The Reel Life in Arizona

By: Karl Samson

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June 5, 2012

From convenient urban lakes to the shores of the mighty Colorado River, Arizona's fishing destinations lure anglers with the promise of a sporting time and the possibility of a monster catch.

About the author

Karl Samson

Karl Samson

Although he lives in Oregon, for more than 20 years Karl Samson has been escaping his home state's rainy winter weather to dry out in sunny Arizona. He is the author of the Frommer's Arizona guidebook and has also written about Arizona for Sunset magazine.

Arizona may be better known for cacti and canyons, but it’s also home to lunker bass, fighting trout and monster catfish.

Whether you want to strap on waders and fly-fish, spin-cast from shore or do a bit of deep-water trolling, there’s an Arizona fishing hole waiting for you here.

Fish the Colorado River

The split personality of the Colorado River – from its string of lakes to its free-flowing waters – provides a wide range of fishing opportunities stretching across Northern Arizona and down the state’s western boundary.

At Lake Powell, hook into giant striped bass while marveling at wave-washed sandstone cliffs and buttes.

The largest striped bass caught here weighed a whopping 48 pounds 11 ounces, so be sure to bring the heavy test line. Giant stripers are also among the most sought-after fish in Lake Havasu.

While summertime air temperatures at Lees Ferry can peak near the 100° mark, the Colorado River waters here rarely make it above the high 50s.

Originating behind Glen Canyon Dam, which forms Lake Powell, these cool, clear waters have become legendary for some of the best rainbow trout fishing in the country.

If you want to make sure you catch the early morning bite, spend the night at the Lees Ferry Campground, which is at the base of scenic Vermilion Cliffs.

Clear, cold waters also flow through Black Canyon just downstream from Hoover Dam.

As at Lees Ferry, the rainbow trout here grow to trophy sizes. To fish the waters where the 21-pound state-record rainbow trout was caught, launch a boat at the Willow Beach Marina (rentals available) and head upstream.

If you don’t catch any fish, you can at least soak away your sorrows at one of the Colorado River hot springs hidden deep within Black Canyon.

Arizona’s Mighty Catfish

Farther down the Colorado, test your skills against monster catfish in Topock Marsh, which is within Lake Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. Cast your line at Catfish Paradise for the best shot at reeling in the whiskered bottom-feeders.

Back in 1998, the waters behind the lower Colorado River’s Laguna Dam north of Yuma produced the state record flathead catfish, a behemoth that weighed in at 74 pounds.

While the channel catfish stocked each summer in the lagoons at Dead Horse Ranch State Park are quite a bit smaller than that, they still offer some of the summer’s best Verde River fishing.

Mountain Lake Trout

Even in the middle of an Arizona summer, you can while away a day fishing from the shore of a mountain lake amid the cool pines.

Rose Canyon, a Mount Lemmon lake, beckons anglers to make the short drive from Tucson to this cool mountain retreat to test their luck.

Fish for rainbow trout atop the Mogollon Rim not far from Payson, where a string of fishing lakes was constructed in the 1950s and 1960s.

If fly-fishing is your sport, head to the lakes of Greer and the stretch of the Little Colorado River that flows through this White Mountains hamlet.

Cast a Line in Town

Of course, there’s no need to make a trip up a mountain simply to get your line wet.

In the Phoenix metro area, you can head to one of 16 lakes and ponds that are part of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Urban Fishing Program.

These fishing holes – scattered from Gilbert to Surprise – are stocked with channel catfish and are great places to introduce the kids to the world of fishing.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department manages a statewide fishing report to keep anglers abreast of what’s biting and where.

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