If you want big lakes and the company of lots of other bass fishermen, target famous Arizona fishing holes such as Apache Lake, Navajo Lake or Havasu. If you want to enjoy a getaway far from the madding crowd, though, Black River is the place.
The West and East Forks of the river start in the alpine setting of the White Mountains of northern Arizona and downriver from where they meet offers some of the best smallmouth fishing in high desert country.
The lower part of the Black produces numbers of 2- to 3-pound smallmouths and the occasional larger fish. Spinning tackle rigged with inline spinners, small jerkbaits, jigs and the usual mix of smallmouth baits work well, though fly-fishing gear and crawfish patterns, Dahlberg Divers or Wooly Buggers arguably see more fishing time here.
Plan to fish out of canoes or kayaks but be forewarned: the upper Black River has a few stretches of rapids and shoals and isn’t a waterway for beginning paddlers. The terrain gradually flattens farther downstream and the Black broadens to take on more of the characteristics of a lowland river.
As the Black River is the boundary between the San Carlos Apache Reservation and the White Mountain Apache Tribe Reservation, fishing access permits are required, depending on which side you fish or put in on. On the San Carlos side, a daily permit costs $10 while on the White Mountain side, it’s $9. Annual permits are available too, as are camping permits. There are a number of other fishing permits available that cover other lakes and rivers on the reservations.
Access points are numerous, but usually involve unpaved roads. Still, it’s the remoteness that makes the Black River a fishing destination in a league of its own.