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Arizona's Alamo

Arizona's Alamo

It's time to remember the other Alamo -- Alamo Lake in central Arizona. Bass are back after years of devastating drought. (April 2008)

This is the typical size for most largemouth bass in Arizona's Alamo Lake. Bruce Fritz hooked this one on a watermelon-colored Yum Craw Papi.

Photo by Tony Mandile.

In 1836, a garrison of about 200 Americans, including Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, died fighting to free Texas from the control of Mexico. The site of the 13-day battle with General Antonio López de Santa Anna's Mexican army was a Spanish mission -- the now-famous landmark known as the Alamo in San Antonio.

Since that bloody encounter occurred, the phrase "Remember the Alamo" has become as prominent in history as "I shall return," uttered by Gen. Douglas MacArthur during World War II.

But repeat, "Remember the Alamo" to an Arizona angler, and if he was around during the 1970s, you'll likely get a much different reaction. That's when Alamo Lake, located in the west-central part of the state, furnished some of the state's best bass fishing. Its fertile waters consistently produced 10-fish catches weighing 35 pounds, and bigger bass between 6 and 10 pounds were common.

Those days disappeared with the arrival of a long drought that affected many of the state's fisheries. But recent reports suggest it might again be time to remember the Alamo.

Rory Aikens is a public information officer for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. He often fishes Alamo and said fishing at the lake has improved dramatically, especially if you're after numbers rather than size.

"Most will be in the 3/4- to 1 1/2-pound range," he said. "But I always seem to hook one or two larger fish on every trip."


Situated in the Bill Williams River Valley where the Big Sandy and Santa Maria rivers come together, Alamo Lake was originally designed as a flood-control project by the Bureau of Reclamation. The dam was completed in 1968. When filled to the spillway crest, the lake would cover more than 17,000 acres with a maximum depth of 80 feet.

Over the last two decades, except for one or two years of above-average moisture, the surface area has been a lot less than that. When the winter run-off is normal, the lake's surface area averages between 8,000 and 9,000 acres.

This up-and-down pattern of water level led to an agreement between various agencies to keep the lake filled to where it is more favorable to both fish and wildlife in the area. The joint effort between the AGFD, Arizona State Parks, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Corps of Engineers -- which controls the dam -- has helped the fishing by maintaining a higher water level during the spring months when the largemouth bass spawn.

In 1968, the AGFD stocked Alamo with the northern strain of largemouth bass. But the fishing declined in the 1980s. The fisheries folks put into effect a slot limit that mandated the release of any bass between 12 and 16 inches long.

The rule worked well for a few years. Then along came a couple of those excellent above-moisture years. Huge spawns of bass took place.

Coupled with other factors such as lower water levels in subsequent years, the overpopulation of fish began producing dire consequences. The forage base declined, and the effects quickly showed up in the form of stunted bass.

Consequently, the AGFD adjusted the slot size, making it 13 to 16 inches. Unlike the old slot rule, this one allows fisherman to keep one fish that falls within the slot, with a total daily limit of six bass that can also include those under or over the slot limit.

In other words, the daily bag now allows for six fish of any size, as long as only one measures between 13 and 16 inches. For the total daily bag, any combination of smaller or larger fish, with no slot fish, is also legal.

The possession limit is 12, with the same criteria as if it were two separate daily limits.PRIME HABITAT
Alamo contains plenty of prime habitat. There are huge stands of underwater brush, steep and rocky shorelines, large downed trees, flat weedy shallows and long sloping points. All of them harbor fish. Much of the lake's upper end comprises big shallow flats and numerous fishy-looking coves. Brush patches dot the flats and a few of the coves, such as Date Creek and Kaiser washes. The main lake has everything from large coves and long sloping points to deep-water areas. This mixture provides good shallow-water fishing with surface lures or spinnerbaits in the morning and evening -- and during the warmer parts of the day, deep fishing off the points or steep banks with crankbaits or plastics.

During the winter months and right up to the spawn, which normally begins in March and often runs into April, rocky shorelines near the dam can also be good.

Especially productive in these areas are crankbaits or plastic worms and jigs in dark colors. For many anglers, the early spring months are the best times to catch bass.

Because Alamo is a low-elevation desert lake, the spawn usually begins several weeks before other warm-water fisheries in central Arizona. Once the major winter weather disappears, the air and water temperatures could both climb quickly.

During late February or early March, it's common to hit a low in the 40s at night and then have the temperature climb into the mid-80s or above during the day. When that happens, the water also warms quickly, and the fish get very active.

Jim Warnecke once ran a store at Alamo. Now he usually fishes water from 10 to 20 feet deep before the fish go into their spawning ritual.

"While living at the lake, I kept a daily log of my fishing activity," he said recently, "and crankbaits dominate the list for the bass I caught."

Warnecke said a No. 5 Shad Rap in crawdad colors accounted for many of the larger bass he landed.

Although he fishes the coves occasionally, Warnecke does most of his cranking on the outside points. He'll normally run over an area with his graph to see what kind of fish are holding where. If he finds a decent concentration of bass, he'll move off to the deeper water parallel to the point itself and throw his crankbait across the point.

Jim Weller is another Alamo regular. "It really doesn't matter what crankbait I use as long as it runs at the right depth."

But color is also very important, he said. Either a crawdad pattern or one with black and chartreuse always seems to catch the most fish, he said.

The bass also feed heavily on Alamo's huge bluegill population, so he sometimes throws a Punkin Seed with good success. In water from 10 to 15 feet deep, his choices are a Bagley DKB, Deep Vee R, Fat Rap, or a Cordell Spot. Buzzbaits can also be productive at this time of year.

The bass tend to move in and out of the shallows during the day, he said. "So when I get on the lake, I often throw a buzzbait right up against the banks in the larger coves, especially in areas where the brush sticks out of the water.

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