Don’t let the dry climate fool you! Sports fishers in every corner of the state have year-round opportunities to pick up a rod. This centennial year is already becoming a year of record catches: anglers have pulled in a 34-pound striper, 16.75 inch long redear sunfish, and prime Gila trout and bass.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) manages over 355,000 acres of lakes, ponds, and reservoirs and close to 3,000 miles of rivers containing 27 types of game fish. Eight coolwater and nineteen warm water species splash in the waters of the White Mountains, Mogollon Rim, Colorado Plateau, and artificial lakes throughout southern Arizona. The Colorado River and its reservoirs boast world-class fishing where an angler can catch several species of bass and catfish, crappie, bullhead, tilapia, sunfish, carp, and crayfish.
Though Arizona’s waters are too warm for most trout breeding, a successful hatchery keeps lakes stocked on a near weekly basis from May to November with six types of trout. In addition, 21 urban lakes are managed in partnership with the municipal parks association for fishing closer to home. A valid license is required for taking wildlife (including fish) in Arizona. AZGFD sells a variety of licenses online.
For excellent fishing, The Arizona Office of Tourism recommends these tried and true locations:
The White Mountains
At 11,000 feet in elevation, the refreshing lakes and rivers of the White Mountains are the perfect place to fish for bass, catfish and trout from the banks or from small watercraft. Anglers can challenge themselves to complete a White Mountains Trout Slam with the six species (rainbow, cutthroat, Apache, brook, brown, and Arctic grayling) that live in region’s rivers and watering holes. Big Lake, located about 30 miles south of Springerville in Apache County, is a traditional favorite, but exciting opportunities are found in Show Low Lake near Pinetop and state parks like Fool’s Hollow Lake.
The Imperial Reservoir
Head upriver through the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge on Arizona’s West Coast for largemouth bass that weigh in at more than twelve pounds.
Lees Ferry is a world-class, year round trout fishery and a beautiful spot on the Colorado River at the head of the Grand Canyon, near Page, Arizona.
Lower Colorado River
The numerous lakes and backwaters of the Colorado River near the Yuma area draw sportsfishers all year long. Bass is the most popular catch in these waters that can be fished from shore or by boat.
Care of Native Species
Despite careful management, Arizona's natural heritage, represented by our native fishes, is in danger of being lost. Of 35 native fish species, almost three-quarters are federally listed or candidates for listing as species of concern. The Santa Cruz pupfish, once splashing in the Gila, Santa Cruz, San Pedro, and Salt rivers as well as the lower Colorado River, is already extinct.
However, healthy riparian areas can restore native fish populations. In the 1950’s, habitat degradation combined with competition and interbreeding reduced the population of native Gila trout to fewer than 20 stream miles. After decades of careful attention by AZGFD, fourteen populations of Gila trout are surviving in the wild, and recently limited recreational fishing has been reintroduced. Gila trout are vulnerable to population decline by forest fire and interbreeding with exotic fish, but cooperation and care can continue to stabilize their population.
Arizona’s sport fishers hold the key to the continued health of its game fish. The AZGFD has indicated that successful sportfish management and native fish management go hand in hand, stating, “To be successful at sportfish management the department must be successful at conserving native fishes.” Sports fishers can help increase the vitality of threatened species and ensure a healthy supply of game fish by advocating for conservation of riparian areas.
Find more great fishing spots! Arizona's Official Fishing Guide: 181 Top Fishing Spots, Directions, and Tips by Rory Aikens in partnership with Arizona Fish and Game Department and Arizona Highways, is available at the Arizona Experience Store.