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Best Places for Winter Fishing in Arizona


Submitted by:  Backcountry Press Outdoor News 
Posted on: 12/19/18

Disclaimer:  The views expressed on this site are that of the authors and not necessarily that of TBC Press
News # -12173
The Lower Salt River 
The Lower Salt River flow and water temperatures are largely controlled by the release of water from Saguaro Lake at Stewart Mountain Dam, and from Bartlett Lake via the Verde River. During the winter and much of spring, releases from Saguaro Lake are slowed to a trickle, creating more intermittent pools and shallow water along the stretch of river upstream of Phon D. Sutton recreation site where the Verde River comes in. See the current river flows.

Access to the river is mostly through Tonto National Forest Recreation Sites where a Tonto Pass is needed to park. In order from Saguaro Lake downstream to Power road, these sites are: Water Users, Blue Point Bridge, Coons Bluff, Phon D Sutton and Granite Reef Dam recreation sites.

Winter trout stockings began the week of October 15th. Rainbow Trout will be stocked into the Salt River twice a month through March. Check out the winter stocking schedule!

Trout stockings usually occur twice a month* through June, making trout fishing in the desert a worthwhile endeavor. Try free-lining an earthworm through moving water, or dropping in some PowerBait in the deeper pools. This is also a great opportunity to try your hand at fly fishing, and a size 8 wooly bugger will catch just about anything that swims.

Bass can be found throughout the river, but during the period of low flows are generally stacked in the deeper holes. The Granite Reef Dam recreation area is a popular spot for kayak bass fishermen, and because it is below where the Verde River comes in, water levels stay more consistent throughout the year. Try using square bill crankbaits and spinnerbaits when the fish are more active and slowing it down with a dropshot rig when nothing else seems to be working.

The Lower Salt River has a variety of other species to offer that can be caught on rod and reel including carp, catfish, yellow bass, and native desert and Sonoran suckers. These species are rarely targeted along the river but can be just as much fun to catch.

*As a guideline, trout are primarily stocked at Phon D Sutton and Granite Reef recreation sites during the winter, and Water Users and Blue Point Bridge during the summer.

Roosevelt Lake
Lake temperatures are in the mid 60s. Water levels should remain steady as SRP is pulling water from the Verde system. Hopefully we see plenty of winter precipitation and snowpack to raise the water level for the coming year. See the current lake elevation. Despite low water levels, fish should have plenty of habitat thanks to all the hard work by all our partners and volunteers on fish habitat improvement sites. Check out the fish habitat site locations!

Fish tend to be 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 the pressure changes quickly the fish tend to be less likely to show interest in your bait. If the pressure change is gradual the fish will respond favorably.

Largemouth bass are present in all sizes and fishing for them is expected to be good throughout the winter. During the winter fish become less active, their response is usually slower, and they tend to move to deeper water, though you can still find fish in the shallows year round. Try drop shot and jigging with Kastmasters and spoons. When in doubt throw a live worm on the bottom and see what bites!

It’s expected to continue being a good year for crappie and we anticipate fishing to be good. Try heading towards the Salt River arm and fishing around the submerged trees or around the newly placed habitat. Fishing for channel catfish and flathead catfish should be excellent throughout the winter. The best place to fish for trophy-size flathead is the Salt River arm along the north side of the lake.

Saguaro Lake 
Lake temperatures are cooling down from the 70s in November. Water levels this fall should be relatively stable with minimal fluctuation. See the current lake elevation. Winter trout stocking began the week of Nov. 12. Rainbow trout will be stocked into Saguaro Lake once a month through February. Check out the winter stocking schedule!

Saguaro had minor fish kills, mostly shad, related to golden algae during the spring. Saguaro was the least affected by golden algae as compared to Canyon and Apache lakes. Fish tend to be 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 pressure changes quickly the fish tend to be less likely to show interest in your bait. If the pressure change is gradual the fish will respond favorably.

Largemouth bass are present in all sizes and fishing for them is expected to be good throughout the winter. During the winter fish become less active, their response is usually slower, and they tend to move to deeper water, though you can still find fish in the shallows year round. Try drop shot and jigging with Kastmasters and spoons.

Yellow bass are abundant throughout the lake and fishing should be great. During the last fish survey in 2016 we caught multiple yellow bass larger than the current state record of 1 pound, 15.8 ounces. This lake has the ability to leave that record in the dust. Try using jigs, spoons, spinners, small crankbaits, minnows and worms. Schools of yellow bass look for groups of shad, so if the bite slows, don’t be too impatient to move off a good point you’ve located. Use sonar from a boat to locate shad groups more precisely — yellow bass are not far behind. They may be below or to the side of schools. Pitch your lure adjacent to or drop it through the school, allowing it to settle to the bottom. Many times bass take the lure on the way down and you won’t feel a bite until you reel in and tighten your line.

If you crave catfish, set your line near the bottom and use worms, minnows and chicken livers as bait. Try fishing for catfish where water flows into the lake from a side canyon, especially if the side canyon waters flow into a deep hole.

For shore anglers, try fishing along the docks and shore near the second ramp. You also can follow a trail beyond the docks that winds along a cliff from which you can fish. Butcher Jones Recreational Area is another shore-access fishing site that has a trail you can fish along as well as a side cove along the cliffs.

Tempe Town Lake (Community Fishing Program water)
Fishing at Tempe Town Lake is likely to be good. Winter trout stocking began the week of Nov. 19. Rainbow Trout will be stocked into Tempe Town Lake once a month through March. Check out the winter stocking schedule!

Around 2,000 catchable trout were stocked Nov. 20 for the “Welcome Back the Trout” event. PowerBait, corn and salmon eggs will work. Some largemouth bass can be caught dragging plastic worms slowly along the ledges, using drop-shot method, but bass fishing tends to be slow during the colder months. A good spot for bass is under and around the Highway 202 overpass on the east side of the lake near the Indian Bend Wash. Fishing with live minnows under a slip bobber is an effective way to catch yellow bass, crappie, largemouth bass, and catfish.

A 2 fish, 13-inch minimum length regulation for largemouth bass is in effect. There are plenty of bluegill and yellow bass: try using mealworms and nightcrawlers. Fishing for carp can be excellent: use dough bait or corn. Try fishing in the shaded areas under bridges.

The Community Fishing Program stocked channel catfish during the summer. To catch stocked channel catfish, try using baits on the bottom like hot dogs, bacon, nightcrawlers, shrimp, chicken livers, or stink baits.

Boating anglers beware: power boats are restricted to single electric motors and operators must have a City of Tempe annual boating permit. Proper floatation devices are required on board. The boat ramp is located on the north side of the lake near the marina. All questions regarding boating information can be answered by the Town Lake Operations Center 480 350-8625.
The following is a general description and quarterly forecast for Arizona winter fishing conditions in major public water bodies in the respective regions.

Fishing reports, updates and more, will be posted at https://www.azgfd.com/fishing/forecast/.  

Best Places for Winter Fishing in Arizona