Category Archives: Working for you

Homes for fish: habitat improvement project underway at Roosevelt Lake

In first phase of long-term project on Tonto National Forest lakes, AZGFD biologists sink fish habitat structures

Habitat is dropped into Roosevelt Lake Thursday, April 20.

PHOENIX – They are manmade homes for fish, some made of concrete, others of PVC, and like building a neighborhood, provide the architecture for sustainable life.

The first step in placing fish habitat into the  central Arizona reservoirs took place on Thursday, April 20 at Roosevelt Lake with Arizona Game and Fish Department biologists dropping Fishiding HighRise structures made of environmentally-safe PVC  to the bottom of Roosevelt Lake. These recycled items, 8 feet tall and excellent habitat for crappie, became the first fish homes. AZGFD plans to expand them into fish cities.

For anglers, this Tonto National Forest Lakes Habitat Improvement Project will result in better fishing for generations to come in the region’s most popular fishing lakes.

Ongoing improvements to Rosy

Also in April, Roosevelt Lake was stocked with 12,000 crappie fingerlings, as well as 25,000 4-inch Florida-strain largemouth bass for the third consecutive year. Roosevelt Lake also is above 70-percent full for the first time since October of 2011. The higher water level has flooded shoreline brush that provides more cover and habitat for spawning fish. The fish habitat improvement project includes placing multiple types of fish habitat around the lake at varied depths to ensure there is plenty of fish habitat available for when water level fluctuates.

Similar work is planned for other lakes along the Salt River chain and Bartlett Lake. The next planned step involves AZGFD biologists using a 36-foot pontoon boat to transport and lower heavier concrete fish habitat structures — critical to anglers’ fishing opportunities — into Roosevelt Lake.

Working OT for better fishing

This fish habitat project is a cooperative effort with numerous anglers, as well as volunteers from organizations such as Gila Basin Angler Roundtable and Midweek Bass Anglers. Supporting agency partners include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sport Fish Restoration Program, Tonto National Forest, and the National Fish Habitat Partnership-Reservoir Fish Habitat Partnership. Volunteers have been helping build concrete fish balls and Georgia cubes for two years and have donated hundreds of hours to the project.

Fishiding HighRise structures are made of environmentally-safe PVC and are excellent habitat for crappie.

Natural and artificial habitat are critical for fish spawning, recruitment, and growth. The reservoirs of central Arizona lack sufficient hiding and ambush cover and habitat for growth and survival of young fish. The artificial structures provide a surface for microscopic animals to grow, which attracts bait fish and in turn the predatory fish for anglers to target.

Background: a return to glory

Fishing is one of Arizona’s most popular outdoor activities. Providing good places for anglers to fish is one of AZGFD’s primary goals. Five of the biggest and most popular lakes to fish are located in central Arizona and are managed by Salt River Project for the valley’s water supply: Roosevelt Lake, Apache Lake, Canyon Lake, Saguaro Lake, and Bartlett Lake.

In 2014 the Department embarked on a program to improve fisheries habitat in the reservoirs of central Arizona and restore the fisheries to their former glory days. All five of these lakes are more than 70 years old, and Roosevelt Lake is more than 100 years old. Over time, reservoirs lose quality fish habitat through decomposition of the natural vegetation that was flooded, particularly where water levels fluctuate wildly, such as at Roosevelt.

Similarly, one of the largest and most successful fish habitat projects in the nation, the Lake Havasu Fishery Improvement Program, has been ongoing since 1993 and is credited with improving sport fish habitat in this Colorado River reservoir.

The Tonto National Forest is the land management agency for five of the biggest and busiest fishing lakes in Arizona. In 2013, the economic value to the state of Arizona associated with these five lakes was estimated to be more than $318 million.

See more about fishing in Arizona.

Future of baitfish in AZ: problems and solutions

Does anyone use live baitfish anymore?

Well heavens, yes — especially if you’re fishing for big flathead catfish or crappie, right?

And when I say live baitfish, I mean just fish. Talking about other types of live bait such as worms, crayfish, waterdogs, and so on, would make the conversation much longer. And this is a blog. So let’s just talk fish.

The problem is the use of non-native baitfish: it’s great bait, but it out-muscles native fish and other aquatic species.

We’ll talk about some possible solutions.

But first, the problem of non-native livebait.

Non-native baits a management challenge

The speckled dace is a native fish to Arizona.The speckled dace is a native fish to Arizona

In recent decades, using live baitfish was the best way to catch your dinner.  But with more and more people  practicing catch and release, fishing with live bait has become less popular, almost to the point that if you do use live bait, you could be criticized.  This is because using live baits typically results in deep hook-sets that make releasing a fish back into the water unharmed a challenge.

The other challenge — from a management standpoint — is that all of the well-known and legal baitfish species are non-native to Arizona and can have detrimental effects on native fish and other aquatic species.

They are good for bait because they are easy to raise, and they survive on a hook.

For these same reasons, they are also ultra-competitive in  Arizona lakes and streams and out-muscle native species for food and space.

Also, these non-native species of fish come from fish suppliers outside of Arizona.  So water, plants, snails and all kinds of other non-native stuff can come along with them and end up in your bait bucket.

Why anglers should care:
money and fishing memories

Did you know some of your fishing license dollars are spent on mitigating the harmful effects of non-native species?

Yep, we are charged with providing quality sport-fishing opportunities — among many other things — while simultaneously ensuring our native aquatic species are protected and enhanced.

If fish, and other non-native aquatic species, just stayed put and didn’t move upstream or downstream, it would make it a lot easier.

But we all know water flows all over the place (downhill mostly), along with everything else  in the water.  So when people use live baitfish in one spot, and a few live ones are let loose, those fish and everything in your bait bucket will eventually be all over that watershed.

And that’s exactly what has happened during previous years. There are few wet spots in Arizona that don’t have some sort of non-native aquatic organism competing for food and space with something that has evolved in that spot.  More and more non-native aquatic invasive species are being discovered or identified every year.

So what to do?

Live baitfish solutions: some considerations

The Sonora sucker is another possible native baitfish that could be a solution to our state's nonnative baitfish problem.

The Sonora sucker is another native baitfish
that could be one solution

  • Working towards raising enough native baitfish in our existing hatcheries. We believe it would help to raise species of baitfish native to our state in enough numbers that baitfish dealers wouldn’t have to import baitfish. Then all the non-native species that come along for the ride with the baitfish from other states would no longer hit our borders.It’s just one part of the puzzle, but it’s a start. If this works, it could help us spend more of your fishing license dollars on stocking, enhancing fish habitat and forage, and less on mitigating the harmful effects of non-native species.
  • Make sure enough native baitfish can be raised and maintained in the sizes anglers want. Native species need to be hardy enough to survive on a hook. It still won’t be OK to “dump your bait bucket” when you’re done fishing, but when a native minnow gets off your hook, it won’t endanger anything.

So that’s it. There’s still a lot to be done, and catching and using bait species at your favorite lake or stream wouldn’t change — even if it’s a non-native species. The only changes would be what’s available for purchase at a bait dealer and what species you could legally move from one spot to another.

So stay tuned!

Andy Clark is the AZGFD statewide sportfish management program supervisor

Rainbow trout stocking restarts at Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery

Willow Beach, Ariz. – After a three-year hiatus, catchable-sized rainbow trout from Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery (NFH) will return to Colorado River waters downstream of Las Vegas.

The hatchery will release 2,500 rainbow trout into the cold waters below Davis Dam on Jan. 12. The trout measure up to 12 inches long.  Davis Camp and Bullhead City Park will be stocked once more in January, three times in February, four times in March, and once in April, for a total of 25,000 rainbow trout.

During the three-year hiatus of trout coming from the hatchery, the AZGFD continued stockings made possible by donations from local pest abatement districts.

Willow Beach trout stocking schedule

The Willow Beach area immediately downstream of the hatchery will be also stocked with 1,000 rainbow trout every Friday starting Feb. 3.

This weekly stocking schedule will continue year-round. See all the stocking schedules.

Rainbow trout production recently restarted at Willow Beach NFH after securing a reliable water source. A new pump and conveyance system delivers cold water to the federal fisheries facility that is needed by trout for proper growth.

Serving Arizona trout anglers

 

troutstock
Trout stockings on the Colorado River continue. On Monday, Dec. 19, there were 5,000 pounds of rainbow trout stocked into the Colorado River in three spots from Davis Camp to Rotary Park. The next trout stocking on Jan. 12 will come from the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery. It will be the hatchery’s first stocking in several years thanks to the completion of a new water intake system.

“It gives me no small delight to see rainbow trout come back into production at Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery,” said Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region. “Many concerned folks put their shoulder to the wheel to see this through—to design and build a new water conveyance system, and jump-start trout production with fish from our state partners. The hatchery once again serves the angling public.”

The first batches of rainbow trout to be stocked were secured by a partnership with the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD). The hatchery has also started raising rainbow trout from the egg stage again.  In December of 2016, more than 110,000 rainbow trout eggs arrived from Ennis National Fish Hatchery in Montana. Those eggs have since hatched and quickly transformed into young trout to be stocked later.

About Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery

The hatchery, built in 1959, is located 12 miles downstream of Hoover Dam on the Arizona side of the Colorado River. It is one of 70 other such facilities in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish Hatchery System.

See more information about fishing in Arizona

Watch 665 pounds of trout shoot into Tempe Town Lake

Hundreds of anglers, many with families,  welcomed rainbow trout back for the winter stocking season at Tempe Town Lake Tuesday afternoon with a bang.

Or more like a countdown … and an explosion of trout and water through an Arizona Game and Fish Department stocking truck from our Page Springs Hatchery.

Check it out:

 

Free, and fun, family fishing

Families and community members came and watched trout being stocked — Tempe mayor Mark Mitchell even helped some kids stock a few fish:

mayorstocking

Then the free fishing clinic ensued. See all upcoming fishing clinics.

The event ended as the sun broke through the Tempe skyline and kids went home with smiles and memories of flopping fish.

ttlskyline

Trout stockings in AZ

Tuesday’s event was the first of five monthly Arizona Game and Fish scheduled trout stockings. There already were abundant populations of bass, bluegill, catfish and carp.

We’ll stock a total of about 10,000 pounds of trout into Town Lake during the winter.

See all the stocking schedules.

Also, to get a license, and to help conserve wildlife for future generations, head online, 24/7.

Electrofishing reveals tiger trout fishing tips

Caught a tiger trout, yet? Try fishing the shorelines at Woods Canyon Lake.

Some of our fish biologists were on the water at Woods Canyon, located on the Mogollon Rim,  electrofishing from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. — Wednesday through Thursday — and caught more than 100 tiger trout.

“This number of tiger trout was interesting to us because we usually pick up few trout by boat electrofishing,” AZGFD Reservoir Biologist Sally Petre said. “It seems as though the tiger trout behave a bit differently than rainbow trout and hang out in the shallows  — where we shock — instead of deeper water. ”

Anglers: with about another month remaining before lakes begin to freeze in higher elevations, it’s time to get out and wrestle with a tiger.

For the first time in Arizona, we’ve been stocking them into Carnero, Becker, Willow Springs and Woods Canyon lakes. See where these lakes are located.

Also, many tigers seem to be growing larger and developing bolder lines and darker scales.

The best fishing for tiger trout, which can be distinguished from rainbow trout by their tiger-like or blotchy pattern on their body (compared to the rainbow trout’s small black spots), has typically been at Woods Canyon Lake.

Tiger trout fishing tactics

Tiger trout such as this one caught by electrofishing at Woods Canyon Lake seem to be growing larger and developing bolder lines and darker scales.
Tiger trout such as this one caught by electrofishing at Woods Canyon Lake seem to be growing larger and developing bolder lines and darker scales.

All trout species can be found at all depths with falling water temperatures. Tiger trout recently have been coming up to the shorelines and corralling baitfish — so fishing deep is not a must.

Some fly anglers have had success fishing from a float tube, and casting flies such as woolly buggers from deeper water toward the shorelines and stripping quickly back.

Also try meal worms, nightcrawlers, Panther Martins, Kastmasters, spoons, and Roostertails. Another successful fly has been almost any nymph.

See regulations before heading out. At Willow Springs and Woods Canyon, tiger trout count toward your six trout bag limit.

More fall netting survey results

Recent netting surveys at Carnero and Becker lakes resulted in tiger trout approximately 13 inches in length.  But too few tiger trout were caught at either lake to determine much about their growth.

At Carnero, fishing is difficult for tiger trout because of the low water and thick weeds, but can be good if you can get to an open spot of water.

There is a two-fish bag limit at Carnero and it’s restricted to artificial flies and lures only.

Becker Lake,  which has fewer weeds than Carnero, is open to catch-and-release only for trout (no trout may be kept) with only artificial lures and flies with single barbless hooks.

 

See more about Arizona fishing

A return to glory: AZGFD’s habitat enhancements coming to Salt River-chain lakes

Fish take protection in underwater structure.
Fish take protection in underwater structure.

 

This fall, the Arizona Game and Fish Department plans to use a crane on a 36-foot pontoon boat to sink fish habitat — critical to anglers’ fishing opportunities — into lakes along the Salt River chain in central Arizona.

For anglers, this ongoing project will result in better fishing for generations to come.

Roosevelt Lake is planned to be the first to receive habitat. These artificial structures and concrete reef balls attract bait fish, which then attract predatory fish for sport-fishing anglers to target. Habitat is important for fish spawning, recruitment, growth, health and populations.

 

Fishing at Roosevelt Lake will continue to improve with planned habitat enhancements beginning this fall.
Fishing at Roosevelt Lake will continue to improve with planned habitat enhancements beginning this fall.

The Fish Habitat Restoration Program requires numerous steps to get to the point of being able to put fish habitat in the lakes. In May, the Tonto National Forest (TNF) got the Department one step closer to putting fish habitat in central Arizona’s busiest and most popular fishing lakes and increasing catchability of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappie, and catfish.

READ MORE

Are more tiger trout coming to Arizona?

Tiger trout new trout to AZ this spring cross between Brook abd Brown released into 4 High country AZ lakes 2016. Photo from Tonto Creek Hatchery, Northeast of Payson, AZ.
Tiger trout, a cross between brook and brown, were released into four high-country Arizona lakes. Photo from Tonto Creek Hatchery, northeast of Payson.

 

Now that anglers have made some memories with the elusive tiger trout, the question is: Will there be any more tiger trout coming to Arizona?

Yep. More tiger trout eggs will be received this summer to be raised for stockings in May and June of 2017. We’ll be monitoring the tiger trout that this summer were stocked into Carnero, Becker, Woods Canyon and Willow Springs lakes.

But first, a heads-up on what’s happening right now.

Arizona tiger trout fishing report

Many anglers had success with these aggressive and brilliant-looking fish. We expect catch rates on tiger trout to drop as more are harvested and lakes warm through the summer.

Woods Canyon and Willow are being stocked with tigers this week, and more tigers are planned to be stocked again this fall.

So look for tiger trout fishing to improve once again during the fall. And look for that first cool-off …

Most of the tigers are still being caught on lures. Some are beginning to get caught with PowerBait and worms.

Tiger trout fishing has been fair to good — a bit better at Woods Canyon than Willow Springs. Get a license online and go catch fish — and conserve wildlife at the same time.

“I’ve not heard recent reports at Becker and Carnero, but anglers were catching them there OK back in May and early June,” said Mike Lopez, AZGFD fish program manager in Pinetop.  “Lately at Woods and Willow, anglers targeting tiger trout are not having as much success.  Most of the tigers being caught now are incidental by folks just fishing for trout. ”

Monitoring effort: a tiger needs room

There are no plans to expand tiger trout stockings to other lakes. We’ll be monitoring the four lakes where we have tigers for a few years. We need to gauge how — or if — the tiger trout grow, their return to creel, and impacts on other fish species.

Also, it takes “room” for the tigers to grow to a catchable size. We are at full capacity in our fish hatchery system, so if we grow more tiger trout, it would potentially mean less rainbow trout for other lakes and streams.

In lakes where they do grow, it might be possible to stock more tiger trout fingerlings. We just don’t know how well they’ll do — yet.

 

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Tiger trout are stocked into Woods Canyon Lake in May.

 

So for now … we’ll keep it with the four lakes we have and monitor angler success.

We hope you are enjoying this addition to Arizona’s trout fishing menu.

A tiger trout AZ summer

Here’s a brief look back at some of the best tiger trout pictures of the summer. Thanks for sharing these memories with us!

Willow Springs Lake tiger trout caught by Todd G. on May 30.
Willow Springs Lake tiger trout caught by Todd G. on May 30.

Tiger caught weekend of June 30 at Woods Canyon Lake.
Tiger caught weekend of June 30 at Woods Canyon Lake.

A Willow Springs Lake tiger trout. Larry S reported catching no less than 25 tiger trout during the last weekend in May,
A Willow Springs Lake tiger trout. Larry S reported catching no less than 25 tiger trout during the last weekend in May.

See more fishing information.

Roosevelt fishing enhancements continue: 40,000 bass stocked

DSC_2796-2
AZGFD Fisheries Program Biologist Bryant Dickens unloads some of the 40,000 Florida-strain largemouth bass fingerlings that were stocked Thursday morning into Roosevelt Lake. — George Andrejko/AZGFD

 

Florida-strain largemouth bass stockings continued at Roosevelt Lake on Tuesday, with a morning stocking of 40,000 fingerlings.

A habitat improvement project also is upcoming. Since April, 2014, about 1 million fry (recently hatched) of the Florida-strain bass, which can grow up to 20 pounds, have been stocked into Roosevelt Lake.

This is one way fishing memories are created.

 

DSC_2691-2
A Florida-strain largemouth bass fingerling.

 

Already, early indications give some hope for a robust population of catchable (8-10-inch bass) by this fall, and, in 4-5 years, the hope that trophy bass will be available at this rejuvenating fishery.

Rearing Florida-strain bass at Bubbling Ponds Fish Hatchery

 

Bubbling Ponds FIsh Hatchery near Cornville, Arizona is the site of reared Florida-strain largemouth bass
Bubbling Ponds Fish Hatchery near Cornville, Arizona is the site of reared Florida-strain largemouth bass

 

The hatchery has 300 Florida-strain bass that in 2015 were trucked from Florida to Arizona. These fish are eating well and growing — currently they’re about 8 inches in length.

These bass are planned to be AZGFD’s own brood stock.  They will be grown until they reach maturity and then AZGFD will spawn them annually.

The young will be stocked into approved Arizona lakes.

Florida Largemouth bass on APril 20, 2016, from Bubbling Ponds Fish Hatchery
A larger strain of bass is being reared at the Bubbling Ponds Fish Hatchery near Cornville, Ariz.

“This is my first time raising these fish,” said Sarah Taylor,  a Bubbling Ponds Fish Hatchery manager. “It has been a challenge, but we are getting our techniques dialed in as we go.  Things seem to be going well.”

Arizona fishing gets boost with return of Mr. Whiskers

Mr. Whiskers is coming back to the desert

It’s time to grab a bag of shrimp or hot dogs — our first scheduled catfish stocking will be Thursday, March 24 in the core waters. Each year the Arizona Game and Department stocks catfish at least 11 times per year in core waters, and three times per year in “expansion waters.” In total each year, there are approximately 280 stockings of catfish into Community waters.

Yet another winter trout-stocking season has come to a close with last week’s final stocking. But the Arizona fishing adventures continue. Trout stockings will continue in Payson every two weeks until the second week of May.

Need a license so you’re ready for the return of Mr. Whiskers? It’s easy to purchase fishing licenses online — and they’re good for 365 days from the date of purchase. A Youth Combo Hunt/Fish License is just $5! A resident General Fishing License is $37 and a resident Community Fishing License is $24.

Bluegill are coming back, too

These next two weeks are going to be busy for us — and exciting for anglers — because the week following the upcoming catfish stocking, we plan to stock all Community core waters with approximately 5,000 pounds of bluegill.  The Department stocks bluegill sunfish only once per year, and this will be a great opportunity for the kids to catch a panfish.

Newest Community fishing water coming to St. Johns, Arizona

Patterson Ponds, located in the rural community of St. Johns in the White Mountains of northeast Arizona, will become the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s newest Community Fishing Program (CFP) water. The ponds are scheduled to receive their first stocking of rainbow trout during the week of March 21-26.

Patterson Ponds, located in St. Johns in the White Mountains of Arizona, will be the newest Community Fishing Program water. The plan is to stock the ponds with trout, catfish and sunfish, beginning with trout the week of March 21-26.

The site, located approximately 1.1 miles south of Highway 180 (West Cleveland St.) and 24th  St. W., is comprised of an upper and a lower pond that total approximately 8.2 acres.

The plan is to stock the ponds at least two times per year with trout, three times per year with catfish, and once with sunfish. The Commission approved the designation of Patterson Ponds as a Community fishing water and established daily bag limits of two trout, two catfish, five sunfish, and one bass. The waters consist of two adjacent ponds located on the southwest corner of town.

The stocking schedule might differ a little bit from the Phoenix and Yuma-area waters due to the elevation.

AZGFD Outdoor Expo is April 2-3

The Department is hosting its annual Expo from Saturday April 2-3 The event is located at our Ben Avery Shooting Facility just west of I-17 on Carefree Highway. Parking as well as attendance is free for all ages. Read more.