BLACK RIVER IN GILA COUNTY, ARIZONA

The Black River is a 114-mile-long (183 km) river that forms southwest of Alpine in Arizona's White Mountains and flows southwest then northwest to meet the White River west of Fort Apache on the White Mountain Apache Tribal Lands. The merged streams form the Salt River, a major tributary of the Gila River.

From source to mouth, the river flows through Apache, Greenlee, Graham, Navajo and Gila counties.

Along its lower reaches, the Black River is the boundary between the Fort Apache Indian Reservation on the north and the San Carlos Indian Reservation on the south. The river also passes near the Bear Wallow Wilderness, through which flows one of the river's tributaries, Bear Wallow Creek.

​Some of the places along the lower river are difficult to reach. Many of the roads in the area are unpaved and unmarked on major maps.  But make no mistake this is one of the most wild and scenic rivers on the planet boasting great fishing and wildlife encounters.  Mountain lion, black bear, trophy elk and more are often seen here.

Permit Information

The Black River has sections that are subject to catch-and-release regulations. A tribal permit is required in order to visit, fish or recreate on this river.  It's important to know that the north side of the Black River is Fort Apache White Mountain Apache Tribal Lands and the south side is San Carlos Apache Tribal Lands. Be sure to purchase a permit for the side you will be driving in through and camping on. Both tribes are very strict on the permits. They are out there checking, so be sure and read the San Carlos and White Mountains Rules and Regulations. There are different bag limits on each side. The guide book has information including permit vendors as well.  Below is the San Carlos Recreation Information.

  • Check for latest permit costs at the Recreation & Wildlife Department in San Carlos

  • Permit required for fishing, hunting, or special-use

  • Family permits include parents and children 18 and under

  • Visitors to the Black and Salt Rivers or Bear Wallow Creek must have a special permit

  • No permit is needed for driving through on US 60, US 70, Road 800 to San Carlos, or Road 500 to Coolidge Dam

  • Black and Salt River permit may be used for fishing in those rivers or Bear Wallow Creek; special permit fees per day for ages 12 and up

  • Boat permits are issued on a daily or per calendar year basis; a combined fishing and boat permit can be purchased for a full calendar year

  • Water-skiing/personal watercraft permits are also available for annual access; free if under age 12 with a permit-holding adult

One-day permits are good for 24 hours, from midnight to midnight.

 

For More Info

San Carlos Recreation and Wildlife Department
PO Box 97
San Carlos, AZ 85550
(928) 475-2343

Fish Species

Rainbow, brown and Apache trout and smallmouth bass are among the 13 species of fish found in the Black River. Major fishes in this river system also include channel catfish, desert suckers, and fathead minnows, among others.  It is said by many expert fisherman that the Black River maybe Arizona's best smallmouth bass fishery.

Fishing Strategy

Fly fishing is one of the most successful ways to catch trout on the river along with small spinner and spoons. 

The information listed below is provided by Ted Standage, author of The Lower Black River: An Outdoor Guide

Crawfish are the most sought after food in the river and make up a majority of the fish’s diet. Over 50% of the intake of a smallmouth Bass is crawfish. This means that the fish are probably always keeping an eye out for this tasty treat. Although, this could also mean that they see other forms of food as commodities and may be more inclined to attack them. Other forms of food for these fish are small fish, worms, lizards, frogs, hellgrammites, and other aquatic bugs/invertebrates.

Smallmouth Bass are famous for being very aggressive fish- so basically anything you throw out there that imitates something the fish eat will probably do pretty well. Even something that's just shiny is often enough to incentive for the fish to strike. **The top water action at the Black River can be amazing at times. Never used top water lures before? Well you need to - it can be some of the most exciting fishing you'll ever experience

When are the best times to go?

The best times to go to the Black River are really dependent on the water level, water temperature, and water clarity. The best times are usually from early May, after most of the runoff has come through, until early July, before the rain really starts to kick in during Arizona’s Monsoon Season. Another good time to head up to the Black is when the Monsoon Season starts to slow down, usually around the end of August or beginning of September, until it starts cooling way down in late October or November.

Boating Options

The Black River is a seldom runnable, exciting, and very scenic whitewater river that is suitable for canoes, kayaks and rafts paddled by seasoned whitewater boaters. The rugged, remote location of the river demands that paddlers be self-sufficient and capable of self-rescue in an emergency situation..

Camping Options

On the San Carlos side it is only open for day use, so there is no camping options.  But if you purchase a permit you can go a little further on to White Mountain Tribal Lands and there are several campgrounds in the area.

Directions

This information provided by Ted Standage author of The lower Black River; An Outdoor Guide.

On the lower end of the Black River, not far above its confluence with the White River, you will find easy access at Black Crossing.  This location is accessible from either side of the river and is suitable for two-wheel drive vehicles.  Here you will find good bass fishing in late spring after the river has receded from its swollen snowmelt fueled state.  The bass fishing remains productive through the summer and even into the early fall here.

Moving upriver, the next access point is Tick Flat, accessed from the north on the White Mountain Apache Reservation side of the river via R9, R1 and Y1 respectively.  The road is rough and a high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle is necessary, but will get you into good bass water.

Continuing upstream, Wooden Crossing provides the next vehicle access to the river.  Wooden Crossing is accessible from the south on the San Carlos Apache Reservation.  To get to Wooden Crossing, utilize tribal roads 8, 1500 and 1505.  Four-wheel drive is again needed to access the river here.

The next access point is at Military Crossing from the north only on the White Mountain Apache Reservation via R70, Y143, and Y16.  Here hear you can strap a backpack and work your way upriver along a few miles of good bass water until you reach Big Bonito Creek where you will find good fishing for bass and trout in the pools on the creek’s lower end.  For more info about the Lower Black River click here.