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Camping and Fishing in the White Mountains

The White Mountains of northern Arizona are a haven for anglers, campers, and those seeking some respite from the 100+ degree temperatures of Southern Arizona. There you will find an abundance of pine trees, aspens, babbling creeks, rolling meadows with lakes spotted here and there, and wildlife filling all of these places. I've been to the White Mountains a handful of times during the winter to get my snow fix but I had never been in the summer. I've heard amazing things about summer in the White Mountains. I had to see for myself and when I mentioned this trip to a coworker we decided to make it a fishing trip too!

I hadn't fished since I was about 12 or 13 but I really want to add that skill to my outdoor repertoire. I borrowed my Grandpa's fishing rods and he gave me a quick casting lesson in my parents' backyard pool. I felt confident in my skills, it was just like riding a bike. However, fly fishing was going to be a completely new skill. I want to be that angler in waders, knee deep in a river in Montana, fly line waving through the air with purpose, snagging that big fish. I even went to the local fly fishing store Dry Creek Outfitters and the owner Eric helped me with some basics, showed me the essential knots (improved clinch knot, blood knot, surgeons knot, etc), got me some flies (wooly bugger, purple prinze, usable wolf) and encouraged me to give it a go! I went into this trip ready to catch some fish!

And of course that is not what happened. My friend Abel and I didn't even get a bite! He also hadn't been fishing in about 15 years. Honestly, we didn't really know what we were doing, hence why we didn't catch any fish. We didn't have the right bait, our hooks were too big, we didn't have a boat to get to the good spots, we were fishing in the middle of the day. We learned a lot but more importantly we had a blast. 

We spent the majority of our time exploring the lands belonging to the White Mountain Apache Tribe. Our first night we camped by Drift Fence Lake. We thought we had a nice quite campsite but as soon as we set up our tents our next door neighbors started blasting rock music and continued to do so until almost 11pm. The morning was quiet and peaceful and while making breakfast we spotted an osprey nest above our campsite! I was so excited to discover this. Then in the next pine tree we spotted a crane's nest! It was in this moment I realized that when I'm older I will be that lady who gets excited when certain birds come to her backyard feeder. Behold my future.

That morning we spent some time exploring Pacheta Lake and Big Bonito Creek. Both were provided stunning scenery even though the fish weren't cooperating. There is a bend in road Y55 that intersects with the Big Bonito and looking at that vista you would have thought you were in Washington State. This is why I love the White Mountains. You don't feel like you're in Arizona, you feel like you are thousands of miles away in the Northwest.  

We ended the day at Reservation Lake for more fishing. The trout were jumping out of the water, taunting us as we tried different bait, lures, all to no avail. Reservation Lake was full of noisy people the previous day but since it was Sunday night and the weekend was over for most people, it began to quiet down. We made camp at an established site close to the water with a perfect view of the incredible sunset.

Our last morning we woke up to a beautiful clear bluebird day. Abel was up early to try to get some fish. Kim slept in and then read in her tent. I made coffee and finished Carrot Quinn's Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart while watching the clouds start to build over the lake. It was a perfect last morning. As we finished breakfast and started to break down camp it started to rain. The forecast called for rain every day and it did so every afternoon. After a hot summer in Tucson the rain was most welcome! The entire weekend the temperatures were in the 70s during the day, 50s at night. I could stay in that temperature range forever.

Our last stop of our trip took us to Big Lake. I wish we had more time to rent a boat and fish here but we were out of time. We enjoyed the scenery, bought an ice-cream bar from the Big Lake General Store and started to plan our next trip to the White Mountains!

Mt. Baldy in the distance, the sacred peak to the White Mountain Apache Tribe. I could not find any information on the tribal name for Mt. Baldy but I'm sure they have a different name for this sacred peak since the name Mt. Baldy was assigned in the late 1800s.

Before heading out for a fishing trip in the White Mountains, make sure you do some research, especially if you plan to fish on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Here is a link to the WMAT Fishing Regulations. They have restrictions on fishing methods, use of certain bait and lures, and which lakes you can use said bait or lures. Tonto Lake is is closed to all non-tribal members. (We found this out the hard way after driving all the way there and not realizing this.) Some areas also have a catch and release only for certain types of fish, mainly the endangered Apache Trout. A special use permit is required to fish or hunt on the White Mountain Apache reservation.

For fishing and recreating in the rest of the White Mountains, east of the reservation, check out the Apache-Sitegraves National Forests website for more info on the specific lake or river you plan to fish.

And as always, please take the time to learn about the people who call the land you are recreating on home. For more about the White Mountain Apache Tribe, check out their website

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