Rim Country Bass And More
By Margie Anderson
Up on the Rim around Pinetop-Lakeside, at an elevation of over 6,500 feet, are several beautiful little lakes where bass share the waters with the trout that the Rim Country is known for.
A desert-dwelling bass angler stressed by the heat of the summer can take to the road and be fishing in the cool pines in a matter of hours. In addition to the bass, you can find walleye, catfish, bluegills, trout, and crappie at these lakes, so rustling up a nice shore lunch should be no problem at all.
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. Rainbow Lake, Show Low Lake, Woodland Lake, Fool Hollow, and Scotts Reservoir are all just minutes from his home, so he enjoys the opportunity to fish a variety of different types of waters for a lot of different species.
Johnson is an avid fisherman and has a good record as a tournament bass fisherman.
The differences in structure of the lakes he fishes around his home have no doubt helped Johnson become a versatile and persistent angler. What works on one lake may not be the ticket on the one down the road, so it pays to try a variety of techniques and presentations.
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 Arizona Game & 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.
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.
Right now, Johnson says, the lake is almost solid weeds, with just a narrow channel cleared out for boats. The weeds come clear up to the surface, so it is really difficult to fish just now.
The best time of year for Rainbow Lake is March through May, he advises. Across the road that runs over the earthen dam is another small body of water that Johnson 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 fine time.
After The Weeds
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 has caught bass up to 9 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 bait that will take a good long time to flutter to the bottom, and this is why Johnson’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.
Johnson 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.”
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.
Woodland Lake is just down the road from Rainbow, in Pinetop. Take Woodland Lake Road off Highway 260 and you’ll find yourself in Woodland Lake State Park. There are tennis courts, softball fields, hiking trails, equestrian trails, mountain biking, fishing, ramadas, volleyball, charcoal grills, boating, playgrounds, bird-watching, picnic areas, restrooms, and a nice launch ramp there. A paved footpath circles the entire lake.
Fly fishermen ply the shorelines for trout (use Peacock Ladies), and bait fishermen just settle down in a cool spot and wait for the fish. You can launch a boat, but motors are limited to single electric only. You can’t camp at Woodland or Rainbow, but head north a couple of miles and you’ll come to Scott Reservoir.
Just a bit east of Rainbow Lake Drive in Lakeside is Porter Mountain Road. Take this road north and in a couple of miles, you’ll come to the turn-off for Scott Reservoir. It is a good road, clearly marked.
A campground in the pines, launch ramp, and restrooms make Scott Reservoir a great base camp for someone fishing the Pinetop-Lakeside area. Bass, bluegill, and catfish can all be caught here, and Johnson says that the average bass is around 12 inches or so.
Once again, single electric motors are the rule here. Scotts Reservoir is a beautiful and convenient place to pitch a tent or park the camper. Camping is free, but there is a five-day limit.
Show Low Lake
Up the highway toward Show Low (west from Lakeside) is Show Low Lake. You’ll see the turn-off clearly marked from the road. Show Low Lake is about a hundred acres, and contains trout, largemouth bass, catfish, and walleye. In fact, the state record walleye is from Show Low Lake.
You can camp here and launch a boat, but single electric motors are still the rule. Split-shotting nightcrawlers or throwing white Sonic
Roostertails can get you a nice walleye at Show Low, and twitching Rapalas or running spinnerbaits is good for bass.
Johnson says there have been some really nice smallmouth bass caught at Show Low lately — try plastic worms and Ricos.
Fool Hollow Lake
Fool Hollow Lake is just outside of Show Low; take Old Linden Road off Highway 260. Fool Hollow has largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, sunfish, and catfish.
Fool Hollow Recreation Area is a fee area, but you can camp there for 10 dollars a night, or 15 with a hook-up. Johnson says that they’ve been working on a bridge there, and the water is really muddy.
But, the fishing is still good — try spinnerbaits and small sinking or floating Rapalas for the bass. Also try pitching a jig into the trees: A Denny Brauer Rattleback jig is Johnson’s favorite.
Fool Hollow is more like the desert lakes, Johnson says, with a lot of rocky structure, so bring your favorite structure lures with you. Walleye anglers favor nightcrawler rigs.
Johnson says your best bet for bass right now is Willow Springs. There are a lot of boats on the water in the afternoons because the fishing is really good. He’s been doing a lot of sight fishing, but come July, the bite will be Lucky Craft Pointer jerkbaits. You can use up to a 9 hp motor there.
If you decide to head for the pines for some Rim Country bass this summer, call ahead to find out about water levels, fire restrictions, and fishing reports. You can call the Arizona Game & Fish Department in Pinetop at (928) 367-4281.
Watch for Johnny Johnson’s television show at 9:30 a.m. every Sunday on FSN Arizona. He does a lot of shows on the lakes around Pinetop-Lakeside, so you can pick up some valuable tips that will help make your trip a dandy.