Fishing Forecast for the White Mountains and Rim Lakes

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March 28th, 2008

Fishing Forecast for the White Mountains and Rim Lakes
By Mike Lopez
Region I Fisheries Program Manager
Winter weather in the White Mountains has left above average precipitation and high-country snowpack, already filling many lakes before spring runoff. This is great news for spring and summer trout fishing in the White Mountains and Mogollon Rim Country.

Much of the early winter precipitation came as rain and has already filled the rim lakes including Woods Canyon, Willow Springs, Chevelon, Bear Canyon, and likely Black Canyon Lake as well.

The lakes in Pinetop-Lakeside and Show Low, including Woodland Lake, Scott Reservoir, Rainbow Lake, Show Low Lake, and Fool Hollow Lake have all been full since early December.

Luna Lake and Nelson Reservoir have also been full and spilling through the winter.  The Greer lakes are now full as well.

The snowmelt runoff for watersheds draining up to 7,000 feet has just occurred leaving many of the lakes at this elevation temporarily very turbid.  However, these lakes should clear up just in time for optimum fishing temperatures and the trout stocking season, which begins in early April.

Ice-off at the higher elevation lakes is very difficult to predict, but will likely come off Big Lake and Crescent Lake in early- to mid-April in a year like this.

The interior Forest Service roads to these high elevation lakes on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest are typically closed until the ice does come off and the roads are in a condition to be traveled. Note that Highway 273 from the Forest Boundary to Crescent Lake will still be closed for construction until further notice.

Fishing can be great immediately after the ice first melts off of Big Lake. Food items for trout are usually at their lowest levels toward the end of winter because of the lack of sunlight penetrating through the ice, so the trout are hungry. Trout will become increasingly active, especially as the water temperature increases and food becomes more available.

If fishing early, avoid crossing patch ice to reach an open portion of the lake, regardless of how stable it seems. Lakes to try immediately after ice-out are Big Lake, Luna Lake, Woods Canyon Lake, Willow Springs Lake, and Chevelon Lake.

Spring fishing is usually best at Big Lake, where anglers can quickly catch their limits.  Most of these fish fall in the 10- to 12-inch range, but large rainbows and cutthroats are commonly caught in the spring and early summer at Big Lake.  Trout in the 3- to 5-pound range are not rare, and this is the one of the best bets on the mountain to catch large trout.

Fishing a medium sized spinner or spoon, or a small to medium sized Rapala should help you avoid many of the small fish. Fly-fishing or trolling with flies is also very productive. Night crawlers work very well for carry-over trout, with prepared baits like Power Bait working better for newly stocked fish.

Luna Lake and Becker Lake are good early fishing, before the ice comes off and the roads open to Big Lake.

At Becker Lake, only artificial lures and flies may be used and the limit is two fish. A regulation change nearly a year ago at Becker Lake is expected to improve catch rates and the quality of trout in the reservoir.  Fly fishermen are already catching nice rainbows in the 16- to 20-inch range.  Trout come into the shallow gravel areas near the boat ramp to spawn, usually in March and early April.

Luna Lake had some great fall fishing, with many large rainbows caught. We are looking for some of this good fishing to continue this spring.

Nelson Reservoir is another early lake worth a try for the patient angler. It may be slow in the spring by most standards as there are not many trout left in the lake through the winter, but all the trout in this lake will be large, in the 2- to 3-pound range until it is stocked sometime after the lake stops spilling. 

Unfortunately Crescent and Carnero Lakes are expected to winterkill this year.  There has been thick ice and a good snow pack on top of that, cutting off light penetration into the lake and interfering with oxygen production.

Winter surveys found very low levels of oxygen in February, with two months of ice cover left, likely not enough for fish survival.  These lakes will be restocked immediately and we expect good fishing for stocker trout in the summer and 14-inch trout by fall. 

The good news is that Crescent and Big lakes are expected to catch some water, raising the lakes from chronically low levels. They are not expected to fill, but any increase is a blessing. Higher water levels should maintain better water quality further into the summer. The weeds should be knocked back by the long ice cover, further helping conditions into the summer at Crescent and Carnero.

A number of lakes that have not been stocked in the last 10 years because of drought conditions are now full.  We will be attempting to reallocate some hatchery fish so that these waters can be stocked with rainbow trout or channel catfish, depending upon the lake.  We anticipate these waters to add to the long list of angler opportunities in the White Mountains, but can’t identify them just yet.

Anglers should concentrate on lakes during the spring, as the creeks and rivers will be running high with snowmelt, which is usually turbid. Start fishing early at Becker Lake, Luna Lake, Nelson Reservoir, and Scott Reservoir.

In early to mid April, look for higher elevation lakes to open, including Big Lake, Woods Canyon Lake, Willow Springs Lake, and Chevelon Lake (you can now access Chevelon via Winslow).

As a word of caution, spring fishing can be very windy in the White Mountains. If the winds are very strong, you may want to avoid the lakes that have no tree cover and use common sense while boating in these conditions. Come prepared for cold conditions. 

Trout stocking begins in April at most lakes if conditions allow it. Normal flows usually return to the streams and rivers by May and stocking then commences in Silver Creek, West Fork Black River, East Fork Black River, and Little Colorado River in Greer on a weekly basis through the summer.

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