Anglers familiar with trout fishing in the United States rarely put Arizona at the top of their best trout fishing destinations. Those who have put the stereotypes aside and tested its waters know that Arizona’s trout fishing shouldn’t be overlooked. Arizona is a heavily underrated trout fishing state that has some of the most diverse trout ecosystems in the country.
Arizona Trout Fishing: Species
The Arizona Game and Fish Department operates six fish hatcheries across the state. Rainbow trout are born, raised, and released from several of the hatcheries within Arizona. You can find rainbow trout populations throughout Phoenix in the winter and throughout Northern Arizona most of the year.
Both stocked and wild populations of rainbow trout exist in Arizona.
Apache trout are native to Arizona. This beautiful fish has a gold and tan body with large black spots spread across it. Anglers can find the native Apache Trout populations throughout the White Mountains in Northeast Arizona.
Apache trout are a heavily protected fish. The Arizona Game and Fish Department grow them in fish hatcheries to keep their strains alive. Using eggs from native Apache trout, Arizona Game and Fish can keep the Apache trout strains pure.
Gila Trout are the other trout species native to Arizona. Gila trout are rarer than Apache Trout, but they can be found in a few streams in Northern Arizona. Like the Apache Trout, the Arizona Game and Fish Department regularly stocks Gila Trout to keep their population thriving.
Brown trout are stocked throughout Arizona. There are a few wild populations in the northern part of the state, but many of the populations are stocked year after year. You can find them in rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs.
The Arizona fish hatcheries grow brook trout. Few waters in Arizona stay cold enough to keep a healthy brook trout population, but the high-elevation streams in the White Mountains offer some great access to them.
Cutthroat trout also have a presence in Arizona. Finding them isn’t always easy, but anglers can catch decent-sized cutties yearly. Northeastern Arizona is the best place for anglers to find them.
The final trout species you’ll find in Arizona is tiger trout. Tiger trout are a sterile mix of brown trout and brook trout. They’re strong predators and dominate the fisheries where they live.
Best Trout Fishing Rivers in Arizona
Anglers find the Black River in the Show Low and Greer region in Eastern Arizona. Located high in the White Mountains, you’ll find many public access points.
My first trip to the Greer and Show Low area was spent exploring the Black River. I traveled 10 miles on forest roads and discovered a beautiful canyon with beautiful water. The rainbow trout were hungry, and I even landed a couple of Apache Trout.
As the river runs into Paddy Creek just south of Tonto Lake, anglers find warmer water. Here, anglers find brown trout as well as smallmouth bass.
When fly fishing the Black River, use streamers like Woolly Buggers and Pheasant Tail and Prince Nymphs. Attractor patterns like the Royal Wullf, Chubby Chernobyls, Fat Alberts, and poppers. I found that dead drifting my streamers and nymphs produced the most fish.
If you’re spin fishing, Panther Martins, Eggs, Small Rapalas, and spinners give you the best chance at trout.
Focus on deep pools and faster-moving water with seams and eddies. The fish want cold water, so they sit deep or in the faster currents to get their access to food. Cast upstream of your strike zone and let your fly drift into the fishy areas. Traditional trout and bass tactics work well on the Black River.
The 13-mile stretch of the Colorado River known as Lees Ferry is one of the best places to fish for trout in Arizona. You’ll find this stretch of river outside of Page and below the Glen Canyon Dam off of Lake Powell.
Wild rainbow trout swim through these waters. I’ve landed my fair share of 16-22-inch rainbows when fishing the Colorado.
Lee’s Ferry gets a nice amount of midge hatches since it is a tailwater, so I like using all types of Zebra Midges, BWOs, and San Juan Worms. I’ve also landed fish on Clouser Minnows and Woolly Buggers.
If you’re spin fishing, stick with Mepps Spinners, Muddler Minnows, Power Bait, and any rattling lure.
I’ve had the most success fishing Lee’s Ferry from a boat. While you can land fish bank fishing, you can’t get to the deep sections and runs. You can rent jet boats for a couple hundred dollars or hire a guide to show you the ropes.
The Salt River is the only desert trout fishery in the country. I fished the Salt in May and landed some stocked rainbow trout. Flowing out of Saguaro Lake, you’ll find a few miles of water cold enough to sustain trout populations for a decent amount of the year.
The Arizona GFD stocks rainbow trout throughout the winter, so if you want the most success and the least crowds, fish it in the winter. There are a few access points right below Saguaro Lake that anglers should access. Don’t go more than a few miles from the lake otherwise, the conditions become more challenging.
Rainbow trout, carp, and bass live in these waters. I land most of my trout on small streamers and large beadhead nymphs. Flows can get strong, so I want to get as low in the water column as possible.
For spin anglers, Power Bait, heavy spinners, and Panther Martins seem to do the job.
I like to work the banks when I’m fishing the Salt River. In the winter, flows are a little lower than in the spring, so there is more room to work my way upstream. You’ll find seams and eddies throughout the Salt. There aren’t many pools or riffles to fish, so expect to stay below the surface.
Clear Creek is found on the Mogollon Rim in Payson. A couple-hour climb out of the Phoenix Valley will put you on this beautiful creek. I am a fan of small stream trout fishing, and Clear Creek fits all of my needs.
Wild rainbow and brown trout exist throughout these waters. You’ll find easy access off of Highway 87. Kinder Crossing is a common place for anglers to hop in the water.
This river is best fished with a fly rod. Using small BWOs, Tricos, and Caddis flies put you on fish. Since it’s so tight, you won’t have as much room to cast a spin rod.
When I fish Clear Creek, I look for cut banks and small pools. Any structure and cover that can hide fish is also a good place to make your casts. It’s small stream fishing at its best.
Oak Creek in Sedona is one of the prettiest fisheries in Arizona. Surrounded by red rock canyon walls and tall pines, you can hardly tell you’re in Arizona. Rainbow trout, brown trout, and some brook trout swim through these waters, waiting to be caught.
Access is easier to find as you head north out of Sedona into Oak Creek Canyon. Multiple pull-offs allow you to hike down to the creek.
Fish Oak Creek in the fall, winter, and spring. Water temperatures stay cool, and flows are more consistent.
When I fly fish on Oak Creek, I stick to small flies. Size 18-24 flies seem to produce the most fish. I’ll throw BWOs, Caddis, Tricos, and Pheasant Tails.
Spin anglers do well with small spinners and Panther Martins. Beads and Rattlin Rogues can work well in the deeper water.
Big Bonito Creek
Big Bonito Creek is high in the White Mountains on an Apache Reservation. You’ll have to purchase a special Apache Reservation license to access it.
These 11 miles start on the south slope of Mount Baldy and eventually flow into the Big Black River. In the upper waters, you’ll find healthy brown trout; as it gets closer to the Black River, you can catch smallmouth bass.
Look to fish Tricos, Humpy Ants, and BWO Emergers when fishing Big Bonito Creek. It’s definitely a fly fishing stream due to the tighter conditions and lower water levels.
Look for large rocks and tree laydowns. Trout hide behind these when given the chance. Cast upstream and let your fly drift right near them.
Canyon Creek starts in Tonto National Forest and flows throughout the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. Canyon Creek has seen major restoration over the past couple of decades, and it’s turned into one of the more productive trout fisheries in the state.
The OW Bridge area near Airplane Flats Campground is a good place to start. The waters 10 miles downstream from the bridge are awesome to fish. I find plenty of peace and solitude when I’m fishing these waters. I rarely run into any other anglers.
Brown and Rainbow trout are the most prevalent trout within Canyon Creek. When I fly fish for them, I use Copper Johns, Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail, Gnat, Caddis, and Trico patterns all catch fish.
When fishing Canyon Creek, don’t overthink things. The trout want deep water with cover and structure. I cast near cut banks and upstream of large rocks and fallen trees. Trout sit deep in these areas of cover and structure, awaiting food.
Best Trout Fishing Lakes in Arizona
Chevelon Canyon Lake
Chevelon Canyon Lake is north of Hunter Creek on the Mogollon Rim. This remote lake takes a high-clearance vehicle to access it. However, once you get there, you’ll find that it holds nice brown and rainbow trout.
Live bait is banned on Chevelon Canyon Lake, so ensure you’re prepared with plenty of flies and lures to give yourself the best chance at figuring out these fish.
When I fly fish, I like to throw streamers and beadhead nymphs. I’ll cast near cover and structure and let my flies drop in the water column and then retrieve them. Wolly Buggers and Sex Dungeons are some of my favorites. Otherwise, I throw Prince Nymphs.
For spin fishing, Mepps Spinners, Panther Martins, Midliner Inline Spinners, and soft plastic swim baits work well.
Work along the banks and look for drop-offs and areas of cover and structure. Trout want to feel protected in lakes, so rock piles are a great place to start.
Big Lake can be found in the White Mountains near the town of Greer. In Big Lake, you’ll find cutthroat, brook, and rainbow trout. It covers around 450 acres and can be fished from shore and boats. There are no developments on the shoreline, so there’s plenty of access.
You can fish with a boat and a 10 HP or less motor. Otherwise, a float tube or canoe gets you to plenty of fish areas.
For fly anglers, Wooly Buggers, Pheasant Tail Nymphs, Prince Nymphs, and Chubby Chernobyls are some of your best options.
Spin anglers land fish on Power Bait, Panther Martins, and Mepps Spinners.
Look for weed lines and areas for fish to hide. Working the edges of the weed lines will produce the most fish.
Willow Springs Lake
Willow Springs Lake is another trout fishery found on the Mogollon Rim near Payson. It’s a 150-acre lake filled with rainbow and tiger trout. The Arizona record rainbow trout was caught in Willow Springs Lake and weighed well over 15 pounds.
Willow Springs Lake is one of the more accessible lakes on the list. The Sinkhole Lake or Willow Springs Canyon Forest Campgrounds are my favorite in the state. The lake has a boat launch, and the shoreline is easy to traverse. You can take boats with 10 HP motors onto the lake.
When I fly fish, I throw leech, crayfish, and minnow patterns. Otherwise, I stick with Prince and Pheasant Tail Nymphs and Midge patterns. When trout are feeding on the surface, Caddis, Mayfly, and BWO patterns work well.
Spin anglers have success with PowerBait, Mepps Spinners, and Panther Martins. The lake is rocky, so look for large rock piles and outcroppings to fish. Trout sit near the rocks and wait for their food to swim past. If the shallow rocks aren’t producing fish, look for dropoffs and ledges.
Woods Canyon Lake
Located within Woods Canyon Lake Recreation Area near Payson, Woods Canyon Lake is ideal for trout fishing. Anglers find trout here all year. The cold winters and cool summers allow trout to survive throughout the year, so holdover rainbow trout are easy to find.
The Arizona GFD has also stocked tiger trout within the lake. Even though it’s only 55 acres, you can wander the shoreline and find the perfect spot. It’s a popular fishery, so fishing it in the early spring and late fall gives you the best chance of landing fish. They’ve settled down and aren’t as stressed from the warm summer.
Fly anglers land fish on leeches and minnow representations. I also like to throw San Juan Worms with a beadhead to get them low in the water column. If they’re rising, I stick with small gnat and midge patterns.
Spin anglers should stick with PowerBait, Mepps Spinners, Panther Martins, or small crankbaits.
Becker Lake is found in the White Mountains near the towns of Springerville and Eagar. This 107-acre lake is a catch-and-release lake, one of the best places to catch trophy trout. It gets down to 21 feet deep and diverts the Little Colorado River.
Rainbow trout and brown trout are the primary fish species you find here. You can only fish it with artificial flies and lures on single, barbless hooks.
Look for fish in the weed beds on the south end of the lake. Trophy fish don’t venture far from their protection and become extra active in the mornings and evenings. If it’s a windy day, you’ll struggle to cover water, so try and fish it on a calm day.
Fly anglers should fish Prince Nymphs, KP Buggers, and Stoneflies. Spin anglers land fish with Kastmasters, Panther Martins, Spinners, and Z-rays.
You can have electric or 10 HP or less boat motors.
Reservation Lake sits at over 9,000 feet in the White Mountains, and it’s closed from December through mid-May. To fish it, you’ll need an Arizona fishing license and a special permit from the White Mountain Apache Tribe website.
The Arizona state record brown trout was pulled from Reservation Lake and weighed over 24 pounds.
You can cover much of the water on a kayak or canoe or from shore, depending on your equipment. Look for points and fish along the banks. The fish are most active in the evenings.
Fly anglers should use flying ants, crayfish, Griffith’s gnat, Woolly Buggers, and Drunk and Disorderly flies.
Spin anglers should stick with traditional trout lures. Mepps Spinners, Panther Martins, Kastmasters, and PowerBait are good choices.
Sunrise Lake is another option in the White Mountains. It’s a larger lake that stretches across 804 acres. You have plenty of bank access and a public boat launch for your canoes, kayaks, or boats with smaller motors.
The lake is stocked with rainbow and Apache trout, so if you want a chance to catch the Arizona native, you can do so without having to traverse far into the wilderness.
Fly anglers should stick with heavier flies that can get low in the water column. Crayfish, minnow, and leech patterns seem to do the trick. For the rising fish, ant and gnat patterns are your best options.
Spin anglers should be prepared with crankbaits, Mepps Spinners, Panther Martins, and PowerBait.
The lake is over 30 feet deep, so those warm summer days force the fish deep. Be prepared to cover all levels of the water column when fishing Sunrise.
Arizona Trout Fishing Tips: Fly Fishing and Lures
When fishing in Arizona, you must be prepared with all different bait. If you’re fly fishing, have dries, nymphs, and streamers. When spin fishing, have all different types of spinners, Power Baits, and spoons. I’ve found that Arizona trout are more temperamental than many other places I’ve targeted.
Carry around a thermometer. It doesn’t matter if you’re fishing in the summer or winter, water temperature is a vital factor in trout fishing. If you’re fishing moving water, work your way up and downstream, checking water temperature. As soon as water temperatures get colder, fish in that direction.
Go off the beaten path. Arizona has an amazing amount of National Forest and BLM land. The amount of forest roads spread throughout the state gives anglers a chance to access some phenomenal water. A high-clearance vehicle is going to get you in some special places.
Take advantage of the prime seasons. In the spring, you’ll find consistent flows, higher water levels, and great water temperature. I’ve found the most successful trout fishing in the spring.
Arizona Trout Fishing Size and Bag Limits and Other Rules
Wherever you fish for trout, you need a fishing license. Certain waters require a special trout stamp, but always be prepared with a fishing license.
Depending on where and when you’re fishing, you’ll find that each body of water has different rules and regulations for trout fishing. Some fisheries only allow for fly fishing, and others are catch-and-release only. Take some time to look at local rules and regulations before you visit the water.
Best Seasons for Trout Fishing in Arizona
Arizona trout fishing is heavily dependent on water temperature. In the central and southern parts of the state, the winter and spring provide comfortable temperatures for trout to operate. In the state’s Eastern reaches, anglers have access to trout year-round, but snow and inclement weather can make access to different fisheries a challenge.
For the most success in the central and southern reaches of Arizona, anglers should fish from November through March. Water temperatures stay fairly consistent, and trout are far more active. They can cover all levels of the water column and don’t sit in the deepest water sections, hoping to survive. Trout populations stocked throughout the central and southern sections of the state decrease throughout the summer. Many fish die if they can find deep and cool enough water.
In the Northern parts of the state, Payson, Sedona, Flagstaff, and further North, anglers have access to trout throughout the year. As long as water levels stay high enough, the temperatures rarely get hot enough that entire fish populations die. However, the spring, fall, and winter give you access to the most active fish. One of my favorite times to fish is the late spring when the water levels are high and cool enough to give fish access to all different parts of the water.
Planning Your Trip
When planning your trip to fly fish for trout in Arizona, look to spend time in the northern part of the state. Late May and June are the best months to target these fish.
Start your trip in Payson and work your way up towards Show Low and Greer to have access to some great fly fishing streams, lakes, and reservoirs. Tonto Creek, the Black River, Little Bonita Creek, Big Lake Clear Creek, the Little Colorado River, and Spring Creek are some waters you can hit along the way. Plus, if you’re the camping type, you’ll have access to all different National Forest and established campgrounds.