Fly Fishing Oak Creek in Sedona, Arizona
Sedona is a paradise for any outdoor enthusiast. Most people who visit are interested in the overlanding, mountain biking, and hiking opportunities. The forgotten little brother in the area is fly fishing. Wild brown trout and stocked rainbow trout fill the waters near Sedona and are rarely targeted by tourists. I love hitting the water and watching all the other tourists pass by on their way to other activities. They don’t know what they’re missing.
Geography and Topography
Sedona is easily one of the most beautiful places in Arizona. The massive canyons, towering red rock mountains and thick forests offer an aesthetic that’s found in few other places in the entire world. When fishing in Sedona, anglers will find themselves surrounded by healthy pine trees and high cliffs. It’s one of those places that allow anglers to stand in the water and stare at the surrounding beauty for hours.
Type of Water
The primary water angler's fish in Sedona is Oak Creek. Oak Creek flows for around 12 miles through the Oak Creek Canyon north of the town of Sedona. Oak Creek rarely gets wider than 15-20 feet and is a true example of stream fishing.
Anglers will find quite a bit of pocket water, plenty of riffles, and the occasional small pool. Finesse fly fishing abilities are required to be successful on Oak Creek. The margin for error can be slim with these fish so accurate casts, stealthy approaches, and a willingness for patience are required to be successful on Oak Creek.
Oak Creek is fishable all year round. In the summer, the average temperature in Sedona is usually somewhere in the high-80s and low-90s. At night, the temperature does fall into the 60s, so there is some relief. Fish are in the deepest and most shaded water that they can find during these summer months.
In the fall and spring, temperatures are usually in the 60s and 70s and will fall to the low 40s at night.
In the winter, the average temperature is somewhere in the mid-50s to 60s. At night, it will fall below freezing, but it rarely gets below 20 degrees.
Sedona sees an average annual rainfall of 19 inches and annual snowfall of 11 inches. Oak Creek is a spring-fed creek, so it doesn’t entirely depend on rain and snow to fill it each year.
Fishing on Oak Creek & Surrounding Waters
As mentioned earlier, I’ve found that fly fishing on Oak Creek can require my best. There are days when the fish are willing and eager to eat, but I continually find that they need accurate presentations. They can be picky about fly size, drifts, and the time of day I target them. When all of the moving parts align, however, the fly fishing on Oak Creek is some of my favorite in Arizona. When I’m landing them, I know I’m in the zone.
Best Time of Year to Fish
I continually find the best time of year to fish Oak Creek is in the spring and early fall during monsoon season. In the spring, the water levels are fairly consistent due to snow melt higher in Oak Creek Canyon. The creek rarely floods or gets to an unfishable level even during runoff. Plus, temperatures are beginning to warm, so the fish are eager to move and fill themselves after some colder winter months.
In early fall, the monsoon season is in full force and the fish are generally temperamental. They know that afternoons usually mean storms, so they’re eager to feed before and after. I’ll head up in the morning and see what I can find, but when the storms roll in in the late afternoon, I’m hitting all of my favorite spots and am usually landing fish.
Best Water to Fish
Fishing within Oak Creek Canyon is going to be your best bet. The higher you can get in the canyon, the better. The stream follows State Route 89A, so you’re never very far from the water. I like to spend most of my time fishing above Slide Rock State Park. This park is extremely busy, so staying above it gives me better access to cooler water and fewer interactions with locals.
Harding Spring Trail is one of my favorite access points. There are a few pools both up and downstream, and the pocket water is an absolute blast to fish. I’ve caught my largest fish near this trail. The wild brown trout populations seem to be high here. Plus, I usually find a few stocked rainbow trout in this area as well.
Flies and Gear to Use
I rarely ever fish Oak Creek with anything larger than a 3 or 4-weight 7’ or 8’ rod. This is plenty of power and length for you to make any cast or mend that’s necessary. If I want to practice my Euro Nymphing, I’ll use my 10’ 2-weight and practice high sticking my way through some of the seams.
For flies, I stick to Prince Nymphs, Pheasant Tail Nymphs as well as Hare’s Ear Nymphs. I fish these anywhere from size 12-18. I’ve also had some success with San Juan Worms as well as small Woolly Buggers fished through the pools. For dries, I fish with Tricos (size 20) and Spotted Sedges (size 18).
Any deeper water on Oak Creek has fish. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pocket behind a boulder or a small pool, if it’s 4 to 5 feet deep, it’s holding fish. I usually start by fishing with nymphs (Pheasant Tail size 16). When I find the deeper water, I cast upstream of it and mend my line so it doesn’t get in the way of the drift. As my fly gets closer to my desired spot, I strip in slack and raise my rod tip, so the fly drops lower in the water column. I’ll let it drift through the strike zone and try again.
If the deeper water isn’t working, I’ll look for riffles or eddies along the banks. I’ll cast in the faster water and let my fly tail out into those more slack portions. Fish will often be in these sections in the mornings and evenings.
When throwing streamers, I’ll cast above pools or boulders and let my fly dead drift into them. Once they’re in the pool or pockets, I’ll do a couple of short, hard strips and wait for a fish to chase. This technique seems to work best.
Types of Fish
The wild brown trout are my favorite fish to catch in Oak Creek. They can be pickier than the stocked rainbows, so I always enjoy landing the browns knowing that my techniques are working.
Fly fishing in Sedona should be on your itinerary if you ever visit the area. It’s easy to get caught up in the nightlife, hiking, mountain biking, and off-roading, but it wouldn’t be a full experience without wetting a line in Oak Creek. The stream is filled with fish and you’ll find yourself mesmerized by the scenery the entire time you’re in the water.