While the Lower Black River is one of the best places in the state to fish for smallmouth bass, it is also an environmentally sensitive wilderness located on reservation land that should be visited with caution, a light footprint and respect for future fishermen. To preserve this Arizona gem and for your own safety please read this complete article on the Lower Black River, the White Mountains and San Carlos Fishing Regulation page on this site or better yet purchase the guide book The Lower Black River: An Outdoor Guide before you head out it's going to help you avoid getting lost on the indian reservation, getting a steep fine for being on the wrong reservation with the wrong pass, breaking reservation laws, confrontation with wildlife and if you make it there, catching some scale tilting Smallmouth, catfish and trout.
Map of the Lower Black River
This interactive Google Map of the Black River shows the major forks and tributaries. To see the dirt roads that take you to the river access points you have to zoom in real far. Again it's hard to navigate you way to some of the river access points if you have never been there before, especially on the San Carlos side "the south side of the river" If you have $8 and a color printer you can download and print the eBook of The Lower Black River: An Outdoor Guide. It contains detailed direction to each river access point and topo maps with the access points.
It's important to know that the north side of the Black River is Fort Apache White Mountain indian reservation and the south side is San Carlos Apache. 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.
There are a lot of Black Bears at the Black River! Be sure and know your basic bear precautions before heading out. Firearms are prohibited on both reservations unless special permits for hunting are obtained. A large can of pepperspray is a good defense against bears as opposed to guns or having no gun in a confrontation. The guide book goes over bear precaution in detail from how to avoid bears and confrontations. Other than bears you will see lots of wild turkeys, deer, elk and possibly some mountain lions and bobcats. Most of the animals at the Black River other than the bears are not going to bother you unless you bother them, but do keep young children supervised.
Fishing the Lower Black River
The Lower Black River holds two sought after game fish. The eastern stretch of the Lower Black River holds Apache and Rainbow Trout. As the Lower Black Rivers elevation declines from the mid 6000s to the mid 5000 you start to see more smallmouth Bass than Trout. Fly fishing is one of the most successful way to catch trout on the river along with small spinner and spoons. The following paragraphs focus on the bronze backs.
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 dependant 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.
Catch & Release v. Harvesting
It is perfectly legal to keep your limit of fish (see latest regulation pamphlets or regulations page). However, with the increasing popularity of the Black River, I would like to encourage you to practice CPR with your fish. Catch – take a Photo – and Release. This way we can do our part in ensuring that the Black River continues to be “The Best Smallmouth Fishery in the State.”
River Access Points