It’s time to get a strategy for some Arizona spring fishing.
This fishing forecast includes detailed predictions of how primary water bodies statewide might rate this spring. Here are some of the forecasts by region — with “Hot” lakes predicted to be the best.
• Southeast ( Nathan Berg is AZGFD’s Aquatic Wildlife Specialist in Tucson.)
Rose Canyon Lake: Hot
Spring marks the return of fishing at Rose Canyon Lake. Although the gate for vehicular access doesn’t open until the third week of April, anglers can still access the lake by walking in. Fishing during March prior to the gate opening can be quite good and some anglers routinely catch more than 20 fish per day. Fly fishing with floating flies and small Kastmasters, spoons and spinners are the best bet during this early season.
The seasonal stockings of rainbow trout will begin just prior to the official opening of the gate. Once trout stockings begin, anglers favor worms, salmon eggs, PowerBait, corn, cheese and marshmallows. However small Kastmasters, spinners and spoons can be even more productive for those anglers willing to give them a try.
Anglers should vary their depth and not just place their bait on the bottom of the lake waiting for fish to come to them. Successful anglers go find the fish by varying the depth and trying different baits until they start getting bites, then focus their efforts at that depth with the appropriate baits.
• White Mountains And Mogollon Rim (Veronica Corbett is AZGFD’s Lakes Biologist out of Pinetop.)
Black Canyon Lake: Hot
Black Canyon Lake will be the first of the Rim lakes open and accessible to angling. Roads are open and it will be stocked in early April. Good winter storms have filled this lake back up after being very low in 2018. At press time, lake levels were 3 feet below spilling and will likely fill the rest of the way as spring run-off progresses. Fish using small gold lures or dry flies as weather warms and surface activity increases.
Black Canyon Lake is 78 surface acres, with a maximum depth of 60 feet and an average depth of 35 feet. Like other Rim lakes, Black Canyon is deep, and low in nutrients. Catchable sized rainbow trout are stocked in the spring and early summer. The lake also currently contains illegally introduced green sunfish and largemouth bass; anglers are encouraged to catch and remove these species to help control their populations. There is no limit for bass and sunfish here.
Bartlett Lake: Good
Lake temperatures warm up to the low 70s in May. Typically largemouth bass spawning is cued when temperatures reach 60 to 70 degrees. Water levels hit 100-percent full in mid-March and should stay consistent through the spawning period, hopefully leading to a great spawn for largemouth bass and crappie.
AZGFD recently stocked around 10,000 3-inch black crappie that hopefully will grow to a catchable size by fall.
Largemouth bass are present in all sizes, and fishing is expected to be good throughout the spring as they move into shallower water. As the weather warms, shift from slowly working plastics in deeper water to crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and top-water lures for bass. When in doubt throw a live worm on the bottom and see what bites! When focusing on largemouth bass, fish near shady areas with overhangs or drop-offs. When water temperatures rise, look for jumping shad and toss your line in.
Fish tend to most active during the 90-minute windows surrounding the sun and moon rise and fall. When the moon is at full or new moon stage the effect is stronger. There are many apps that you can use that display this information for you. As fishermen know severe weather changes have an impact on the way fish feed. If a cold front is approaching the fish tend to move deeper into the water and lay low.
Barometric pressure is a good indicator. If it changes quickly, the fish tend to be less likely to show interest in your bait. If the change is gradual the fish will respond favorably.
It’s expected to be a decent year for crappie and we anticipate fishing to be fair. Try fishing around submerged trees or on shelves. Try using live minnows or jigs tipped with minnows. Flathead catfish are present throughout the lake but are more common upriver or by the dam. Look for spots where the water is murkier with vegetation or rocky covering nearby. Fishing for catfish should be great this spring.
Try using catfish baits like chicken livers for smaller catfish. To catch a trophy size try using live sunfish or carp.
• Colorado River Waters (Ryan Follmuth is AZGFD’s Aquatic Wildlife Program Manager out of Yuma.)
Colorado River (Parker Strip Area): Good
Largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing in the Parker Strip should continue to be good, as it has been the past several years. Our Region 4 aquatic wildlife program caught abundant bass in the 2 to 4 pound range in November of 2017 survey. As a general rule, smallmouth bass are more common in upstream stretch of river towards Parker Dam and decrease in abundance as you progress down the river, whereas largemouth are the opposite in that they are more common in the lower sections of river near Headgate Rock Dam and decrease in abundance as you progress upstream.
The middle stretches should offer a multi-species fishing opportunity that few places in Arizona can match. Fishing for both species should pick up as the water temperatures warm up from March to May.
Largemouth bass fishing should be best in slack-water areas with aquatic vegetation such as Bullrush or around boat docks. There are many different techniques used for largemouth bass. As a general rule, most people will use top-water lures such as frogs, buzzbaits, or walk the dog type of baits or spinnerbaits in the early morning and then switch to jigs, crankbaits, or swimbaits as the day progresses. Using plastic baits that resemble worms, crawdads, frogs, or lizards often work well.
Smallmouth bass fishing should be best near slackwater areas, rocky points or docks. Many of the same baits and techniques used for largemouth bass will be effective for smallmouth bass as well.
Redear sunfish are also widespread but are most likely to be found around aquatic vegetation in slackwater areas. In the November 2017 survey we captured numerous redear to in the 1 to 2 pound range with a few close to 3 pounds. This underutilized fishery could provide lots of fun for anglers willing to try something different. Redear will bite on meal worms, nightcrawlers or small crappie jigs.
• North Central (Chuck Benedict is an AZGFD Aquatic Wildlife Specialist out of Flagstaff.)
Oak Creek: Good
Fly anglers and folks using lures can catch some nice-sized brown trout on Oak Creek during in the spring once runoff slows down with some big browns being caught, especially in the area around Grasshopper Point. Try woolly buggers or spinners.
Anglers also can check our nearby Slide Rock State Park.
The stockings of rainbow trout will resume once spring runoff slows down. Areas stocked depend on accessibility to the creek and parking availability for the stocking truck. Bait anglers should drift salmon eggs or worms below a bobber with the current. Anglers drifting flies under a bobber can also catch rainbows.
Remember the reach of the creek between Call of the Canyon Crossing (West Fork parking lot) and Junipine Resort is open to catch-and-release fishing only using flies and lures with a single barbless hook. This reach is not stocked and has some nice brown trout in it.