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Apache trout in the Land of Geronimo

Gary Giudice

Lifelong angling buddies, Ed Weber of Rochester, N.Y., and Gary Giudice from Norman, Okla., are fly fishing their way up the spine of the Rocky Mountains following mayfly hatches. They started in the White Mountains of Arizona and will end on the Bow River of Alberta, Canada. This blog follows their trip.

Photo gallery | Dream trip preview

SPRINGERVILLE, Ariz. — Geronimo was a sneaky rascal. It took the United States Calvary about 10 years using some 5,000 troops, 600 Apache scouts and countless militiamen to catch him. He finally walked into Fort Apache in the late 1880s. Perhaps he was just tired of playing cat and mouse with all those blue coats.

Apache trout in Geronimo's White Mountains of today are far from sneaky. Ed Weber landed his first in just a few minutes of angling.

Finding a suitable stream, now that's another matter. The White Mountains are rough backcountry. Getting lost is no problem and finding suitable waters can be frustrating.

Little roads running helter-skelter through the piney woods, elk dodging in and out of the trees and occasionally an unnamed stream. It's little wonder the soldiers couldn't find the Chief. He had plenty of hiding spots to lie up, cook elk rump roast and plan his next big sortie.

We were fishing just a few miles from Fort Apache in the White Mountain Apache Reservation on Log Creek where Ed made his first cast. He read the water well. Very few bugs on the water, the odd small caddis was about it. He chose a small caddis emerger and starting rising fish almost immediately.

Apache trout and browns didn't seem all that fussy about the drift. They were spooky but would settle down after just a few minutes. A short three or four weight rod is the best choice for these waters.

Even though the streams run small there seems to be a lot of wind so a four weight seven and a half or eight foot rod might be best. Tippet size may mater at times but now the water is a little off color so a 5X is fine.

As the day wore on more caddis came out, all sizes but mostly small. The predominant color was a light caddis brown. Caddis by the thousands covered the water with few rising fish. However, the emergers continued to catch fish, albeit pitifully small fish. Small streams, small fish and small flies were things we would just have to get used to.

When we arrived in the general area we were clueless as to what to do or where to go. The only thing resembling a fly shop for miles was the Speckled Trout in Springerville, Ariz.

The proprietor, Sue Chacon, knows her stuff. The shop is small but has everything a fly angler would need to pursue the Apaches. She stocks plenty of flies, tying materials and some pretty cool gifts to carry home.

A neat little espresso shop is in the back with a comfortable and private patio out the back door. An accomplished fly fisher/guide herself, she pointed us in the right direction and gave us a little history of the trout.

At one time the Apache trout almost disappeared, but thanks to some dedicated folks at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with Arizona DNR biologists, they are back strong and provide not only recreation but also plenty of table fare for the locals.

This didn't happen without some problems. The reason the Apache trout populations headed to trouble in first place was because of the introduced species, rainbows and browns.

In order to get the Apache population back up, entire streams had to be poisoned then restocked with the natives. Locals didn't like that idea. To them it just didn't add up. Kill thousands of fish just to restock streams with others.

Many still haven't gotten over it, but they need to move on. Most of them I talked to couldn't tell you the difference between a brown and an Apache anyway.

Unless you just want to add Apache trout to your bucket list, I say skip them. They fight small, mostly because they are. But they are a pretty fish and I'm glad they are saved for the future. I'm also glad I caught some with my buddy Ed, but there are bigger, harder fighting fish to be found all over the trout waters of America.

But it is just so cool to catch a fish that is found in so few places. With a storied history in a storied land, these trout are similar to their namesake, tough if not elusive and colorful in a traditional sort of way.

Most of the fish we found were stockers. To find wild fish we only need to get away from campgrounds and roads. Back where Geronimo might have camped over 100 years ago.

Easily done but fish were fewer, yet they did seem to have more color and spunk.

A lot like Geronimo, a lot of spunk, just not so sneaky.