The Reel Deal

Happy new year, anglers!

Fishing opportunities in Arizona abound this new year — and they start with the rolling out of our Community Fishing Program expansion. Get ready for 15 new waters! The lakes are perfect for anglers of any level to relax and catch fish in their community. They’re close, safe, and some of the best places for parents to teach their kids how to fish.

With the crisp weather, and kids on Christmas break, the time of the year is ripe to introduce children to this heritage-rich tradition.

Speaking of kids, those under age 10 fish for free. Under the new license structure that took effect on Jan. 1, youth ages 10-17 fish for $5 annually with the Youth Combo Hunt/Fish license. See the full details of the new license structure. The new General Fishing licenses include bundled privileges: trout, two-pole fishing, Community Fishing privileges, and privileges for fishing Arizona’s shared Colorado River waters with California and Nevada are now included in the price of the license (no need to buy separate stamps for those privileges). Plus, licenses are now good for 365 days from the date of purchase instead of for just the calendar year. Buy a license online.

The Department is introducing 15 waters to the CFP. See more information. On Saturday, Jan. 4, the fun begins at Pioneer Lake in Peoria’s Pioneer Community Park located at 8755 N. 83rd Ave. Come on out for the fishing clinic from 9 a.m. to noon. The clinic includes 100 loaner fishing rods, as well as bait. No fishing license is required to those who register. Want to learn how to tie a knot? Cast? Choose the right bait? Bill Larson, our contracted sport fish instructor, will be on hand to answer fishing-related questions.

Even better, the lake will begin to be stocked with catchable fish – we’re dumping about 500 pounds of rainbow trout (10-13 inches on average) into the lake prior to the event. Here’s the full scoop. Should be a blast for anglers who have waited a long time for this kind of fishery near their backyard.

By the way, there is a new moon this week, with very cold nights and some partially cloudy days. This creates great conditions for trout fishing, especially in our winter stocking waters.

In case you missed it, there are new fishing regulations that went into effect Jan. 1. The changes include doubling the statewide possession limit in all statewide and special regulation seasons and reducing the crappie daily bag limit from unlimited to 15 per day at Bartlett Lake and Roosevelt Lake.

Just like that, winter has progressed into a deep freeze. Most of the higher elevation lakes are ice-covered – state highways 261 and 273 have been closed by ADOT for the winter.

Finally, as a little present to kick off the new year, we’re presenting our first video segment of “Fish Stories.” See more details under “Fish Stories” below, or just watch the video of “Rylee’s First Fish” put together by Game and Fish Video Producer David Majure. You’re sure to laugh and, if your memory is a steel trap, reminisce about your first fish.

Anglers Reports

Good morning. Just got back from Lake Pleasant and thought I would share my fishing report and video. The striper, white, and largemouth bass action was consistent first thing in the morning.

The bite is good in the coves around the lake and the fish are suspended around 23-32 feet eating shad. Some fishermen were also catching fish nearshore in 10-15 feet of water but it was a little slower. The key was using spoons that were silver or gold and jigging them slowly up and down where the fish were.

The key is being on the water before sunrise and finding the birds that are feeding on the shad. The action only lasted about an hour but it was fun.

I normally send a photo, but I didn’t have my camera this trip. Just my GoPro. See the video.

SagBassKidDana Y. with his Saguaro Lake mess of channel catfish (and his grandson’s catfish on the right): It is possible to catch some really decent size channel cats during the day at Saguaro. We caught five, 3-5-pound cats on nightcrawlers a few Saturdays ago. They are deep off the drops. Last weekend I caught one with a grandson handicap. I let him real it in — he thought it was great.
Derrick Franks a.k.a “Striper Snatcher” has been fishing the cold and windy nights on Lake Pleasant with moderate success rate: The water temp at night is in the mid-50s with strong north winds. Our underwater video footage still shows thousands of striper attracted to the boat in the 30-foot mark.
I think the colder water temps has flushed them out of deeper water and are now on the shallow side of the structure I fish, which are mainly points on the north and south side of the lake.
I still see the most fish, including baitfish, in the Humbug Creek arm — they are concentrated there all year. That area has a really sandy bottom with trees displaced about every 50 square feet.

CrappieCraving crappie? An angler sent in this picture of a speckled sensation he said was caught trolling a minnow at the yellow cliffs in Bartlett Lake.

8-year-old Mesa boy boats 3.8-pound largemouth bass

The cramps and spasms exploded in the 8 year old’s hands and arms. Mark McGrew, Jr. had hooked into a roughly 4-pound, 20-inch largemouth bass on Saturday, Dec. 8 at Saguaro Lake (Razorback Point).

The third fish of his life turned out to be a trophy for the kid from Mesa. Jigging a silver spoon on 6-pound test line, with an ultralight rod, McGrew tugged the bolting bass from 65 feet of water depth – hence, the piercing cramps.

The technique: McGrew, Jr. would drop the spoon to the bottom, let it sit, then jig it back in.

“The whole way in,” said McGrew Sr., “the pole was bent and I thought it was going to snap at any moment.”

The fish was caught at 2:30 p.m. “We had read the fishing report about yellow bass at Saguaro Lake and Mark Jr. started out fishing over Butcher Jones with no success,” McGrew Sr. said. “We then headed toward Shiprock and decided to stop and try Razorback Point.”

Fifteen minutes later, McGrew Jr. had a fishing moment he’ll likely replay his entire life. “He’s wanting to go again now – that’s for sure,” McGrew Sr. said.

Persistence is key when fishing with kids. McGrew Jr. had caught only a bluegill in his the first three fishing trips of his life. But the fourth yielded bass of 3.8 and 1.7 pounds that McGrew Sr. said were weighed on a Berkley digital hand scale.

“We just got a boat two months ago,” McGrew Sr. said, “and have been out fishing three other times with no success. Perseverance paid off.”

Q & A

Hello — I’m hoping you can provide some information about trout stocking on the Lower Salt River. Are the stocking locations only at Phon D. Sutton and Granite Reef this time of year? And are both locations usually stocked on the same day?

Thanks for your help, Steve B.

  • Hi, Steve. The stockings are also at Blue Point. If you look at our winter stocking schedule you can click on the Lower Salt River and it will show you the spots of the stockings (but we no longer stock Water Users). We do stock all three points on the same day.

    Like all of the fisheries on this schedule, you can see the stocking spots. Keep in mind, however, that not all of these spot will necessarily receive loads on a given stocking week – they are just potential spots.

    Thank you for your question, and good luck! — Nick


Here’s the latest notable road closures: As of Wednesday, vehicular access to Ashurst Lake (Ashurst Lake Road) and Kinnikinick Lake (Forest Road 82 at FR 125) is closed for the winter.

On the Mogollon Rim, notable closures are: FR 82 to Long Lake, FR 95 to East Clear Creek, FR 142 to West Clear Creek, FR 295E to Knoll Lake, and FR 751 to Blue Ridge Reservoir.

Check the entire winter stocking schedule.

At Lake Pleasant, Jon “Scooter” Griffiths of The Arizona Fishing Guides says this is the time of the year that the water is rising and all the fish like to eat shad in shallow water. Keep your eyes open for boils and always be looking for the birds.

Now for some ridiculously exciting news…

Those who fish Pioneer Lake in Peoria will be the first to benefit from the expanded Urban Fishing Program waters (to be renamed Community Fishing Program as of Jan. 1.) In addition to the current 21 waters, another 15 new waters will be added after the new year.

The CFP kickoff event at the lake in Pioneer Park will be held Jan. 4 from 9 a.m. to noon. Anglers will get the chance to participate in a free fishing clinic – 200 rods fishing rods, and bait, will be provided. Also, those who register will not need a license to fish for the trout that will have been stocked. Additionally, Pioneer Lake will be stocked a week later (Jan. 6-11) with incentive-sized trout. Pioneer will continue to be stocked every other week.

Those Urban Fishing Program lakes are stocked with trout throughout the winter. There may be times when the urban lakes are offering some of the best trout fishing in the state.

Need a license? Buy it online. Beat the crowds and get a gift. See more information about the new license structure.

Finally, out at Lake Havasu, beginning Dec. 8, the Bureau of Reclamation began lowering the water level of Lake Havasu to repair the trash racks at Parker Dam. The drawdown will last eight weeks and result in the lake reaching an elevation of 445 feet by mid-Dec. The lake will remain at this level until mid-Feb.

See the full fishing report


This week, we are stocking Dead Horse lakes, the Lower Salt River, Saguaro Lake, and, once again, Tempe Town Lake.

Try the Lower Salt River in the morning around the Phon D. Sutton or Granite Reef recreation areas, then switch to Saguaro Lake and try for trout and yellow bass using small spinners and gold KastMasters.

Don’t expect high catch rates at Tempe Town Lake — yet. Because it’s such a large lake, the rainbows could be spread out. For higher catch rates, try the Urban Fishing Program waters during stocking weeks.

Other rainbow trout loads are being dumped into Cluff Pond, Dankworth Pond, Graham County Pond, Parker Canyon Lake and Roper Lake.

Anglers reports


Charles S. reported on the Colorado River, from Picacho State Park to the Imperial Dam: Water temperatures during Thanksgiving had been in the high 50s, so that’s been slowing things down a bit, not to mention very low water levels.

Kevin C. said that Nelson Reservoir is mostly covered with ice: Haven’t been fishing the last couple weeks since it started blowing snow, but figured you would want to know that Nelson as of Wednesday, Dec. 11, it had ice thick enough to support small wildlife such as ducks and eagles (that were dining on fresh killed duck on the ice) over 98-99 percent of the lake. There was just a tiny little hole in the south end just big enough for a few ducks to paddle around. While I didn’t “test” the ice I’d guess it was around ½-1 inch thick with some patches thicker as all the little ponds and creeks are frozen over as well up here…

The Arizona Fishing Guides had the following report for central Arizona:

  • Saguaro Lake is still pumping out the big ones mostly on spoons and big reaction baits. You should remember it is not for the faint of heart and it can bring some of the most experienced fisherman to their knees but one big one and you forget it all.
  • Canyon Lake is doing well also seems to be best right after the stocking of the trout, but you can still coax the non-trout eaters into eating a jerk bait.
  • Bartlett Lake is starting to unload a few bigger-than-normal fish. You can catch these guys using a heavier spinner bait down in the channel bends up in the river end, or flipping jigs around shallow boulders.
  • Roosevelt Lake is not quite back to its normal fishing; it is still pretty good by any Arizona lake standards. Spoons and big jigs can be used to catch most of them. Just look for the bait balls on your fishing graph.
  • Apache Lake is always good this time of year — some really nice smallmouths can be caught on jerk baits and small shakey head worms and small jigs.
  • Lake Pleasant is also doing very well. This is the time of the year that the water is rising and all the fish like to eat shad shallow. Keep your eyes open for boils and always be looking for the birds. They are like me: always hungry…

Gravel enhancement project at Canyon Creek a breakthrough for wild brown trout

PHOENIX — A breakthrough gravel enhancement project at Canyon Creek, the prized wild trout fishery located on the Mogollon Rim near Heber, has led to about 30 wild brown trout spawning sites in the newly added gravel, which is more than 50 percent of the highest number ever counted over a 2.5-mile section from the reservation boundary to the O.W. Bridge.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department manages Canyon Creek primarily for wild brown trout. The department expects one result of the project to be a more resilient wild brown trout population and enhanced fishing opportunities.

In early October, volunteers from Desert Fly Casters, Arizona Fly Casters and the Zane Grey Chapter of Trout Unlimited, along with Arizona Game and Fish Department personnel, hauled 20 tons of gravel in four hours, passing buckets and dumping the gravel onto spots in a 100-foot portion of the creek with favorable spawning conditions (ideal water velocity and depth).

See post-project video of trout utilizing this gravel substrate for trout spawning sites (also called redds).

Curtis Gill, an Arizona Game and Fish fisheries program manager, said a particularly hot summer of 2012 stressed fish populations and led to a 50-percent reduction in wild brown trout populations during the following year.

Although conditions were conducive to spawning, there hadn’t been any spawning activity within 100 yards of the targeted spawning sites selected for enhancement.

“The take home,” Gill said, “is that if you build it, they will come.”

Fishing regulations at Canyon Creek are split in two at the O.W. Bridge. There is a four-trout limit in the upper reach. The lower reach is artificial fly and lure only, and catch-and-release only for trout. As of Jan. 1, single, barbless hooks will also be required in the lower reach.

The brown trout spawn is over statewide until next fall.

Willow Beach hatchery ends sport fish stockings

WILLOW BEACH, Ariz. — The Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery located along the Colorado River south of the Hoover Dam has ended its sport fish stocking efforts, possibly in perpetuity.

On Nov. 21, the hatchery, operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, conducted an emergency stocking of 11,000 rainbow trout when the low water level made it impossible to draw in water. The hatchery, however, lost 20,000 fish due to a lack of water movement through the system.

This change would effectively end all trout stockings from Willow Beach to the area south of Davis Dam in Bullhead City.

Although this particular event was initiated due to water availability, the cessation of stockings from the Willow Beach hatchery is one of several potential hatchery changes associated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish Hatchery Review, where the Service is staging for major changes in many of the National Fish Hatcheries across the nation, including trout production cuts, conversions to native fish production, and even hatchery closures.

“There’s no question this is going to impact anglers from Willow Beach south to the Bullhead City area,” said Chris Cantrell, fisheries chief for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Of course other species remain in Lake Mohave and the Colorado River, but without stocking efforts, rainbow trout will not consistently be available long term.”

The native fish portion of the hatchery, which is supported by well water, remains operational. The hatchery currently has razorback suckers and will soon have relict leopard frogs.

“At this time, those wishing to fish for trout in these areas should get to the Willow Beach area soon,” Cantrell said. “There is currently no feasible contingency plan for getting trout to these areas.”

Arizona Game and Fish Department currently relies heavily on the National Fish Hatcheries for obtaining most of its trout eggs as well as all of its Apache trout for stocking the state’s public waters. Arizona has not received any further information on planned changes affecting other National Fish Hatcheries at this time.


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