Arizona Fly Fishing 5 min read

DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Arizona

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

August 8, 2015

When you think of the state of Arizona, often the first thing that comes to mind is the desert landscape, incredible scenery, relaxing spas, and amazing golfing opportunities. Well, here’s a little secret about the state: it’s also an ideal place to take part in fly fishing. You can make a real vacation out of it and tie the fishing in with other outdoor recreation activities. Arizona’s staying warm all year round makes this a flexible destination for anglers, as you’ll never have to fight the cold outdoors.

So, let’s take a closer look at what makes Arizona such a great destination for fly fishing.

Arizona Trout Fishing Map

map of places to fish in Arizona

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Fly Fishing in Arizona

The state of Arizona offers a large number of creeks, streams, and lakes that are ideal locations for fly fishing. What’s unique about the fishing here is that some of these waters are in urban cities. This is a stark difference compared to what most anglers may be used to. It’s hard to cover all the spots in the state, but a handful stand out and are not to be missed.

Lees Ferry

If you plan to check out the Grand Canyon while in Arizona, then Lees Ferry can be the perfect fishing spot. This is located not far from Page, near the head of the canyon.

Here, the Colorado River offers great fishing anytime as the water temperature stays consistent. You’ll also love the fact that the water is so clear.

Regarding what kind of weather to expect, the temperatures dip as low as 20 degrees in the winter, and in the summer, they hit as high as 110 degrees. That said, spring and fall are the most comfortable times to visit the area.

This is the perfect river for catching rainbow trout. Some of the gear and equipment you’ll want to bring along includes dry flies for use in the summer, or you can always opt for streamers, which will get you through all four seasons. As for leaders, it is recommended you go with nine feet.

The Imperial Reservoir

If you’re after bass, you can find them at the Imperial Reservoir. This reservoir is upriver in Yuma County by passing through the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge. It is a man-made reservoir. It’s not unusual to find bass weighing in at a lofty 12 pounds or more.

Oak Creek

People often pick Sedona as a destination when traveling to Arizona, which can also be considered a great spot for trout fishing. Oak Creek runs through the middle of the town, and the water in the creek comes straight from the Oak Creek Canyon, which is spring water.

Trout, in particular rainbow and wild brown trout, love the cold temperatures of the creek, and anglers love how clear it is. If you’re looking for a challenge, you can visit the pools and riffles, allowing you to try advanced techniques.

It’s hard to provide a blanket statement regarding your equipment and gear, as it depends on where you plan to fish along this 42-mile-long creek.

You can pick a nine-foot rod with a wide creek, but you may need a shorter one for other sections. A good rule of thumb to experience the full creek is to take a few different rods. You can enjoy fishing any time of year here, but the peak season is summer, in case you’d rather visit during the slow season.

The White Mountains

This state area is notorious for its towering fir and pine forests, and the elevation is about 6,500 feet. With some trekking, you can enjoy fishing up to 10,000 feet, giving you a true alpine experience.

You can enjoy fishing in these waters any time of the year, but usually, the best time is in the fall. As for what kind of fish you’ll be catching, it will mainly be trout, but you can also catch catfish and bass.

As a special treat, you can catch Apache trout. This fish is so special that you can’t catch it anywhere else in the United States. They can be found in the Black River at the West Fork.

The White Mountains use a fish hatchery system to ensure the fish stock stays high. The Arizona Game and Fish Department employs the system.

Apache Lake

While this lake may not be as well known to others, it’s a wonderful spot for fly fishing. The lake can be found in central Arizona, right on the Salt River. It is explained as a very deep canyon lake. It’s formed from runoff coming from the Salt River.

It’s fairly accessible from Roosevelt Dam, which is to the south, or Apache Junction, which is on State Highway 88. The lake is clear as it’s not high in vegetation or brush. The fish you’ll find are smallmouth bass and largemouth bass.

The water levels change quite a bit here, from shallow to deep. You should use a light line because the water is so easy to see through.

In the deep water, weighted streamers and nymphs are good choices. Meanwhile, if you plan to stick to shallow waters, opt for dry flies, nymphs, and unweighted streamers.

Best Time to Fly Fish in Arizona

Thanks to the climate, no time is bad for fly fishing in Arizona. There are always options that will offer fish. Instead, it’s more about the weather you prefer to be in and whether you want to fish without a crowd.

Winter is the least crowded of all the months, but you must remember it can be chilly depending on your location. Most tend to agree that if there is a “best” time to fish in Arizona, it is during the fall, thanks to the comfortable air temperatures, the cool water temperatures, and decreased crowds.

As for the hatches, these happen throughout the year, depending on the insect. The midges, worms, shrimp, and eggs continue all year round. Meanwhile, the caddis is from about February to September, and the terrestrials are from June through September.

Gear Recommendations

The fishing equipment you’ll want to pack mainly depends on the water’s depth and width. Opt for longer nine-foot rods if you have lots of space and small rods for the more narrow streams and creeks in the state.

Typically, you can fish from the shore in most areas. In fact, in some places, the shore is the only option. You may also want to pack a pair of good-quality waders that are hip-height. This is great for the more shallow creeks and rivers, so you can get right in.

Be aware of the temperature variances throughout the year so you can dress accordingly.

Best Flies for Trout Fishing in Arizona

As for the type of flies to use, again, it depends on the fish you’re planning to catch. The usual dry flies, nymphs, and streamers will work if you’re fishing for trout. 

Largemouth bass will respond to top water patterns and streamers. You can use large nymphs for smallmouth bass, and streamer flies that are meant to look like minnows.

Arizona Fishing Regulations

Of course, if you plan to do any fishing, you’ll need to purchase a general fishing license, which can be done through the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Any person who plans to fish who is ten years of age or older will require this license. It also needs to be carried with you while you are fishing. This license is available to residents of the state as well as non-residents.

Remember, as with any state, it’s also important to ask questions about restrictions and catch-and-release laws.

Trip Planning

Arizona is a state all among itself in that it offers a diverse selection of landscapes and terrain in which you can enjoy fishing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a resident of the state just looking for a quiet day of fishing or with a group of buddies looking to combine a week of fishing with sightseeing and other outdoor activities. This state has all the basics covered and then some.

Looking for more places to fish?  Check our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing Destinations in the U.S.