Heading over McCoy’s Bridge and up toward Hawley Lake is a beautiful drive anytime of the year. This land is part of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. There are drastic changes from season to season in this wilderness land. The fall is our favorite because of the mixture of vivid colors in the autumn leaves of the aspens, oaks and various ground covers. Picture red, yellow, orange and many shades of green with a blue sky backdrop. As you top out at 8,200 ft. above sea level, you are suddenly looking down on the blue waters surrounded by rocky shores and scattered ponderosa pines. Across the lake you see the small country store, bait shop and boat rental. There are only a few log cabins around the perimeter of the lake know that as the leases ran out the Indians did not allow renewal.
The former, non Indian, summer, dwellers had their 50 year land leases run out and were not allowed to renew them. The only choices they had were to give up their cabins, tear them down and sell the building materials or move them off the mountain to non reservation land they owned or purchased in private developments such as Sky High Retreat. We have approximately six such cabins scattered around the neighborhood. They are all quite small which made their move practical. Many of the larger cabins that weren’t torn down were left to the Indians to use as seasonal rentals. There were maybe a hundred cabins there once and now only a couple of dozen left, and most in dilapidated condition. The forest is reclaiming the land once lost.
A short distance form Hawley Lake is Earl Park Lake. It is strictly a catch and release, artificial lure and no barb hook trout water. Not many people know it is there even though it’s over the next ridge. The road is steep and rough but less than a mi le long as it winds up, down and around.
On our first trip to Earl Park Lake we were fortunate to be pulling the canoe on its trailer. It was about 4:00 PM and just in time for the evening trout rise. We could see the ripples across the glass smooth lake surface where the trout just had nosed up to suck in a newly hatched meal. The name of the game is to match the hatch with an artificial fly closely resembling the real thing. The trick is finding samples of the nymph or caddis hatch and to have something close to it in your fly collection. True fly fishermen have their fly tying kit handy and can whip up an artificial or two and be in the water with their waders or on their float tubes with their flippers propelling them to a probable spot for success. Those of use that are less adventuresome use canoes or kayaks and stay a little dryer and warmer.
We loaded the canoe, and made sure we had barb less hooks on our artificial bates and a few snacks stashed away as we push off from shore. It was late and we were loosing our light without a real strike. Must have been our selection of flies. It was time to head back to shore. As we were soft paddling in, my line was straight out the back of the canoe. Carol was doing the rowing. Jeremy had some slack in his line and it was naturally coiling up, when a large trout broke water near Jeremy’s fly line. With a swish his fly was gone and the water ring was spreading out from the spot that large trout sampled the artificial and then spit it back out before Jeremy could react. Even though he didn’t hook it, it was a thrill for us all. Well, it would be “store boughtn food for supper that night. Oh yeah, it was catch and release on this lake. It just didn’t take Jeremy long to catch and then release that t_rout. He just missed out on the fight and landing experience. But there will be more opportunities next time.