Looking for that last family fishing outing of summer over Labor Day weekend?
Here are some tips from the Arizona Game and Fish Department to help you plan your getaway.
“Arizona is blessed with lots of great fishing lakes, in part because we are an arid state that needs lots of water impoundments,” said Rory Aikens, who compiles the weekly fishing report for Game and Fish, and the author of Arizona’s Official Fishing Guide published by Arizona Highways Magazine.
Aikens pointed out that a lot of Arizona families will be planning trips to the high country for that last summer fling, but there are also other great fishing opportunities.
“Let’s chat about the high country first. There will probably be crowds at Woods Canyon and Willow Springs, and rightly so. Both of these Rim lakes are exceptional producers and are always worth a visit, crowds or not. Get there early to get a camping spot though.”
Just down the road is an interesting creek to fish — Canyon Creek. To get there, take the Young Road off Highway 260 and keep a watch for the sign for the turn (left). It’s easy to miss.
“This fishery has a split personality — the upper reach near our Canyon Creek Hatchery has normal regulations and is what we call a put-and-take water. In other words, the trout we stock will typically be caught within a week to 10 days.
“But the lower section below the OW Bridge is catch-and-release with artificial lure and single barbless hook only. It’s a blue-ribbon fishery with some toothy browns lurking in the shadows,” Aikens said.
Be sure to stop by the hatchery. “Take along some change to buy fish food from the dispensers that look like gumball machines and feed the trout — kids love it. Heck, so do I,” Aikens said.
Another trout fishery to consider is Bear Canyon Lake. This deep canyon lake has decent shoreline access, but don’t expect to fish the bottom with your Power Bait. There is a steep drop-off along most of the shoreline. There is a slight hike into this lake, which keeps most people away. “There’s no store, no facilities other than a bathroom in the parking lot, and it is only dispersed camping nearby. In other words, I love it,” he said.
A little farther down the famous Rim Road (FR 300) is Knoll Lake.
“Knoll is our most remote trout lake where you can expect to see osprey and/or bald eagles swooping down to pluck a trout from the lake’s surface. Bring your camera and binocs! There is a small campground just up the hill from Knoll, but it normally fills fast on any given summer’s weekend. However, there’s plenty of dispersed camping opportunities for the adventurous,” Aikens advised.
A little farther west you’ll find Upper Lake Mary near Flagstaff. “We just stocked it twice with around 10,000 trout for the first time in at least a couple of decades. There are no boat motor restrictions here, so it is a great place to take the bass boat. There are also bass, walleye, northern pike, perch and channel catfish. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of fishing opportunities,” Aikens said.
Want to escape the crowds?
“Can you say Kinnickinick without smiling? Cool word, and typically a productive summer fishery. It is spring fed so it often has a nice summer bite. There are some decent brown trout here as well. It is best fished from a float tube, canoe or kayak in summer. The trout are not necessarily hanging out along the shoreline. I have been there on Labor Day weekend and seen the campground half empty,” Aikens said.
One, it’s a washboard dirt road across Anderson Mesa to get there. Two, it is visually challenged. “Instead of tall stately ponderosa pine trees shading your soul, there are wind-challenged piñon and junipers,” he said.
There are concrete tables and fire rings at the campsites. “All in all, it looks pretty bleak unless you want to get away from folks, and then it is downright beautiful,” Aikens said.
As usual, Ashurst Lake has been the region’s most productive trout fishery again this summer. The guys in the region called it “old reliable.”
“Since we are visiting Anderson Mesa, at least figuratively, let’s chat about Long Lake. This is another visually-challenged lake on the eastern edge of Anderson Mesa. When the wind is blowing, it can turn this narrow water into a frothing white-capped nightmare. Plus, it is a long drive down dusty wash-boarded roads that will make your kidneys question your sanity in going there,” Aikens said.
He added that you might even get skunked. “But on the plus side you can escape the crowds and possibly catch a 10- or 20-pound monster pike. Oh, I should mention that there are no facilities, just a concrete launch ramp that is not guaranteed to be in the water. You’d best be a self-sufficient westerner here, or maybe head somewhere else.”
On the reverse side of places like Long Lake and Kinnickinick, there is the verdant Greer Valley with all its resorts in the beautiful White Mountains. There are even places where you can eat lunch and then take a fly-fishing class. There are rustic cabins to rent, or well-appointed resorts with gourmet meals.
“The lakes are low right now (end of the irrigation season) and the Little Colorado River is probably at a low ebb, but you’ll absolutely love fishing this meandering stream,” Aikens said.
About an hour away from Greer is Arizona’s most popular trout water — Big Lake. It’s appropriately named because it is our largest high-country trout water and has the most species of trout, including rainbows, cutthroats and brookies. There might also be some residual Apache trout surviving, but they haven’t been showing up in our surveys for some time.
“Don’t expect to catch a trout limit from shore, it probably won’t happen. The fish are mostly in deeper water right now, but if you rent a boat and troll or straight line fish, you might fill your creel with lots of feisty memories,” Aikens point out.
Down the road from Big Lake is another crowd-escaping special — Reservation Lake. It’s on the White Mountain Apache Reservation, so be sure to stop at Hon-Dah and buy a tribal fishing permit.
“This lake is well worth it. Like Big Lake, you might not catch a lot of fish from shore, but since it gets so little fishing pressure, your chances are much better. This is one of the larger mountain waters and a ball to fish from a small boat. If you have a float tube, plan on getting a lot of exercise. I like the dispersed nature of the camping there, but some don’t. It is a long, washboard road to get there, however,” Aikens said.
The other reservation summer special is Hawley Lake, which does have boat rentals. Once again, you’ll need a tribal fishing permit, but this shimmering lake is almost surrounded by imposing mountains and is one of the highest elevation fishing lakes in the state.
But, any trip to the White Mountains doesn’t seem complete without a stop at Sheeps Crossing on the mighty shoulders of Mt. Baldy, the state’s second-tallest mountain.
“I love fishing the series of beaver ponds along this energetic mountain creek. We catch our own grasshoppers, cicadas and night crawlers, then use cane poles or cut some alder poles along the creek. It’s a Huckleberry Finn special,” Aikens said.
This is also a great time to visit a world-renowned trout fishery to escape the crowds. I know, that seems like a contradiction, but it’s not. This is the off-season for anglers visiting Lees Ferry in northern Arizona, but it is by no means a slow fishing time. In fact, it’s the tail end of the cicada bite and anglers are hauling in some really nice wild rainbows.
“I love the Ferry in late summer. Even though daytime temperatures can soar into triple digits at times, I have had shivering mornings with beautiful crimson-sided rainbows dancing on the end of my line while they make my reel sing with praise,” Aikens said.
Last, but certainly not least is Lake Powell.
“No matter how many times I visit Powell, it never fails to enchant me. Plus, on any given day, Powell might just provide some of the best freshwater fishing in North America,” Aikens said.
Image courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department