Rim Country Streams
Streams and springs which make up the region’s natural drainage cascade off the 7,000-foot escarpment of the Mogollon Rim and have created a wealth of trout streams both on the plateau above and in the forest below. In the summer months the most accessible areas of these streams are heavily stocked with catchable rainbow trout from the Tonto and Canyon fish hatcheries operated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. These waters also contain a healthy population of wild rainbow and brown trout.
Christopher creek begins high atop the Mogollon Rim and continues downward for 3.3 miles through the town of Christopher Creek. It is well stocked with catchable size rainbow trout from spring through late summer. It also contains a self-sustaining population of wild brown trout.
To reach Christopher Creek, take highway 260 north of Payson to the which passes over Christopher Creek before you exit at the Christopher Creek turnoff. From the town of Christopher Creek turn north on FR 284 until you reach the Sea Canyon parking area. The Arizona Game and Fish department stocks this section of the creek with catchable size rainbow trout bi-weekly from spring until fall.
The section upstream from the Sea Canyon parking area is public land and not restricted. About 100 yards below the parking area there is a fence marking private property. However, anglers are allowed access to the property provided they remain in the stream bed area. Christopher Creek provides opportunities for bait fishermen and fly-fisherman alike. Summer weekends tend to draw the most anglers while a fisherman may find himself with this beautiful stream all to himself on weekdays or while fishing it in the fall, winter and early spring.
West Clear Creek is located in the Coconino National Forest beginning on the Mogollon Rim where it flows westward and eventually drains into the Verde River watershed. It is one of the most remote and beautiful streams in the American Southwest. Fishing this creek is a true wilderness experience. Cell service is spotty and the lower portions of the creek cut through steep canyon walls. These portions may require wading or swimming to proceed downstream.
The upper portions of Clear Creek have a population of wild trout with the majority being rainbows and a smaller number of German Browns. During the summer months West Clear Creek is regularly stocked with catchable sized rainbow trout. Fish are released at any point along highway 260 where stocking truck can approach the water. These areas with easier access and fish stockings get the most fishing pressure. The lower areas of this remote canyon are accessible via a number of roads and trails, including FR's 214 and 215 off FR 618. Upper reaches of the canyon are accessible via the Maxwell and Tramway trails off FR's 81 and 81E.
The East Verde River begins on the Mogollon Rim and flows generally westward through Gila County and the Tonto Forest passing within 5 miles of Payson. This area of the East Verde is stocked weekly with rainbow trout from April through September in approximately 30 different locations.
The asgfd.gov website identifies all of these locations by clicking on the East Verde link on the stocking schedule. A map will appear identifying each stocking location along the East Verde River and the GPS coordinates can easily be plugged into your GPS. This makes the East Verde a great choice for anglers looking to catch some pan sized trout close to town.
Fossil Creek is a four-mile stretch of water located between Strawberry and Camp Verde that offers a unique catch-and-release fishing opportunity for the Arizona native chubs. All non-native fish were removed before restoring the native chubs. This beautiful creek is fueled by springs upstream which keep the water at a comfortable 70 temperature year-round making it a pleasure to fish. Both round-tailed and headwater chub are plentiful in Fossil Creek’s crystal-clear waters. There are many smaller fish in the 4-6 inch range along with many in the 8-12 inch range. The chubs in these waters can be caught using the same techniques used on wild trout. A variety of flies, small spinners, and jigs will catch fish.
The fishery opens for catch-and-release fishing between the first Saturday in October and April 30. A permit is required during the summer months because Fossil Creek is a popular destination for non-anglers during that time. For the most up to date fishing regulation for Fossil Creek please check the game and fish site. The forest service website also has seasonal use guides posted.
Haigler Creek has its headwaters just below the Mogollon Rim and has approximately 15 miles of fishable waters between its headwaters until it joins Tonto Creek near the Hell’s gate wilderness. The creek winds through deep canyons and rugged wilderness. These waters are flush with both rainbow and German brown trout attracting many fly fishermen. At a lower elevation than many other rim creeks, Haigler offers fishing opportunities even through the winter.
While the upper 3 miles are inhabited exclusively by wild trout, the Arizona Game and Fish Department releases large numbers of catchable rainbow trout near campground crossings from Mid-April through Early-September. The stocking points and campground maps are marked on the Game and Fish Website by clicking on the Haigler Creek link on the stocking schedule. To reach this remote stream rom Payson, travel east for 24 miles on State Hwy 260. Turn right on Colcord Road 291 and travel 3 miles to FR 200. Turn right on unpaved FR 200. Travel on FR 200 for 6 miles, through Haigler Canyon Recreation Site to FR 202A. Turn right and follow this unpaved road for ½ mile to the site.
To reach Horton Creek from Payson, head east on 260 to the Kohl’s Ranch/Tonto Fish Hatchery exit. Take FR 289 north toward the Tonto Fish hatchery. The Horton Creek Trailhead parking lot is located just over the one-lane bridge about 1 mile up the road. The trail to Horton Creek begins right near the bridge.
This stream twists and turns through limestone cutes and a forest shore. The creek contains a population of wild brown trout. Horton Creek has special lure and fly regulations that can be accessed at the Arizona Game and Fish Website.
Tonto Creek is stocked with rainbow trout at a number of locations from the beginning of April through the end of September. Each stocking location is marked on the Arizona Game and Fish Stocking schedule and can be accessed by clicking on the Tonto Creek link.
Tonto Creek is 21 miles East of Payson on Highway 260. Turn left towards the Tonto Fish Hatchery. Trout are stocked throughout the creek on both the north and south sides of highway 260. Weekends and Tonto Creek can be crowded with campers and fishermen. To avoid the crowds, try during the week or heading further downstream to the Bear Flats section of Tonto Creek. Bear Flats can be accessed by Forest Road 405. This area of the Creek also contains some wild brown trout.
Canyon Creek is one of the area’s best trout streams. The upper portion of the creek is within the Tonto National Forest, but most of the 50-mile stream flows through the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. The Creek has a healthy population of wild brown trout. The rainbow population is not self-sustaining and is stocked by the Arizona Game and Fish Department from the Canyon Creek hatchery beginning April 1 through the end of September. The area from the Apache Indian Reservation up to the OW Bridge is managed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department as “catch and release” with artificial flies and lures only.
While fishing the national Forest portion of the creek you need a special permit. While fishing the Tonto Apache portion of the creek you will need to get a reservation permit. The fishing regulations for the National Forest Side can be accessed at the Arizona Game and Fish Department website. The Canyon Creek Hatchery is located approximately 45 miles east of Payson. Take Hwy 260 and turn south on to Young Road (F/R 288), go three miles and turn east on F/R 33 and go about 5 miles to the hatchery. These are winding dirt roads after Hwy 260 so some caution is necessary. Family camping is available at Airplane Flats Campground.
Chevelon Creek is one of Arizona’s top brown trout streams. It is formed by Woods Canyon Creek and Willow Springs Creek on top of the rim coming together to form Chevelon. Chevelon Creek flows 10 miles though Chevelon Canyon ending in Chevelon Canyon Lake. You have to hike down some very steep declines to access the canyon. However, the canyon has marked trails that lead down the canyon walls to access the creek below. Chevelon creek contains both rainbow and brown trout but you'll find more browns than rainbows. Rainbow trout from swim up the creek from Chevelon Lake to spawn in the Spring. The Brown trout from the lake enter the creek in the early fall to spawn.
During the warmer summer months many fish move out of the creek and seek refuge in the lake. Special lure and fly and a two bag fish limit applies. You can access Chevelon’s special fishing regulations at the Arizona Game and Fish Website. To reach Chevelon Canyon via state #260 from Payson. Turn left on forest road #300 towards Woods Canyon Lake, and then right on Forest Road #169. One more turn on 119 will get you there.
Rim Country Lakes
The many lakes surrounding Payson offer anglers a variety of fishing opportunities. Payson is surrounded by the largest stand of Ponderosa Pines in the world that offer a heavily forested setting for the areas many trout lakes. Some of these high forest lakes also contain populations of both large and small mouth bass. A short drive south of Payson are two massive desert reservoirs that provide excellent fishing for many warm-water sport fish including largemouth bass, small mouth bass, catfish, carp, crappie, bluegill, and buffalo fish.
Roosevelt lake was created in 1911 with the completion of the Theodore Roosevelt Dam that was constructed on the Salt River as part of the Salt River Project. The lake was the world’s largest man-made lake at the time and today remains the largest lake located entirely within the state of Arizona. Both the dam and the lake were named for U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt who dedicated the dam himself in 1911.
Roosevelt lake is the first lake on the Salt River chain of lakes and is located 35 miles southeast of Payson in the Tonto basin, almost entirely in Gila County. It also encompasses about 8 miles of Tonto Creek which is a major Salt River tributary having its headwaters high atop the Mogollon Rim. Because of its lower elevation in the Tonto Basin, Roosevelt is a warm water fishery with a desert landscape. Roosevelt Lake contains a variety of warm water game fish including largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, flathead and channel catfish, carp and sunfish. Because of its massive 21,500 surface acres most fisherman utilize a boat. The lake has a full-service marina and store with boat rentals available.
The second dessert reservoir below the Mogollon Rim on the Salt River chain is Apache Lake. Often referred to as the prettiest lake on the Salt River chain, the pristine environment is large desert reservoir providing anglers a variety of warm water sport fishing opportunities. This scenic lake also contains a population of big horn sheep that are often observed on the desert’s surrounding desert cliffs and mountains.
Apache Lake is home to largemouth, smallmouth, yellow bass, bluegill, crappie, walleye, channel and flathead catfish, trout, and carp. The lake has multiple fishing habitats that have been placed in the lake by the Arizona Game and Fish, and has dozens of coves, shallows, and channels fishermen and women can escape the crowds in. Several fishing tournaments are held every year thanks to the lake’s wealth of fish and accommodations available to host fishermen any time of the year.
Bear Canyon Lake
Bear Canyon lake has 60 surface acres and is located at 7,560 feet in elevation and has a maximum depth of 60 feet. This densely forested lake is located 44 miles from Payson atop the Mogollon Rim. The dam was installed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department to create this gem of a trout fishery. There is no marina or store located at the lake, and camping facilities are classified as rustic or primitive.
This beautiful lake is narrow and canyon bound. Access to the lake’s shore is by foot-trail only. Therefore boats need to be light enough to carry to the shoreline. Float tubes and kayaks are popular here. The lake can also be fished from by anglers from the shore. Although the lake is accessed only down a dirt road and has primitive camping facilities, it still attracts a number of visitors on summer weekends. The lake is well stocked with rainbow trout about 6 times a year from April through September. The stocking schedule is located at the Arizona Game and Fish Website.
To reach this beautiful fishery from Payson- take highway 260 up the rim to the Woods Canyon Lake turnoff. Bear Canyon lake is located 9 miles past Woods Canyon Lake just off of the 300 road.
Black Canyon Lake
Black Canyon Lake is located on top of the Mogollon Rim off about 44 miles from downtown Payson. To get to this lake take Highway 260 up the Rim and turn right on Forest Road 300 for 2.5 miles. Then turn left on Black Canyon Road to reach the main lake boat ramp. The last 5 miles off of Highway 260 is a dirt road.
This forest fishing lake as a surface area of 78 acres when full and is stocked by the Arizona Game and Fish Department with catchable size rainbow trout. The stocking schedule is located at the Arizona Game and Fish website. The lake also has sizeable populations of largemouth bass and sunfish. Boat use is restricted to electric motors only. This lake has plenty of shore access making fishing from shore easy.
Trout here are caught on a variety of flies and lures as well as any number of standard trout baits.
C.C. Cragin (Blue Ridge) Reservoir
This beautiful reservoir rim reservoir resembles a large river through a heavily forested canyon. For years this lake was called “Blue Ridge Reservoir”. SRP controls the area and has renamed it after its founder C.C. Cragin Reservoir. The water from this reservoir located about 25 miles north of Payson utilized by SRP is what makes the Town of Payson the only town in Arizona with a guaranteed 100-year water supply. SRP has also made improvements to the boat ramps and parking at the lake. Outboard motors up to 10 horsepower are allowed here.
This lake is currently stocked with rainbow trout, but you can also catch brown and brook trout here. The stocking schedule can be found at the Arizona Game and Fish website. This canyon reservoir is up to 150 feet deep. A few trophy rainbow and brown trout are taken every year because of the lake’s depth. Boat fisherman have an advantage because the steep canyon walls make shore fishing more of a challenge.
To reach this lake from Payson, head approximately 43 miles north on State Route 87 to Forest Road 751 and then turn right. continue south on FR 751 for about 5 miles to reach the lake.
Chevelon Canyon Lake
Because of the difficulty in accessing this remote lake it draws only the most enthusiastic anglers. The lake gets very light pressure even on some of the busiest summer weekends. For those who are willing to make the drive and the hike it can be a very rewarding fishing experience. Because of the light pressure and the lakes depth, it holds trophy size rainbow and brown trout. Special Arizona Game and fish requirements apply hear limiting fishing to lure and fly only. A special 2 trout bag limit also applies. Boat motors are limited to 8 hp, but because most anglers hike in a float tube or light boat is the best option. All of the lake’s fishing regulations can be found at the Arizona Game and Fish website.
To reach Chevelon Campground and Dam head east from Payson on Highway 260 up the Mogollon Rim to the Woods Canyon/FR 300 turnoff. Then head down the 300 road until you reach the turnoff to FR 169. Take forest road 169 for 12 miles before turning onto FR 169B which will take you to a gate. From the gate it is a ¾ of a mile hike down to the lake’s edge. There is a passage at the gate that is 50” wide allowing for the passage of certain smaller vehicles such as a quad or side by side. There is also a rough, unmaintained road leading down to the lake. The lake can also be accessed at the upper end where Chevelon Creek feeds the lake by a hiking trail.
Green Valley Lakes
Green Valley is an urban lake located just off Main Street in the town of Payson. The lake is part of the Arizona Game and Fish Departments Urban stocking program which has been recognized as one of the best in the country. It is stocked with rainbow trout from October through May. The lakes also contain populations of largemouth bass, catfish and sunfish. This lake offers year-round fishing opportunities for anglers of all ages. Special urban regulations and the stocking schedule are available at the Arizona Game and Fish Website.
Green Valley Park Lake is actually 3 lakes with a total surface area of 13.1 acres. These lakes are set among 17.2 acres of grass, trees, and shrubs. Facilities here include a boat dock, 2 public restrooms, 3.8 miles of walking paths, 3 picnic and outdoor cooking facilities, and paved parking lots.
To reach Green Valley Park Lake from Highway 87 in Payson head approximately 1.1 miles to the end of Main Street and you are at Green Valley Park.
This secluded 75-acre trout fishery is surrounded by Ponderosa Pines with a small island in the middle that gives the lake its name. Knoll lake is located on top of the Mogollon Rim beyond Woods Canyon Lake of Forest Road 300. The lake reaches a depth of 50 feet and is stocked 6 times a year with rainbow trout, but also contains populations of brown and brook trout. Knoll lake also has a one lane boat ramp.
To reach Knoll lake from Payson, take Highway 260 east to the Woods Canyon Lake turnoff. Continue past Woods Canyon Lake down the 21-mile dirt road to reach the lake. There is a 35-unit campsite maintained by the forest service. The extra drive down the dirt road deters many offering an ideal opportunity for those who are looking for seclusion and solitude in a fishing experience.
Willow Springs Lake
Willow Springs is the second most visited Rim Country Lake after Woods Canyon. This 150-acre lake is any easy drive from Payson and has a wealth of accessible shoreline making it a great spot for shore anglers. The lake is heavily stocked from April through September with both Rainbow and Tiger Trout. The stocking schedule is available at the Arizona Game and Fish Website. The lake also has self-sustaining populations of both small and largemouth bass attracting bass fisherman. Willow Springs has a boat ramp, but there is no boat rentals or store. Boat motors are limited to 10 hp.
To reach Willow Springs head east on Highway 260 from Payson for about 33 miles to the Willow Springs Turnoff, Forest Road 149. You will find the Willow Springs boat ramp here and shore fishing opportunities. Shore anglers can also approach the lake by driving past the usual Willow Springs turnoff and parking in a small parking lot about 1 mile down the road. From the parking lot it is a short walk to an area of the lake that approaches Highway 260. Another option is to continue another ½ mile further down Highway 260 and taking Forest Road 148 north to reach another area of the lake.
Woods Canyon Lake
Woods Canyon is the first lake east of Payson as you top the rim off of Highway 260. This picturesque lake is a popular hot spot in the summer because of its scenery, facilities, fishing, and proximity to the Phoenix area. The 158-acre lake is heavily stocked with rainbow and tiger trout from April through September. There are also a few remaining brown trout from previous stockings. The stocking schedule is available at the Arizona Game and Fish Website.
There is a store with boat rentals and a boat ramp. Boats are restricted to electric motors only. Camping facilities abound but can fill up quickly on busy summer weekends. Visit Woods Canyon during the week or in the fall if you are looking to avoid the heavier crowds. To reach Woods Canyon Lake from Payson, head east on Highway 260 for 29 miles before reaching the Woods Canyon Lake turnoff, FR300. Proceed about 3.5 miles down FR300 and then turn right onto Woods Canyon Road. Take this for 1.5 miles to reach the lake.