Television host and musician Johnny Johnson has lived in Lakeside for most of his life and knows these lakes intimately. He lives about five minutes from Rainbow Lake, and spends time on the water nearly every day. Johnny is an avid fisherman and has a good record as a tournament bass fisherman. He is probably one of the best-known bass fishermen in Arizona because of his television show Fishing with Johnny Johnson.
Every time we go out with him, people constantly stop him on the water to say hello and tell him how much they love his show. You can catch Fishing with Johnny Johnson nation-wide on Fox Sports AZ on Sunday Mornings on Direct TV Ch. 686 and Dish Network Ch. 415.Check your local listings – you’ll love the show.
Rainbow Lake is just off Highway 260 in Lakeside. You take Rainbow Lake Drive south (there is a resort across the street called Lake of the Woods and you’ll see a lake on that side of the road, too), and in less than a mile you’ll find yourself at the launch ramp and parking lot for Rainbow Lake. The lake is only about 150 acres and is managed by the Game and Fish Department.
Most of the shoreline is privately owned, so you just about have to have a boat to fish it. Motors are limited to 8 horsepower, but you can launch a big bass boat easily and get around just fine on your trolling motor.
Best Time Of The Year
Rainbow Lake is primarily an irrigation reservoir, so it can get fairly low in the summer. It is shallow to begin with, and when the water starts to fall it gets very weedy, with just a narrow channel cleared out for boats. The weeds come clear up to the surface, so it is really difficult to fish when it’s like that. The best time of year for Rainbow Lake is March through May, Johnny advises.
Across the road that runs over the earthen dam is another small body of water that Johnny called “the pond”. An angler on foot could easily roam around the shoreline of this little piece of water, and we spoke to a man who was doing just that. He had just caught a bass on a small yellow spinnerbait and was having a great time.
A Dynamite Place
Once the weeds are alleviated, Rainbow is a dynamite place for a bass fisherman. It has a bunch of little coves and cuts that you can’t see from the launch area, and most of these are prime fishing areas, lined with boat docks and rocky banks sprouting bulrushes and weeds. There is also some standing timber in the lake.
The coves are small enough to make it possible to keep your boat in the center so that two anglers in the same boat can both fish virgin water. The bulrushes, piers, docks, and moored boats are primary targets for bass fishermen. “If you’re not already a precise caster, fishing Rainbow Lake will make you one,” says Johnson. Pitching small brown jigs to the docks and weeds, and running spinnerbaits along the open shore in between the docks are both good techniques on Rainbow.
Johnson’s ‘Secret Weapon’
Johnny has caught bass up to nine pounds at Rainbow Lake. With no shad available, the bass at Rainbow feed on crawdads and small trout. Jigs, spinnerbaits, and small worms and lizards are Johnson’s favorite lures here. His secret tournament weapon is a 4-inch lizard in smoke/sparkle. The bass just slay the little critters.
The water around the docks is usually fairly shallow and very clear. You can see every rock on the bottom. The key is to use a bait that will take a good long time to flutter to the bottom, and this is why Johnny’s lizard works so well. Strike King’s 3X floating lures will give you the same kind of action. Rig them on the lightest weight you can, and just let them flutter down next to the docks. If you can slingshot them underneath, so much the better.
Johnny rigs the lizards Texas, with no weight, and throws them on spinning gear. “You have to pitch or skip the lizard right up to or under the dock,” Johnson explained, “and then watch the line. You usually won’t feel anything — the fish will just run up and suck it in, so the line will twitch a little or go slack.” If the coils go out of the line or it moves to one side, you’d better be ready to set the hook.
Bass Can’t Resist
Johnson likes to use colors that he can see against the bottom. Once the lure has touched down, he reels it in and re-casts. A 4-inch smoke/sparkle Zipper Worm does the trick, too. The key is to use a small bait that is a bit bulky, but light enough to sink very slowly with no weight. A curly tail gives the lure a bit of action as it drops, even if you don’t do anything but hold the rod still. The bass lurking in the shadows beneath the docks just can’t seem to resist it.
The same technique works in the tule beds in some of the other coves. You’d swear that if there was a fish in there you’d be able to see it, but drop a lizard or a Zipper Worm in there and get ready to be surprised.