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Arizona's Big 3

Arizona's Big 3

If you plan on fishing Arizona's Big 3 -- Powell, Havasu and Roosevelt -- now's the time for the biggest bass and the most bites. (March 2010)

If you could start at Lake Havasu in March, fish there for a week, then hit Lake Roosevelt and finish up at Lake Powell, it would be a fishing trip of a lifetime.
Photo by Mark Lassagne.

Arizona hosts some of the most beautiful bodies of water in the country. Three big Grand Canyon State lakes in particular share excellent fishing opportunities, especially in the springtime. If you could start at Lake Havasu in March, fish there for a week, then hit Lake Roosevelt and finish up at Lake Powell, it would be a fishing trip of a lifetime.

In February, the water climbs from the high 40s to the mid-50s and both smallmouths and largemouths make their move shallow. Though there are always fish in the river, the most active fish this time of year will be in the main lake from the mouth of the Colorado just above Windsor to the Bill Williams area.

Hooked Up Outfitters guide Josh Bertrand said that the 60-degree mark is the turning point when these desert fish start to spawn. And if there's a full moon, the smallies and largemouths will be flocking to the bank.

"If the water is from 56 to 60 degrees, look for the fish to be on main-lake points in submerged timber and near the manmade structures," he said.

Targeting these fish is not too difficult. If you have some wind, reaction baits are the way to go. Try a Lucky Craft Pointer 78 in Ghost Minnow, Pepper Spinnerbaits in shad colors and the famous brown mud craw Speed Trap. Swimbaits work here, too -- Baitsmith Mad Gil, Mission Fish in white and the Baby E in bluegill.

When the wind dies down, Bertrand switches to a finesse rig.


A drop shot is my go-to bait. I use a Roboworm Hologram Shad, morning dawn or Aaron's Magic.

Bertrand said to add a little chartreuse to the skirt of your spinnerbait for few more bites, especially with smallies.

March can be all "feast" if you hit it just right. When the water hits that magic 60-degree mark, the smallies are the first to head to the bank and are easily caught. Main-lake north-facing banks with good bottom composition and some shallow water is the right recipe for spawning smallmouths. Once you find one of the brown sunbathing beauties, toss in a drop-shot rig with a wacky-rigged 6-inch Aaron's Magic or a brown sculpin.

For more info on Bertrand and other Havasu guides, visit or call (623) 412-3474.

Powell is a giant. It stretches through two states, is 180 miles long and has 1,900 miles of shoreline. It's the second-largest manmade lake in the U.S. (after Lake Mead) and one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

Lake Powell has changed for the better over the last few years. With the lake rising 50 feet, there's an array of flooded tamarack brushes and some cottonwood trees.

In addition, there has been an influx of gizzard shad from the San Juan River. They've replaced the depleted threadfin population and supplemented bass' diet.

Ron Colby, B.A.S.S. and FLW pro angler and operations manager for Yamamoto Baits, said the smallmouth bass here are different than anywhere else. In the spring, after a just a few days of sunshine, the water warms to 58 degrees. The otherwise barren shoreline comes alive.

"It seems like only a few days ago when the lake seemed like a dry desert," said Colby. "There was not a fish in sight. Now you can't keep them off your hook."

With most lakes, there is a gradual increase but not here. When the water warms, it's just "on" and everywhere the entire lake is good, he said.

Though many types of baits that will work here with a little wind or clouds, I go to reaction baits like: Lucky Craft Stacey 90s in shad patterns and cranks like the Damiki DC 200 in Ghost Smog, Norman DD22 in both shad and craw colors.

Colby suggests a Pepper 1/2-ounce spinnerbait in shad or chartreuse and white for working through the brush and trees.

When the sun comes out and the reaction bite dies, the Senko is always a go-to bait no matter what body of water you're on.

Some other good baits at Lake Powell are Pepper Football Jigs in green and brown with a matching Flappin' Hog trailer, or a football head with a Yamamoto Spider Grub in brown and green.

During the springtime, it's not uncommon to hook a few nice crappies while bass fishing, especially if you're using a small jighead with a grub in cinnamon green or all chartreuse.

Powell fishes big this time of year, so launch wherever is convenient for you.

If you're looking for smallies, try the north-facing banks on the main lake. If you're targeting largemouths, work into the coves to fish the steep walls and in the creek channels. Look for the banks with the most sun and some protection. Don't forget to check the backs of the coves for running water and submerged cottonwood trees. These spots are key for big bass.

Wayne Gustaveson, the fisheries biologist for Lake Powell, has a comprehensive Web site about the lake. It's at

Lake Roosevelt sits at 2,250 feet of elevation with 122 miles of shoreline and 22,000 acres of fishable water. Without the roads and boats you might think you're back in the Wild West. Lake Roosevelt is a bass haven of flooded timber, brush, creeks, ledges and islands.

Lake Roosevelt, like the other lakes, turns on in late March into April when the water hits the 58- to 60-degree range.

However, unlike the others, Rosey is a flipping bonanza. When the snow melts, the water runs muddy down the Salt River and causes these fish to go shallow.

Areas like Cottonwood, Cougar, School House and Meddler points can be stacked, said professional Roosevelt guide Tom Morton.

Even though the Salt runs cooler than the Tonto, the water is murky and it creates a better bite. Expect to catch good numbers of slot fish (between 13-16 inches). But with recent limits running more than 20 pounds for five fish, be prepared for some big bites.

Flip creature baits like Brush Hog, Beavers and Pocket Craws in craw colors in the brush and laydown trees that line almost the entire shoreline.

But Morton, who is a full-time guide on Rosey, also had a warning: Don't get too caught up in all the brush. Instead concentrate on the areas near the points.

When the weather changes, the fish will move in and out of the brush and school up on ledges. Target these bass with deep cranks like Norman DD22 and 14s. Or slow-roll a shad spinnerbait. Additionally, swimbaits like a Skinny Dipper and 6-inch hollow bodies in shad color can be deadly along these ledges.

For more information, call Morton at (602) 828-2582.

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