A roundup of the best fly fishing areas around the Four Corners to cast your line
A day spent fishing is a day well spent — and fall may offer the best days of the year. Once the hustle and bustle of summer has faded away, the wilderness somehow becomes a bit wilder. Big bugs and even bigger trout wait in every back eddy and at the seam of every run. Fall is indeed the ultimate moment of splendor. It is quite simply full of good days to go chase trout.
For fly fishermen in the Four Corners, the opportunities to experience fall fishing are countless. There is enough water for anglers to fish every day and not step foot in the same spot twice. Whether you choose to fish the high country streams, alpine lakes or the rivers of deep canyons, you are sure to have a day well spent.
Colorado boasts 322 miles of Gold Medal waters, including 11 different rivers and three lakes. This fabled water is popular in the summer, and trout can sometimes become wary of all of the anglers hot on their heels, or fins. But come fall, the waters open up and trout go back to their predictable honey holes, offering plenty of casting and elbow room.
If you want to fish the 4-mile stretch of Gold Medal waters on the Animas River near Durango, head to the confluence with Lightner Creek and fish upstream to the river crossing bridge. Look for big brown and rainbow trout. It is commonplace to land trout in the 18-plus inch range right through town.
For more of the picturesque fishing experience, head north of Durango to the high country. Hermosa Creek, located behind Purgatory Resort, entices anglers with meandering tight water in a wide-open meadow. This unique 23-mile stretch of water is the largest pure Colorado River cutthroat habitat in the state. The Colorado River cutthroat trout is the only native trout to the Hermosa Creek drainage and to the Colorado River Basin. Thanks to a collaborative effort of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited, Colorado River cutthroat are making a comeback. It is important to note that this water is designated as strictly catch and release fly fishing only.
Further north, Lime Creek offers some equally spectacular pocket water. Look for some beaver ponds dotting the landscape along the way. This is the place to find smaller but feisty rainbows and brookies on the end of your line.
Arizona’s state fish and one of only two trout native to the State, the Apache trout is as beautiful as it is sought after. Thanks to collaborative restoration efforts of the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Game and Fish and the White Mountain Apache Tribe, the trout that was once on the brink of extinction is now thriving in its native habitat. Anglers now have the opportunity to find one of these beauties that were once at the end of their line, now on the end of their fly line.
For a prime shot at one of these fish, head to the White Mountains and fish the East Fork of the Black River. This 8-mile section can be accessed from Springerville on Highway 191. Look for Hannagan Meadow for easy access. The East Fork can also be accessed as it crosses Forest Road 249.
Another area nestled between Sedona and Flagstaff will place anglers in one of northern Arizona’s hidden treasures: Oak Creek Canyon. Reminiscent of its vastly larger, more popular sibling, the Grand Canyon, Oak Creek is a beautiful river gorge located along the Mogollon Rim. Red Rocks and green water filled with Brown and rainbow trout welcome anglers of all skill levels. Don’t be surprised to find river otters, bald eagles and great blue herons all competing for your catch, but at least there are plenty of fish to catch.
Just outside of the small town of Loa in south central Utah, Fish Lake is not to be missed. At 5-miles long by 1-mile wide and over 100 feet deep, this is a body of water best fished from a boat. With lake trout exceeding 30 pounds (yes, you heard me right), this is the place to be in the fall for truly monster trout. This lake offers anglers a chance at not only huge fish, but also a chance to catch some rarely caught fish. Add tiger trout (a brown trout and brook trout hybrid) and splake to your must catch list if you head here. Be prepared. These bad boys aren’t coming in without a fight. Heavier tippets and leaders, bigger flies and a heavier rod are all necessary here. Streamers and dries fished along the banks or in the shallows can also bring some explosive strikes from some super monster fish.
Make time for a side excursion to Seven Mile Creek, where you can expect to find large brookies and even larger tiger trout in the 20-plus inch range. Tiger trout are as ferocious as their name suggests and a feather in the hat for most anglers to boast about landing. Beaver ponds in the area are home to some big brook trout and should be explored as well.
Fishermen will find the infamous waters of the San Juan River near Farmington in northwest New Mexico. Vastly different from its upper freestone origins, this tail water is the epitome of a fishy, green, slow moving paradise. The waters of the “Juan” are hugely popular for its huge fish.
This is a place for camaraderie with fellow anglers who will cheer you on as you reel one of its famed trout into your net. If you are not an experienced angler, this technical water is good to fish with a guide. The fish may be huge but the flies and leaders needed are tiny. To fish here and land one of these beauties is a dance of sorts between the balance of your wrist and the will of the trout.
The five miles below Navajo Dam are the most fishable with the first three being the primo fish real estate. Dress for success applies to fishing too, and stealth is the name of the game. These fish have seen it all and will shy away at the slightest. Dress to match your surroundings and be stealthy. A well-presented fly should result in a fish on the end of your line. Fall is a wonderful time to fish the San Juan. The crowds will thin a bit but the big fish will remain.
JENNY JOHNSTON is an avid fly fisher and has spent her life chasing trout in the Four Corners. Look for her on a stream near you.