East Verde - Gila Trout
Located just under two hours from the Phoenix Valley, the East Verde River lies north of Payson, Arizona accessible by highway 87 north. The town of Payson has all your big city amenities: restaurants, bars, hotels and grocery stores. From the intersection of highway 87 and highway 260, right in the heart of town, continue straight on highway 260 west for two miles. After the second roundabout make a right turn onto Houston Mesa Rd. This road crosses the East Verde river three times providing multiple opportunities to find seclusion and respite. The GPS location of the first stream crossing is 34.342947, -111.290099.
One of the rarest trout species in the United States, Gila trout are found only in a handful of streams in Arizona and New Mexico. The East Verde river provides a unique opportunity to catch one of Arizona’s two native trout. Introducing Gila trout to the East Verde River is a real treat for anglers thanks to a great deal of work by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) and local conservation organizations. Conservation efforts started in the 1990’s to bring this native species from endangered to threatened. It’s important to restore native trout back to their historical range so they can inhabit the same streams they once did hundreds of years ago. Already a hit among local and out of state anglers, catching a Gila trout in the East Verde gives you the opportunity to come one step closer to completing your Arizona Trout Challenge.
Located at roughly 5000ft elevation just underneath the Mogollon Rim this country is a mix of pine, juniper and cottonwood trees and provides an opportunity to escape the heat of the Phoenix valley during our summer months.
There are four main access points on the East Verde: First Crossing (34.342919, -111.290087), Water Wheel (34.350895, -111.285575), Second Crossing (34.356745, -111.282844) and Third Crossing (34.365030, -111.281460). All of these points are equipped with a paved parking lot, restrooms and picnic benches. A user created trail runs up and down the stream crossing in various areas. Compared to other western states this stream is fairly small, ranging from 4-10 feet wide but every type of habitat is found throughout this system. Deep pools, undercut banks, long riffles, it caters to every fisherman’s preferred style of fishing. The East Verde is very open and allows for easy back casts. Just a short walk up or downstream from the parking lot gets you away from crowds often having large sections of stream to yourself. From where the East Verde crosses the highway 260 to the headwaters, Gila trout can be found throughout the whole system.
The East Verde River has roughly 11 miles of accessible stream that lies on federal public land. Besides the four access points mentioned above, there are multiple dirt roads requiring high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles that can get you close to more secluded sections of stream. Hiking from where the East Verde crosses the highway 260 upstream can be dangerous in spots where the stream narrows and passes through canyons with vertical walls. Stick to developed access points and fish up or downstream from there.
Positioned at roughly 5000’ elevation this stream witnesses all four seasons. Best times to fish are May to October, after spring runoff and typically before the first snow. Always check the weather before visiting, especially in the months of July and August, monsoon season in Arizona is no joke. And besides muddying the water, flash floods poses a serious safety concern.
Gila trout are very sensitive to movement and will seek cover at the first sign of danger, much like the wild rainbows and brown trout you’ll find in other smaller Mogollon Rim streams. Be careful to approach slowly and remain as far from the creek as possible when surveying a pool. Since they are also sensitive to being exposed in the light, look for them in shaded water. If it is sunny, then look for them near rocks, logs or undercut banks that provide cover. Be sure that your shadow does not land on the water while you fish. A delicate approach is important. Instead of larger bead head flies that could create a splash in a pool, use unweighted wet flies or small bead head zebra midges in sizes 14-18. A dry fly drifted through a pool or run provides a light landing on the water and is very effective for catching Gila trout.
Fishing is allowed year around, but May through October provides the better fishing times. As always, check local regulations for any special conditions for the time you plan to fish.