliable dry fly fishing even during the winter.
Farther east down highway 260, past the turnoff for the town of Young, Canyon Creek is another fine fishery—indeed, in my opinion, the best trout stream in Arizona. To find it, head south on Forest Road 288, then turn east on Forest Road 33, and continue to a left turn on Forest Road 34, which heads northeast, and soon crosses the creek.
A small stream flowing from Chevelon Lake located on top of the Mogollon Rim, Chevelon Creek holds wild rainbows and browns. Black bears and mountain lions frequent this neck of the rim, testifying to the area’s wildlife. The stream corridor is vegetated by typical high-desert plants, with sporadic areas of arboreal canopy shading the water.