The Best Laid Plans: Fishing Fossil Creek

Last week there were some big changes for our family.


Little Henry made is way in to the word at 7 lbs 2 oz. Jack has been dealing with the transition really well, aside from the fact that he can’t climb all over Momma whenever he wants anymore. However, I think it’s important for Jack to have time to be Jack, not Big Brother Jack, so I decided to take him on quick fishing trip up to one of my favorites, Fossil Creek.

I’ve written about Fossil Creek before. A deep, fast, crystal clear travertine stream it is characterized by big water falls, deep pools, and more chub than you can possibly imagine. At one time Fossil Creek was a hidden gem, but in the last decade exposure on social media has turned the place into a bit of a zoo. Thankfully the forest service starting regulating entry during the busy summer months, but this still hasn’t been enough to scare off the 30-pack-and-a-boom-box crowd and they are considering more restrictive use plans moving forward. Good riddance, I say.

As I mentioned, Fossil Creek is a chub stream. There seems to be a bias against chub fishing, which is dumb. Chub fight harder than trout of equal size, can get huge, and readily take flies you already own. Best of all, chub fight more like bass than trout, thrash thrash thrash rather than run run run. Maybe this bias can be chalked up to a broader preference for cold water fishing, but every time I tell people at the local fly shop that the Fossil Creek chub trip is one of my favorite outings in Arizona, I get looks that can only be described as incredulous. Their loss.

Regardless, I loaded Jackamundi into the mighty Forester around 3AM and, against my better judgement, introduced Jack to a beloved hiking tradition: apple fritters for breakfast. It was his first time eating a doughnut that big, but I figured he that as a big brother he had earned big brother privileges. (Editor’s note: yes this is Chekov’s apple fritter, thanks for noticing.)

Our goal was to hit Fossil Creek’s famous waterfall right at dawn and, through the wonders of Google, we actually pulled this off. It was very photogenic, but somehow fish-less.


Down at the next whole I spied an excellent casting position from a rocky shelf across the stream. This required wading across a moss covered section of rocks, with both Jack and all the camera gear in tow, but few butt-clenching slips later, I was on the far side with my nerves mostly intact. We were quickly rewarded.


As I let our chub friend go, I realized I’d made a terrible mistake. The excited “FISHY FISHY FISHY”s coming from my pack turned into angry, “COME BAAAAAAACK FISHYYYYYYYY”s. Luckily I had another fish on the next cast.


This one was a little bigger and fought noticeably harder. I gave Jack a second to take a look at this one, and as we put it back we said together, “BYE BYE FISHY.” Jack was content, and I decided we had harassed the fish in this hole enough.


Jack was having a blast as we rumbled down the trail. “Find fishy, I find fishy, find fishy, I find fishy” he said over and over again, but as I started fishing the next whole his happy babble turned into cries of genuine distress. I started working my way out of the stream when the cries stopped and were replaced with silence. Then:






By the time I got Jack out of the pack, he had throughly covered himself, the pack, and everything else in what I can only imagine was lightly digested apple fritter. Worse than the smell, Jack was throughly embarrassed by the whole situation, and was really struggling to calm down. I did my best to clean us all up with the resources at hand, but it was a losing effort. Down to my last diaper, we reluctantly decided to make a literal run for home rather than tempt the poop-gods by fishing longer.

You can’t plan for everything. I guess that is the main lesson I’ve learned from parenthood. Well, actually, let’s make that, you can’t plan for everything but you should try stuff still. Trips have a tendency to go wrong, and no matter how much planning you do you will never be able to protect your kids from all the big scary things that are in the world. You can do your best, you can help at the margins, but ultimately the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

But what is the alternative? To stay home? To miss out on all the good things that will happen because something bad might happen? I guess that works for some, but not for us. We plan the best we can, assess whether we are really ready for what we are undertaking, and then go for it. Things go wrong sometimes, but you know what?


It’s worth it.

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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. He writes here at Lesser Places, has occasionally written for, and even more occasionally written for scientific journals. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.

8 thoughts on “The Best Laid Plans: Fishing Fossil Creek

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