An off-the-charts bait spawn. Phenomenal bass grow-outs. New flooded territory. In Alamo, Bartlett, Pleasant and Roosevelt reservoirs, Arizona's got some of the best bass fishing in the West. (February 2007)
Alamo Reservoir is often the first place in the state where bass spawn. So if the weatherman says there's a high-pressure dome over Arizona this time of year, drop everything and head to Alamo for a day of fishing to remember.
Photo courtesy of Rory Aikens.
Oil up your reels, and set your drag for line-stripping action this year at Arizona's fabulous four -- Roosevelt, Alamo, Bartlett and Pleasant reservoirs. These top-of-the-line waters will provide some of the best bassin' in the West this year.
We are now two productive years out from when each one took in major influxes of water and nutrients during the record-setting winter-spring runoff of 2004-05.
Two years ago, spawns for threadfin shad and largemouth bass were off the charts. Fish grow-outs have continued to be phenomenal. The vast legions of football-shaped yearlings that bass anglers saw last year will be pushing 2 and 3 pounds this year at all four reservoirs. Also expect the long parade of lunkers to increase this year -- especially at Roosevelt, Alamo and Pleasant.
ALAMO: EARLY-BIRD SPECIAL
Alamo Lake, in the desert west of Wickenburg, offers an annual early-bird special: It typically has the first bass and crappie spawns of any lake in the state. We've routinely found bass on beds in early February. It's not out of the question to find bass staging for the spawn during those late-January bluebird days.
Weather and runoff are the keys. Storms can change the early-bird equation, as it did two years ago when Alamo rose to near-record levels. When the state experiences a high-pressure dome in late January or anytime in February, drop everything and immediately head for Alamo -- you'll have fishing to remember.
What many anglers really like about Alamo is the opportunity to drop any attempts at subtlety and fish with some attitude. You can put aside the willowy drop-shot rig and grab some heavy timber -- the big flippin' stick -- and go rearrange some habitat. Yeah!
The bass will often move up into the thick trees and brush where the Bill Williams River enters the lake. It can be flippin' and pitchin' heaven in that thick, tangled jungle. But keep those cute little drop-shot outfits handy for the bass staging off the major lake points or along dropoffs.
Or you can take a page from my friend Mark Knapp, who is a park ranger at Alamo. Mark prefers Texas-rigged 4-inch lizards with a small bullet weight (no peg). This outfit can be deadly at times. The February bass are often targeting crayfish scurrying across the bottom, and that 4-inch lizard is "matching the hatch," as the flyfishers would say.
When you cast these small baits, keep a close watch as they fall through the water. Bass often will hit them on their way down. Look for the line moving sideways, set the hook and shout, "Fish on!"
ROOSEVELT: THE BEST
Can you say "The best in the West"? That's what to expect at Roosevelt Lake. This remarkable fishery, just 90 miles from downtown Phoenix, is on the verge of greatness.
This is the second year of the new-lake syndrome for Roosevelt, which is the state's largest inland lake. The dam had been raised 60 feet.
Two years ago, Roosevelt Lake filled to its new 19,000-surface-acre capacity for the first time, flooding around 6,000-plus acres of prime upper Sonoran habitat with nutrient-rich, chocolate-colored waters. The rising lake also inundated a huge cottonwood gallery and submerged most of an immense mesquite bosque where the Tonto Creek had formerly entered the lake.
All this has created a jungle of fishing opportunities. Since it filled, Roosevelt has been undergoing a bass and shad explosion of major proportions. Although spring runoff last year was below par, the intense summer rains resulted in unprecedented runoff, and the lake level rose again.
That sets the stage for this year: Normal runoff will result in lots of vegetation being inundated, again.
Above-normal runoff? It boggles a bass-fisher's mind to think about the possibilities.
"Rosey," as anglers affectionately call the reservoir, put big smiles on anglers' faces last year. Expect those smiles to get even bigger this year. In fact, Rosey is only going to get better in the next several years, barring severe drought. Even then, a drought can only delay the inevitable, but can't stop it.
Roosevelt will likely provide the best largemouth bass catch rates in the state again, especially for fat football-shaped yearling bass that once hooked, routinely put on tail-dance shows.
That's not all.
Last year, the local game warden, Jimmy Simmons, was also seeing something else: lots of lunkers. And he had plenty of opportunity to witness the fishing success. When Jimmy isn't on duty, he's fishing Rosey in his bass boat. He has his fingers on the pulse of this dynamic lake.
So don't be bashful. Go get acquainted, if you aren't already. Once you do, it won't be long before you'll be singing love songs to Rosey just like the rest of us bassin' addicts.
By the way, don't forget that Rosey has a 13- to 16-inch slot limit. Those slot fish are the prime breeders for the bright future at Rosey.
SAY 'HALO' TO BARTLETT
Bartlett has had a water halo hanging over it for about half a decade.
Unlike most other major bass reservoirs in the state, Bartlett has benefited from good spring flows during four years of the past five. That means Bartlett has some strong age-classes of shad and bass stacked up and waiting like cordwood.
A unique attribute for this productive bass fishery on the Verde River is its sister lake, Horseshoe, which the Salt River Project uses for flood retention. But this sister lake gives us anglers something else: a great bass and shad nursery to feed Bartlett.
Bartlett is deeper and holds a larger volume of water. But Horseshoe has more surface acreage. Since Horseshoe is a large, shallow bowl, it provides superb spawning grounds.
During 2005, Horseshoe filled up -- several times. Each time it filled
, its water was slowly released into Bartlett. During the prime spawning period, however, Horseshoe was lowered only gradually. This nursery produced a magnificent spawn.
This dynamic duo has resulted in providing anglers with some of the state's best catch rates for 1- and 2-pound bass during the past five years, and enough 3-pounders to keep life interesting. But don't expect a big parade of lunkers. For some reason, Bartlett just doesn't produce the hawgs often found at the other lakes.
However, it is one of the state's best early-season lakes, at least in those years when raging floods aren't roaring down the Verde watershed.
In spring, Bartlett is the best lake around for spinnerbaits. Be sure to put on a trailer and slow-roll your spinnerbait along primary and secondary points. Sometimes the bass are inches from the shore, but don't limit yourself just to casting straight into the shoreline. Also try using a diagonal approach, or even casting perpendicular across an extended point.
Two years ago, Pleasant was super-charged with nutrients and is still off to the races. Anglers this year can once again expect some big bass surprises -- that is, whenever they get baits past voracious 2-year-old striped bass.
Back in the early '90s, after the dam was raised so the lake could hold Colorado River water from the Central Arizona Project Canal, Pleasant went through the new-lake syndrome and was producing so many big hawgs it was making Jimmy Dean green with envy. The parade of big ones has since trailed off dramatically. And then two years ago, the Agua Fria River did an imitation of the mighty Colorado River at flood stage. The lake went from its typical winter low to being full, seemingly overnight.
The influx of nutrients super-charged the biotic system, but something else happened. For more than a decade, Pleasant was not allowed to fill all the way to the 1,702 mark, its maximum level. Two years ago it did, flooding a band of vegetation that had seen water only once. The lake level was held at the 1,702 mark well past all the bass and shad spawns.
The result is that the parade of hawgs is back, although this time it's a much smaller showing. But you have to admit, the expectation of hooking into a hard-pulling 5- to 10-pound bass on any cast makes life more exciting.
Keep in mind that because Pleasant is filled every year with crystal-clear CAP water, it can be drop-shotting heaven. The clear water is also superb for spotting bass on their spawning beds.