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Exploring Canyon Creek - Gila County, Arizona

Canyon Creek located in the Mogollon Rim area is one of the best Arizona trout streams. The upper portion of the Canyon Creek lies in the Tonto National Forest but most of the fifty mile stream flows through the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation.

Canyon Creek is popular among anglers fishing for rainbow trout. The Arizona Game and Fish Department Canyon Creek Fish Hatchery is nearby. The hatchery is open to the public and offers a self-guided tour of the facility. Wildlife includes: Abert squirrel, black bear, mountain lion, elk, turkey, and deer.

Canyon Creek is definitely off the beaten path, but it is worth the trip to tour the hatchery and wet a line in some great trout waters. If you go, take a light pack with a litterbag and help keep this extraordinary trout fishery a better place than when you got there.

Access Points

Creek Access Point #1 (OW Ranch Area): 23 miles northeast of Young. This stream is south of Airplane Flat and Upper Canyon Creek campgrounds. From Young, take State Hwy. 288/Forest Road (FR) 512/ Young Road north for 20 miles to FR 188. Turn right onto FR 188 (unpaved). Turn left on FR 188 and follow it for 3.4 miles to the stream. Creek Access Point #2 (OW Ranch Area): 42miles east of Payson. From Payson, travel east 33 miles on State Hwy. 260 (paved). Turn right on Young Road/FR 512 (unpaved), and drive for 5 ½ miles to FR 188 (unpaved). Turn left on FR 188 and follow it for approximately 3 ½ miles to the stream. 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. If you choose the Tonto National Forest side, you will need a special pass. If you choose to fish in the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation you will need to get a permit from them.

History Canyon Creek

Ambush at the Perkins Store . . . . . . On the twenty-second day of September in 1887, Sheriff William Mulvenon of Yavapai County Arizona, along with a posse sprinkled with Tewksbury sympathizers set about the total destruction of the remaining Grahams and Blevins. As John Graham and Charlie Blevins approached the unfinished Perkins store, Mulvenon stepped out to demand their surrender. In Pleasant Valley at that time, he was lucky they didn't shoot him on sight. Instead, they turned their horses to get out of range of the perceived threat. Within seconds a hail of bullets sent their way by the posse, hidden behind half built walls, ended both their lives. John's brother, Tom Graham, escaped to Phoenix only to lose his life half a decade later at the hands of Ed Tewksbury. . . . . . . This is only a small part of the amazing saga of the Pleasant Valley War. In all, fifteen cattlemen and at least three sheep men were slain over the five years the battles ensued. There is much history of this area as there is with most of the Mogollon Rim country. In recent years, the Rodeo-Chediski fire may have been the topic of discussion in these parts, and the devastation is seen almost immediately from the trailhead. It is, however a worthy sight, to gain perspective and respect for our fragile environment. In 2002, Canyon Creek was destroyed by the Rodeo-Chediski fire that swept through that area and most of the trout did not survive the fire and the resulting sediment resulting from the run off. However, as of the present day, Canyon Creek has made a full recovery and supports a good population of wild, stream-bred brown trout. Rainbows are not self sustaining and are stocked by the Canyon Creek Hatchery which is located near the headwaters of Canyon Creek. Cold clear water is captured from a spring and it flows into the hatchery and then into Canyon Creek.

Canyon Creek Hiking Trails

This hike starts from the East end of a campground at 6545 feet. It winds its way along a normally dry runoff about 1/4 mile to the creek/canyon bottom. The "canyon" is very shallow and bordered by rolling hills with a typical Rim country riparian environ. (If you come here to fish, you have many sections of the creek at this point that will offer bait friendly waters, otherwise around the 1 mile mark and just past the OW bridge you can only catch and release with artificial lures). Heading downstream from the canyon bottom you will head south-east for 1/4 mile to a barbed fence, continue along a fishermans trail that skirts a large meadow on the right. It doesnt stay in the shade after noon, but beats bush wacking the creek. I actually found that since the going was pretty slow near the water that I could both see more from the meadow's ledge, and make better time to my destination, the hike's end at the Fort Apache Reservation. Just past the OW bridge a dirt road is an easy way to get deeper into the canyon. I took it. There are many open grass filled meadows along this 5 mile hike that temt one to kick off the boots, hide under a hat and catch some zzz's. At first sight, you start to see the evidence of the fire that ravaged the canyon in 2001. Because of the fires, erosion allowed scouring floods to impact the creek. A year later-for instance, what was once a living riparian habitat now has less canopy of trees providing less shade and allowing the water temps to climb higher than the once thriving Brown Trout population can handle. There are rainbow trout in the creek and boy are they plentiful! Upstream at the hatchery which produces some 300,000 catchable fish a year several of these 5-6 inch trout escape and make their way downstream. At mile 2.5 the road from OW bridge starts climbing upwards so that is when I left for the stream bed once again and finished the next 2 miles crossing the creek, taking pictures and scouting campsites. This hike generally follows very easy to negotiate creekbed and meadow, and at mile 3.75 it finally changes personality by entering into a basalt cliff canyon that zigzags its way for the next 1.25 miles. This is where the fun starts, so plan on getting your feet wet! I hopped and jumped over slippery creekbed for over an hour when my GPS stated I'd gone 5 miles. Well, I did not see any evidence of an Indian Reservation boundary, no fence or signs. I decided to not risk going further so turned around and headed back a mile and a half until I exited the deep slabbed red rock canyon to a proper campsite on creek left. What a night... cool breeze, clear sky, total relaxation.

Canyon Creek Fishing Strategy

Canyon Creek is well known for being stocked with both Rainbow and Brown Trout.

Spring: Starting in May, there will be several hatches of mayflies including the most prolific hatch which is the Blue Winged Olives. Midge larva and pupa will be good all year. Fishing will be good for the entire length of the stream. Summer: Summer is a good time to fish the upper section of Canyon Creek and terrestrials will be a good choice. Also in the deeper pools, streamers will be effective. In the lower sections the water may be too warm at times, so it is best not to stress the trout during these periods. Fall: The fall season will prove to be best for the stream bred wild brown trout as they will spawn in the early fall. The second brood of the Blue Winged Olives, will be good as well as the Midges, and streamers.

Canyon Creek Camping Options

Canyon Creek Campground is close by and offers dispersed units set in a mature stand of ponderosa pine with a mix of White and Douglas Fir.

We invite you to come explore the beautiful area of Canyon Creek! Bring those fishing rods, a good friend, and explore the wild!

Don't forget to tag us on social media using the hashtag #discovergilacounty for a chance to be featured on our social media pages!

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