Towering Nine thousand feet above the desert floor Mount Lemmon stands like a ancient castle in the middle of the Sonora desert. Being the only respite from the merciless desert heat in a two hundred mile radius Mount Lemmon is a popular recreational spot for Tucsonions and southern Arizonans alike. From late October to the middle of January, you can find fresh snow at 4000 feet and ski-able powder at 5200 feet. In the summer, you will find snow and ice still prevalent at the 8000 feet marker and up.
For the southern Arizona Angler, fishing the lakes, ponds, and holes of Mount Lemmon are as necessary as fishing Lake Pleasant for those who live in Phoenix or Lake Mary and Powell for those who live in the north.
Speckled brown trout and Arizona chub are prevalent in the streams and creeks that are supplied naturally by the winter run offs throughout the year. Gull Lake, Rose Canyon and Dead man’s creek are stocked with nice rainbows ranging from 14 to 22 inches long by the Arizona Game and Fish and are monitored by the Coronado National Forrest.
By September of 2003 85000 acres of this lovely summer getaway was gone. In 2003 (June specifically) 84,750 pristine acres burned to the ground on Mount Lemmon. Fire fighters from all across the nation were brought in to contain Arizona’s third largest fire. (Wallow fire of 2011 and Rodeo Chedeski of 2002 being the only Arizona fires to beat the Aspen fire) Employees of the Coronado National Forrest say that the funds “just weren’t there to properly combat the Aspen fire after the devastation of the Rodeo Chedeski fire.” So doing the best they could with what they had the fire fighters had little resources when the fire jumped their containment lines outside the little town of Summer haven and burned over 340 homes and business in the resort.
What angers residents of Summerhaven, and Gull Lake the most is the fact that they knew that the fire was coming over a year before the fire actually happened. They had pleaded with the National Forrest who after doing a study of their own went to both the state and federal congress for two million dollars in funding to cover the expenses of a fire prevention program that would have significantly reduced the chances for wildfire. Congress sent them home with a measly 150 grand. That June smoke plumes black as death and smelling like Apache Pine hovered over the Santa Catalina Mountains fulfilling the fear of the residents.
The question though now that the fire is long, put out is simple. What were the effects of the Aspen fire on the local fisheries, lakes, and creeks that fill the top of the Aspen fire? The surprising answer to this question is the fire did not have a long term affect. The sacred Apache trout, speckled brown and Arizona chub still swim in Mount Lemmon’s creeks and the rainbow are still stocked from May until September in the little lakes that dot the landscape of the great mountain range.
Kirk (not saying last name) of the Arizona game and fish tells me that Gull lake suffered the worst of the fire and is still considered off limits. Due to chemical reactions that took place in the water during the fire. Ash from the fire and pollutants from the airdrops that took place in the area pretty much killed the fish in Gull Lake but according to Kirk, they are making a healthy recovery.
Therefore, fishing is still good on Mt Lemmon just stay away from Gull Lake. What concerns this reader the most though is that fifty eight thousand acres of the great mountain have absolutely no sign of re-growth? It looks the same as when the fire burned in 2003. A desolate wasteland that used to be covered in tall Pine and plush grass. The birds that used to sing in that acreage have now moved to other places in the Coronado national forest as well as the wildlife. Local geologist blame the fact that the reseeding effort that took place was futile due to rain and run off that occurs with such frequency. The residents of Summer Haven, and this Hooked Az writer thinks that moneys that were finally allocated in late 2004 to contractors to reseed and prevent run off instead went somewhere else, and as usual the environment is left to its own devices.
Final thoughts: This is an excellent place to take your family for great trout fishing. Little Zebco reels and four pound test line is plenty of rigging for the trout here. Locals in Summerhaven say that fish eggs and corn beat power bait all day here. Remember to leave the Chub and Apache trout alone they are endangered and try keeping to above ground fire pits to prevent what happened in 2003. - by Bryan Baugh