Becker Lake Outing Recap -
Like a much anticipated monsoon shower, the Desert Fly Casters rolled into Springerville, Arizona. Our trucks, SUVs and sedans exploding with pontoon boats, fly fishing gear and giddy anglers. We were on a mission to explore Becker Lake, survey the damage from the recent Wallow Fire and escape the brutal heat of the valley for a long weekend.
Our base of operation, for this trip, was the Rode Inn located only a couple miles up the road past Becker Lake. Everyone from our group arrived at various times on Thursday – some got later starts, some drove around to survey the area lakes first and a few couldn’t resist fishing before going to the motel. Regardless of what time we got there, we were all greeted by the motel’s friendly staff. We found the rooms were clean, comfortable and more than adequately equipped for our needs. It wasn’t long before we had a virtual campfire circle, with guys gathering outside of our rooms, to share what they had learned from the day. The good news, despite how devastating the fires had been, was that the majority of the lakes seemed to be showing little adverse effects. A few lakes were significantly lower as a result of the water being used to fight the fires, particularly Carnero and Lee Valley, but overall they were in pretty good shape. In fact many actually seemed to be benefiting from the lack of pressure for the past couple months. This was very good news, to say the least.
Most of us primarily focus our fishing efforts on Becker, since after all this was the Becker Lake Club Outing and we were in such close proximity. The reports leading up to the trip had been pretty encouraging for Becker, especially since going Catch & Release this past January. As part of the C&R effort there is even a lake host now stationed at Becker to monitor the lake for possible poaching and to educate individual on the proper handling of fish to be immediately released. We have the White Mountains Lakes Foundation, working in conjunction with Arizona Game & Fish Department, to thank for making this dream into a reality. Andrew, the new lake host is stationed in the trailer on the hill behind the restrooms. He seems like a very likeable guy with a witty personality. Be sure to stop by and say, “Hello” and thank him for his presence.
Once we were on the water a few items became quickly apparent. First, the water was a bit on the warmer side at about 72 degrees. Second, we were going to have to really work to catch these fish due to the obvious stress the water temperature was causing them. And third it was still going to be totally worth every minute as our initial fish landed were all quality fish.
Becker wasn’t the place to be if you were looking for a double-digit day, but if your goal was to land larger trout with the possibility of a personal record (at least for most fishermen), then it was a great choice. While the action was far from non-stop, especially early in the morning, it was fairly consistent with someone hooking up every 10 minutes or so. The initial fish landed were mostly 16-inchers. Doug Amos was one of the first guys in our group to land an 18-inch plus-sized rainbow, which was his first fish on a fly rod – I think we would all agree Doug is off to a pretty good start!
Despite the slower start to the trout fishing most days, the bluegill bite was consistent enough to easily pass the time. As the day progressed the trout bite seemed to improve, with the best fishing being between 8am and 10am. This is when we started to see larger trout, some in the 20-inch and above range. However, more of these fish were lost than landed. Some would instantly snap 3X and 4X tippets. Others would come unbuttoned in the weedy bottom. More than once it was hard to tell whether the angler was playing the fish or if it was the other way around. I’m not kidding; there are some really big fish in that lake already and we are only seeing the beginning of the C&R benefits. This lake is likely to explode as, “The Trophy Trout Destination in Arizona,” for years to come.
The hatches at Becker were far from prolific, but there were still bugs in the water. At times damsel flies were pretty thick over along the cat tails by the bank and mayflies could be found coming up from the weedier areas in the middle of the lake. There was even the occasional winged-ant or grasshopper stuck to the water’s surface. However, the fish just didn’t seem to be keying in on any one of these in particular. Yes, you could land a trout here or there on damsel fly, but not with any real consistency. My guess is they were concentrating in the cooler water pockets and not wanting to venture too far for food… unless they absolutely had too. Moreover, hanging midges from an indicator didn’t seem to be working particularly well for us either here. Maybe it was a situation where you had to match the food source exactly, but for whatever reason nobody from our group got any takes this way. Most people had better luck fishing near the bottom of the deeper sections of the lake. Big streamers and small nymphs seemed to be the ticket, stripped slowly, with the occasional short jerk to lift them off the bottom. Most agreed the fish preferred brighter colors, but not too flashy. Ambers, oranges and reds seemed to be the popular colors choices for leaches and buggers size-10 though 6. The Red Copper John also made several fans, as it proved to be a popular pattern throughout the day in size-16 and 14. As for equipment, some sort of watercraft is recommended due to the weedy shoreline. Using a 4-5 weight fly rod matched to an intermediate full-sink seemed to work best. Intermediate Sink-Tips and Type-II lines also performed well.
Every afternoon the monsoons would pass through like clockwork, forcing us to abandon the water for a couple hours. This time was spent eating lunch, exploring the area or, for some, taking a quick cat nap. The fishing would then pick-up again around 5pm in the evening till about dusk.
Saturday night Mark prepared an Italian feast consisting of Sausage & Pepper Baked Ziti, with salad and bread sticks, complete with Cheese Cake for desert. After building up an appetite on the water, it definitely hit the spot.
Fishing at Carnero was another popular location, although, the lake was incredibly low and weedy. Several folks made the comment they have never seen so much vegetation on the surface at Carnero, and this is really saying something considering this lake has a reputation for its high plant content. I personally never made it out past the weed line, which seemed to never end. My legs became entangled in the weeds and after a brief run in with a garter snake that made its way onto my pontoon boat, I decided I had had enough and turned back. This was unfortunate, because according to Greg Wilson the dry fly fishing was pretty good for the rest of the afternoon. He and a few others reported landing several, 14 to 16-inch, “Carnero Footballs.”
Lee Valley Reservoir
The water level at Lee Valley was down below the boat ramp and the fishing was non-existent. The couple guys that fished Lee Valley didn’t have anything beyond that to report.
Apparently Crescent Lake was the hot place to be this weekend and obviously the word had gotten around. The lake was teaming with BIG healthy holdovers. There was also no shortage of anglers, fly or conventional bait fisherman alike. Rumor had it that Jack Dengel was putting on a clinic Saturday, as he demonstrated how effective dangling a couple midges under an indicator can be. There were both Brook and Rainbow trout caught. A good size Brookie was around 17 to 18-inches, while a few of the rainbows were pushing 4-pounds. Rainbows in the 3-pound class were not uncommon.
By Sunday, most of our group decided they needed to try their luck on Crescent; however, the bite was a lot slower than Saturday. A few guys did fairly well in the couple hours we had, before heading back to the valley. Joe Staller discovered that a pheasant tail nymph could also be very effective under a ‘bobber’. Similar to Becker, the bigger fish were harder to get to the boat… again breaking off stout tippets with little strife. After having a couple fish get the better of me, I managed to net a nice, thick, Crescent Rainbow. He took a Red Copper John trailing a big simi-seal leach. This fish made the trip for me.