Oak Creek is a mountain stream in central Arizona. Rising from a spring above Slide Rock State Park, the creek flows through the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon, the city of Sedona and Red Rock State Park before emptying out in the Verde River.
Oak Creek is a popular place for recreation of all kinds and it can get crowded in spots. Still the upper part of the river is home to a population of stocked rainbow trout and wild brown trout that provide good fishing. The lower part of the creek is home to bass, panfish and catfish. Oak Creek is also home to native fish like the roundtail chub and speckled dace.
Located in the high desert, Oak Creek can almost appear like an oasis at times. It flows year round with cool water. Although it falls hundreds of feet in elevation over its length, the stream only has a moderate current in most places.
Oak Creek below Bee Canyon
The canyon formed by Oak Creek is the second most popular attraction in Arizona after the Grand Canyon. The stream is quite accessible for much of its length and people take full advantage of this waterwway. Yet it is possible to get away from the crowds in certain areas and days of the year.
Oak Creek is quite accessible. The stream flows alongside Arizona State Route 89A in the canyon and there are several pull offs and trails. Below Sedona it flows through the middle of Red Rock State Park and there is plenty of access there too. You do have to pay to access some stretches of water.
If you fish on National Forest Land or even park your car in the park you must purchase a Red Rock Pass and display it in your window. Slide Rock State Park charges its own separate access fee, but that area is best avoided anyway, unless you want to be surrounded by swimmers and rock skippers.
Fish Species in Oak Creek
Although the roughly fifty miles (80 km) of Oak Creek are home to many fish, the stream is probably most known for trout fishing. Rainbow trout from a local hatchery are regularly stocked from March to November each year. Close to 30,000 rainbows are stocked each year. Those fish join a wild reproducing population of brown trout first introduced to Oak Creek years ago.
The upper stretches of Oak Creek in the canyon can support trout year round. Below a swimming area called Grasshopper Point the water gets too warm to sustain trout. You may find trout below this area at times when water temperatures and oxygen levels are right. But the majority of trout will be found further upstream in the canyon.
A nice Oak Creek brown trout
As you move downstream of Grasshopper Point you are more likely to encounter warm water species of fish. You can find largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, rock bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish and green sunfish in the lower reaches of Oak Creek.
Oak Creek is also home to the speckled dace and roundtail chub. The speckled dace is species limited to the western United States. The roundtail chub is a rare species that can only be caught on a catch and release basis.
Fishing in Oak Creek
Fishing in Oak Creek is open year round. Most anglers visit during the active stocking season from March to November. But fish can of course be found and caught between December and February too. The far upper reaches of Oak Creek are catch and release artificial lures only. The rest of the stream is open to bait fishing and anglers can keep fish.
Oak Creek is a relatively small water that flows clear most of the time. Light lines and small hooks are the name of the game here. You can catch a lot of fish by simply tossing a red worm on a size 10 hook on clear 4 pound test to the head of pools and runs. Let the worm drift naturally with the current and set the hook if the line stops or hesitates. A long light action rod will help you control your presentation and fight fish effectively.
A typical stocked Oak Creek rainbow trout
Artificial lures can also work well. Fish things like Trout Magnets, pink trout worms and soft plastic stonefly nymphs on 1/64 ounce jig heads. Peg a Nakazima Ball Float or large strike indicator above the lure. Then cast to the heads of runs and pools and allow your rig to float naturally with the current. Trout will often dart out of their hiding spots to attack these baits though they may quickly spit them back out. Watch your float and set the hook if you see any hesitation.
If you want to take a more proactive approach you can fish with lures like spinners, spoons and crankbaits. A size 5 or 7 Floating Rapala in perch color works well here. So does a Spearhead Ryuki 45s in colors like Pearl Ayu and Pink Yamame, though that lure is a lot tougher to find in the United States. Spinners like the Classic Panther Martin in black and gold also produce.
This speckled dace took a piece of worm on a micro hook
If you want to fish in the catch and release section of Oak Creek you fish with the soft plastics mentioned above or use lures like a Gold Panther Martin Classic Single Hook Spinner. You can also fish beadhead flies and small jigs like a Northland Fire Fly Jig under a float.
Of course fly fishing can also be fun and effective throughout the stream. You’ll want a 3 or 4 weight rod that is between 7 and 9 feet long. There’s not a ton of room for back casting in a lot of the canyon. But longer rods can help if you want to fish nymphs Euro style. For dry flies a shorter rod with a 7 foot 4x or 5x leader is a little better.
Another good Oak Creek brown
Good dry flies for Oak Creek are general attractors like Parachute Adam’s in size 10 to 16 and more specific hatch matchers like Blue Olives is size 14 to 18. General nymphs like Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tails and Prince Nymphs in sizes 10 to 16 will work year round. You can also catch a lot of fish on pink or red San Juan Worms in sizes 10 to 16.
In the lower reaches of Oak Creek a simple rig with a red worm or nightcrawler on a hook below a float or sinker will catch bass, panfish and catfish. If you size down or go the micro fishing route you can even catch tiny species like dace with a small piece of worm. Other approaches will work here too. You can catch bass on crankbaits and soft plastics. You can catch catfish on cut bait, specially made catfish bait or even chunks of hot dog.
Oak Creek fishing regulations
Oak Creek is open to fishing year round. Most of the stream is under general regulations. That means there is no limit on bass, catfish and panfish. The daily limit on trout is six. Roundtail chub caught anywhere in Oak Creek must be immediately returned to the water. You can fish most of Oak Creek with bait, lures or flies.
There is an exception. From the headwaters of Oak Creek downstream to Junipine Crossing fishing is limited to catch and release with artificial lures and flies only. In this area you must use single barbless hooks and release any trout you catch unharmed.
To the best of our knowledge, the above is accurate as of the time of writing. Of course regulations are subject to change. For current regulations be sure to check the Arizonna Game and Fish website. You can also contact the Page Springs Hatchery if you want up-to-date information on trout stocking in Oak Creek.
You do have to pay to access much of Oak Creek. If you fish on National Forest Land or park your car in the National Forest you must purchase a Red Rock Pass. Slide Rock State Park charges its own separate access fee, but that area is best avoided anyway, unless you want to be surrounded by swimmers and rock skippers.
Oak Creek Fishing at a glance
|Fish species present:||Brown trout, rainbow trout, gila trout, channel catfish, speckled dace, roundtail chub|
|Closest tackle shops:||Sedona Ace Hardware|
|Recommend line:||2-6 lb monofilament / 3-4x leader|
|Recommended bait / lures:||Red worms, Custom Stonefly Nymphs|
|Recommended flies:||Prince nymph, pheasant tail nymph, hare's ear nymph, San Juan Worm, blue olive, Parachute Adams|
|Nearby hotels:||Casa Sedona Inn|