Arizona is a state rich in fly fishing opportunities. There is a perfect spot for every angler with its many rivers, creeks, and lakes. Arizona's climate is also ideal for fly fishing, with warm weather throughout much of the year, but the summer heat can be a bit much.
Some of the best locations for fly fishing in Arizona include:
- Apache Lake
- Big Bonito Creek
- Black River
- Black River
- Canyon Creek
- Chevelon Canyon Lake and more.
Because the state has such diverse topography, there is a great variety of fish to be found. Arizona is home to many species of trout, including rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout. Warmwater species such as bass and catfish are also plentiful. This article will cover all 15 of the top fly fishing spots in the Grand Canyon State.
Best Freshwater Fly Fishing locations in Arizona
Freshwater fly fishing in Arizona can be done in several ways. There are a variety of lakes, creeks, and rivers to fish in the state, perfect for boat, wade, or bank fishing.
1. Apache Lake
The Salt River Project constructed Apache Lake as one of four reservoirs along the Salt River in central Arizona. The lake is located on the Apache Trail and is about 16 miles east of Tortilla Flat, Maricopa County, Arizona. It is approximately 65 miles (104 km) northeast of Phoenix.
Horse Mesa Dam, which was completed in 1927, formed Apache Lake. The second-largest of the four reservoirs of the Salt River Project, Apache Lake is located about 5 miles (8 km) downstream from Theodore Roosevelt Lake (the biggest) and upstream from Canyon Lake and Saguaro Lake.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Apache Lake, Arizona:
- Flashback Pheasant Tail - Beadhead Gold - Size 18
- Hare's Ear - Natural - Size 18
- Muddler Minnow - Size 6
2. Big Bonito Creek
Big Bonito Creek is a high-elevation trout stream in Apache Country, Arizona. It flows through the Big Bonito Prairie and passes through Big Bonito Creek. The eleven-mile-long river has cold, clear water with lots of stream-bred trout and other species. Special permission from the Apache Tribe is necessary to fish this waterway.
The Little Bonita Creek begins on the south slope of Mount Baldy and flows through the White Mountain Apache Reservation. The upper reaches plunge at a steeper angle, and there is a lot of fast water. It runs entirely within Apache territory. It is a sizable stream in the Arizona Mountains when it enters the Big Black River. Several tributaries to fish in addition to Little Bonita Creek, including Flash Creek, Squaw Creek, and Crooked Creek.
The water level is high, so there are a lot of 14 to 16-inch stream-born brown trout. Some are considerably bigger, and it's not uncommon to catch ten or fifteen browns on most days of the season. In its lower reaches, there are several smallmouth bass as well.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Big Bonito Creek, Arizona:
3. Black River
The Black River is a 114-mile-long (183 km) river in Arizona's White Mountains. It begins south of the town of Greer and west of the towns of Nutrioso and Alpine. The river flows southwest before turning northward to join the White River west of Fort Apache. The rivers' waters merge to form the Salt River, a major tributary of the Gila River that provides water to Phoenix and farmland in the region.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Black River, Arizona:
4. Bright Angel Creek
Bright Angel Creek is a creek that flows from the bottom of the Grand Canyon National Park into the Colorado River at the end of the North Kaibab Trail, which runs along the north side of the river. The creek starts at Roaring Springs, which emerges from a cliff alongside the North Kaibab Trail and flows to the Colorado River. The North Kaibab Trail largely follows along with it, including through "the Box," a narrow, high-walled section of trail that becomes extremely hot in daylight during the summer months (April to October).
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Bright Angel Creek, Arizona:
5. Canyon Creek
Canyon Creek, located in the Mogollon Rim area, is one of the finest Arizona trout streams. The upper part of Canyon Creek is in the Tonto National Forest, but the majority of the fifty-mile stream flows through the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation.
Fish species include both brown and rainbow Trout, making Canyon Creek one of the best Arizona trout streams. The upper portion of Canyon Creek is in the Tonto National Forest, while the majority of the fifty-mile stream runs through the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. Canyon Creek is also popular among anglers due to its vicinity to The Arizona Game and Fish Department Canyon Creek Fish Hatchery.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Canyon Creek, Arizona:
6. Chevelon Canyon Lake
Chevelon Canyon Lake is a reservoir located in northern Arizona about 28 miles (45 km) northwest of Heber. It is one of a chain of little canyon-bound lakes known as the Rim Lakes that are located on the Mogollon Rim. It's considered one of the most difficult to get to in the area, and it's also Chevelon Creek's second reservoir downstream from Woods Canyon Lake.
The USDA Forest Service's Apache–Sitgreaves National Forests branch maintains the facilities. Despite its isolation and lack of accessibility, it is a great fishing destination owing to its rainbow and brown trout stocks. Rainbow trout are introduced once a year, while Colorado suckers hatch naturally in the lake and brown trout spontaneously nest in the stream that flows into it.
Recommended Fly Patterns for Chevelon Canyon Lake, Arizona:
7. Imperial Reservoir
The California/Arizona border is crossed by the Imperial Diversion Dam, a concrete slab and buttress with an ogee weir, 18 miles (29 km) northeast of Yuma. The dam stores the waters of the Colorado River before desilting and diversion into the All-American Canal, Gila River, and Yuma Project aqueducts. Fishing at Imperial Reservoir is good for channel catfish, flathead catfish, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Imperial Reservoir, Arizona:
- Adams - Size 14
- Flashback Pheasant Tail - Beadhead Green - Size 18
- Baetis Barr Emergers Plain - Size 20
8. Lee’s Ferry
Lees Ferry is the only location in Glen Canyon where you may drive for over 700 miles along breathtaking canyon country to the Colorado River, reaching the Grand Canyon's first rapid. Lees Ferry played an important role in northern Arizona's exploration and settlement.
Lee's Ferry is also a world-renowned trout fishery. The Lees Ferry rainbow trout is considered one of the signature subspecies of trout. These fish average 16 to 20 inches (41 to 51 cm) but can grow much larger.
Recommended Fly Patterns for Lee’s Ferry, Arizona:
- Glo Bug Red Dot (Egg) - Orange) - Size 10
- San Juan Worm - Size 12
- Zebra Midge Curved Red - Tungsten - Size 18
9. Little Colorado River
The Little Colorado River is a minor tributary of the Colorado River in Arizona, draining portions of the Painted Desert region. It drains an area of approximately 26,500 square miles (69,000 km2) in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, including its major tributary, the Puerco River.
Although the river's length is nearly 340 miles (550 km), only the headwater and lowermost sections flow all year. Most of the river is a broad, braided wash that does not flow because of seasonal snowmelt or flash flooding between St. Johns and Cameron.
The lower 57.2 miles (92 km), sometimes known as the Little Colorado River Gorge, is one of the Grand Canyon's largest arms at 3,000 feet (910 m) deep, where it joins the Colorado near Desert View in Grand Canyon National Park.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Little Colorado River, Arizona:
10. Lower Salt River
The Salt River is a river in Gila and Maricopa counties, Arizona, the largest tributary of the Gila River. The river is about 200 miles (320 kilometers) long and drains an area of around 13,700 square miles (35,000 km2). Its drainage basin covers roughly 13,700 square miles (35,000 km2).
The 195-mile (314 km) Verde River is the Salt River's longest tributary. The headwaters of the Salt River, the Black River, and East Fork add up to 300 miles (480 km). The Lower Salt River, which runs through the city of Phoenix, is a great location for fly fishing. It has a year-round bass, carp, and sucker population and is stocked with Rainbow Trout from September through April.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Lower Salt River, Arizona:
- Small Poppers - Size 6
- Chubby Chernobyl - Size 10
- San Juan Worm - Size 12
11. Oak Creek
The Oak Creek Gorge is a river gorge in northern Arizona between Flagstaff and Sedona. Because of its beauty, the canyon is sometimes referred to as a smaller version of the Grand Canyon. The north end of State Route 89A enters the canyon via a series of hairpin turns before navigating the bottom of the depression for approximately 13 miles (21 km) until it reaches Sedona.
The West Fork of Oak Creek and the North Fork of Oak Creek join at Cave Springs. The creek continues to flow downstream through Sedona and the Sliding Red Rock State Park, where it unites with the Verde River. The Page Springs Fish Hatchery supplies trout to Oak Creek.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Oak Creek, Arizona:
12. Salt River Arizona
Salt River is a town in Maricopa County, Arizona. It has an elevation of 1,220 feet (370 m) above sea level. It's on the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community border.
The town of Salt River, Arizona, is named after the Salt River on the north bank of which it is located, east of Phoenix and near Lehi. The Salt River is located just east of the Phoenix Metro region. It has a year-round bass, carp, and sucker population and is stocked with Rainbow Trout from September through April.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Salt River, Arizona:
13. Silver Creek
Silver Creek is a 45-mile-long (72 km) stream located in the White Mountains of Arizona north of Show Low. It's a tributary of the Little Colorado River and home to rainbow trout and brown trout.
The Hatchery Program manages Silver Creek Fish Hatchery on commission-owned property acquired in 1978. The facility also includes an 840-acre wildlife area that is accessible to the public for fishing and hunting. This is a popular destination, with views of all kinds of animals available. Silver Creek also offers aquatic habitat for native fish species such as speckled dace and bluehead sucker, as well as angling opportunities for Apache and rainbow trout.
Recommended Fly Patterns for the Silver Creek, Arizona:
- Slump Buster with Cone - Black - Size 8
- Zebra Midge Black - Size 20
- Flashback Pheasant Tail Gold - Size 18
14. White Mountains
The White Mountains of Arizona are a mountain range and mountainous area in the eastern part of Arizona, near the boundary with New Mexico; it is a continuation of the western Arizona transition zone–Mogollon Rim, which comes to an end in western New Mexico.
The White Mountains are part of the Colorado Plateau high country of Northeast Arizona, the Navajo Nation, with the rest of the Plateau in eastern Utah, northwest New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado. Nearby settlements include:
- Show Low
- Springerville, and
Recommended Fly Patterns for the White Mountains, Arizona:
- Kaufmanns Stimulators - Size 12
- Parachute Adams Indicator - Size 14
- Copper John - Green and Red - Size 12
What Gear do I need to Fly Fish in Arizona?
The type of fishing gear you'll need to bring is determined by the depth of the water and the width of the river. If you have a lot of room, go with longer 9-foot rods.
Fly fishing gear in Arizona is pretty simple. You'll need a rod, reel, line, tippet, leader, flies, and waders. Because you'll typically be fishing from the bank or in shallow streams, hip boots or chest waders are essential. Waders will keep you dry and comfortable while you're fishing.
Additional Facts about Fly Fishing in Arizona
Does Arizona have good fly fishing?
Whether you're searching for bass in a large lake or trout in the backwoods, fishing in the southwest should not be overlooked. Arizona should be near the top of your list for the best fishing in the southwestern United States.
Arizona has great fly fishing, especially in the spring and fall. The state is home to many species of fish, including trout, bass, and carp. And because of the state's diverse landscape, there are many different types of waterways to explore.
Are there trout streams in Arizona?
Trout are native to Arizona's rivers and streams, which abound with cold, clear water and the sort of rocky terrain that trout prefer. In contrast to their Lake Apache and Gila cousins, Arizona's native Apache and Gila trout are more common in streams than in lakes.
How do you fish for trout in Arizona?
Trout are stocked in the state's dry, low-elevation regions in winter, but fishing practically shuts down during the warmer months of the year. Summer heat in the desert is too much for trout. Even so, most lakes freeze over at higher elevations in Arizona. Lakes thaw as early as March, and winter runoff floods waterways and streams.
The best months to visit the state's lakes and reservoirs are typically April and May, although the large numbers during snowmelt may make fishing in moving water difficult.
Arizona is a great state for fly fishing, with many different types of fish to be caught in various landscapes. Whether you're looking to fish for trout in a stream or bass in a lake, you'll find plenty of options in Arizona. Be sure to bring the proper gear, including waders and flies, and check conditions before you go to ensure a successful trip.