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I had barely posted the fishing report when Victoria at the Black Canyon Ranger District sent me a note that all their roads — including the FS 300 Road (the Rim Road) are now open, and all Rim lakes are accessible. Things change quickly this time of year.
It’s time, just grab a pole, some tackle and go.
With springtime temperatures soaring in the deserts, it’s definitely time for a cool high country trout adventure with the family – there were sure lots of folks visiting the Mogollon Rim lakes last Saturday.
Most mountain roads to the lakes and streams are now open, with a few exceptions (Lee Valley and Carnero were not accessible as of April 21). The top fishing spots are Woods Canyon, Willow Springs, Big Lake, and Lower Lake Mary. But in reality, just pick your favorite lake and go (if it is accessible). The only bad choice right now is to stay home and miss out.
As I have been fond of saying for the past several months, thanks to so many lakes filling and spilling for the second year in a row, we may see the best fishing so far this century. That is, if the wind will quit trying to blow us into the neighboring states.
Most of the premier mountain lakes have been stocked, but those anglers getting in on the early-spring action also have a prime opportunity to catch larger hold-over trout with crisp, pink flesh like salmon. It’s gourmet meal catching time.
A pair of anglers I chatted with at Willow Springs Lake this past weekend said half the fish they caught were pink-fleshed holdovers. It made my stomach growl in anticipation, but I was working and didn’t have much opportunity to catch a nice one.
By the way, we stock most of the popular trout lakes on a routine basis from now through the fall, with the exception of Big Lake, where we employ a different stocking strategy. For BIG we blitz it with masses of sub-catchable fish a couple of strategic times a year so the fish can grow to catchable size in this large, deep productive lake. Therefore, at Big Lake you will mostly catch feisty wild-like trout. The store is open at Big Lake and there are boats to rent.
I talked with Rick at the Big Lake Store (yes, they are renting boats). Anglers are doing well using either worms or salmon eggs. He said the water is way too cold (38-40 F) for Power Bait to work well, and the trout are a little lethargic, which means lures won’t work as well.
The rainbows have not started spawning yet at Big Lake (and probably not at most of the high mountain lakes), but the mature females are full of eggs. That’s something to keep in mind, because salmon eggs are certainly the bait of choice during the spawn, and not just rainbows, but cuts, brookies and Apaches as well (at least at Big Lake). If you use spinners or other lures, you might want to tip the hooks with eggs. Keep that in mind at the other mountain lakes as well.
Woods Canyon Lake is the only lake along the Mogollon Rim with boat rentals. In fact, it was a carnival-like atmosphere as most anglers experienced their first high country outing. The store is open and as of last weekend, was doing a booming business.
By the way, there are still large swaths of deep snow in the shady areas around the lake, which meant lots of snow ball fights for the kids. It was great watching the bald eagles swooping down to catch fish, or to take fish away from the osprey that caught the fish. We saw the eagles at both Woods and Willow Springs.
We didn’t get over the Chevelon or Black Canyon lakes, but we did talk to anglers who had. Black Canyon, as usual, was producing best for those trolling in boats using spinners, flies, or Super Dupers. Chevelon is not shore-angler friendly, but the fly anglers using float tubes I talked to did well on the non-windy days. The creek above and below Chevelon is also worth trying right now – the rainbows will either be staging for the spawn, or heading up creek to spawn. The browns will get in on the action to ambush the smaller ‘bows or to slurp some roe.
Last weekend, the night sky in the mountains was spectacular. The dark of the moon is April 24. Also, if you are in the outdoors anywhere this weekend, check out the night sky for shooting stars (meteors entering earth’s atmosphere). Our planet is entering a stream of debris from Comet Thatcher, the source of the annual Lyrid Meteor Shower.
Forecasters expected the shower to peak on Wednesday, April 22, with a display of 10 to 20 meteors per hour over the northern hemisphere, but you main still see some this weekend. Visit http://spaceweather.com for more information. Seeing shooting stars from a boat on the water or along a shoreline at night is an experience you won’t forget.
This is a great time to fish at night for crappie in the warmwater lakes, such as Roosevelt, Alamo and Bartlett. With the moonless sky, you should be able to attract plankton, which will attract shad, which will attract predatory sport-fish such as crappie and bass. It’s the typical food-chain affect, and you can be top of the food chain (and proud of it).
Keep in mind that the crappie spawn at all the desert lakes (except Powell) is most likely over, so they will be easier to catch at night than during the day.
For largemouth bass, we have passed the apex of the spawn, although there will continue to be plenty of bass spawning for the next month or so and it will be possible for several months to find isolated spawners.
This is the time to also target active post-spawn bass along the main lake points, islands or reefs, but you might find bass chasing shad in the coves at first and last light as well.
The various fronts blasting through the state made fishing conditions challenging at times the last several weeks, but if the weather prognosticators are correct, we are in for some warmer, milder weather. We might just see the post-spawn bite take off.
There is an old saying – when the Palo Verde trees are in full bloom, it’s topwater time. Right now, bright yellow is my favorite color – it’s time to walk-the-dog, especially at first and last light. But it may be possible to find bass actively chasing shad at or near the surface at some place on the lake any hour of the day (and possibly at night as well).
Roosevelt has got to be the hot spot this weekend. But the action for striped bass and largemouth bass at Pleasant can sometimes shift the top honors to that busy lake. Both Bartlett and Alamo are also top contenders on any given day.
As a side note, recent water samples taken and analyzed from Apache, Canyon and Saguaro showed no golden alga. That is good news, but it doesn’t mean this alga has been eradicated from these waters, just that in the many areas sampled it didn’t show up. Also, samples from Roosevelt continue not to show golden alga there.
Action should also be heating up at Havasu, Mohave, Mead and Powell. In fact, Powell could be providing some of the best striper fishing in the United States the next couple of weeks or so. The spawn is underway at Powell. Get there if you can (read the report).
As you have probably guessed, it should all be pretty good right now. Hopefully, the blustery weather is gone, but if it isn’t, there is all the more reasons to enjoy what we have while we have it.
I had a fishing guide named Jim Brady who works the White Mountain Apache Reservation lakes drop by the office this week. Hopefully, he’ll be able to pull together a weekly fishing report with tips for those wonderful trout lakes as well. You’ll need the tribal fishing permit, but there are some superb lakes to fish there.
Good luck. Maybe I’ll see you out there.