In Arizona, fishing doesn’t really know a season. Fish don’t hibernate, our lakes (at least in the Valley) don’t freeze, and we’re lucky enough to live in a part of the country that allows for us to fish year-round, even if it means adjusting our hours a bit.
That’s just one thing I’ve learned over the past year or so, as we outfitted each of the kids with their own rods on the condition that they knot and bait their own hooks — particularly important for me when we use live bait. Because, ew.
I’m not beyond admitting that I’m not a fan of touching red wigglers. But — and here’s another thing I learned this past year — the kids are cool with it, for the most part. A few of our little maniacs even look forward to hooking those squirmy guys. For that, I’m grateful.
As the weather turns to the time of year that is practically perfect in Arizona, it’s really an ideal time to get out, cast a line and see what happens. And if experience is worth anything, we figured it might be nice to pass along a few tips we learned along the way.
Don’t forget a license
Anyone over the age of 9 is required by Arizona Game and Fish to have a fishing license. We got a license for each of our kids at Sportsman’s Warehouse this year, and it was a bit of a moment for each of them. Think about it — a fishing license is their first official license for anything. It made them feel like they had made it. And while we were at the store, we scoped the whiteboard up front that gave a report on what was biting and where. It felt like a mini field trip.
They can do it!
This might be the biggest thing to know as a parent. Kids can knot a hook to a line, all by themselves. They can. And if you don’t know how to show them, dial up YouTube. That’s how ours learned — after we challenged them to find out for themselves. And they all know how to handle it on their own now. You’d be surprised how often they have to knot a hook in one outing.
More than once, we were guilty of running out of the house with our tackle boxes, poles, backpacks and camp chairs while forgetting how gross our hands got the last time we fished. I’d recommend a pack of wipes for every outing, even if you don’t use live bait. But they are especially handy after handling those wigglers. And what if you catch something? You need a way to tidy up. Trust us.
Switch it up
We have long days and seemingly unlimited options of where to fish, in the Valley and beyond. Try a neighborhood pond, if it’s stocked. Drop a line in the canal, but don’t bring anything home. (Salt River Project stocks the 131-mile canal system with weed-eating white amur fish to help keep the canals clean without using chemicals or machinery. Arizona fishing regulations require all white amur must be immediately released back into the water unharmed.) Hit up a local municipal park or cruise out to a nearby lake for a longer excursion. Different lakes offer different fish and different experiences.
Different bait, different times
Especially once the heat hits, try fishing at night or early in the morning. Nighttime fishing, for us, is easier. And, don’t forget to mix up the bait. We keep bright marshmallows on us all the time, the bait you find at sporting goods and discount department stores, but we’ve also used little cocktail weenies for catfish (and they totally work) and these fun, neon-looking wigglers we found at Walmart one day. They give a green hue in the water and seem to get the attention of the fish faster.
Where to fish
The Grand Canyon state offers a huge variety of angling opportunities — from its local and state parks to its many lakes, including Canyon Lake, Saguaro Lake and Apache Lake on the Salt River and Lake Pleasant north of metro Phoenix. Here are a few favorite fishing spots recommended by readers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Gilbert’s Water Ranch
The fishing lake at Water Ranch is operated by Gilbert in partnership with Arizona Game and Fish. Stocked species include rainbow trout and farm-raised channel catfish. It also contains largemouth bass and sunfish, which are catch-and-release only. Only single barbless hooks can be used, and fishing is strictly prohibited in the basins and waterways of the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, as fish in these natural habitats are not stocked and are protected. 2757 E. Guadalupe Road. 480-503-6200 or gilbertaz.gov
Veterans Oasis in Chandler
In partnership with Arizona Game and Fish, this secluded Chandler lake is stocked with rainbow trout, bluegill, redear sunfish, hybrid sunfish and largemouth bass every two weeks from mid-September through June. There are no catch-and-release requirements, but there are daily fishing limits listed on the lake’s south side. 4050 E. Chandler Heights Road, Chandler. 480-782-2752 or chandleraz.gov
Freestone Park in Gilbert
Freestone Park is a large recreation area with lighted sports courts, a miniature train, playgrounds and picnic areas. Its lakes are stocked at least six times per year with catch-and-keep fish. 1045 E. Juniper Road, Gilbert. 480-503-6200 or gilbertaz.gov
Rainbow Trout Farm
Looking for an easy first-time fishing spot? Rainbow Trout Farm (established in 1952) is in Oak Creek Canyon, at the base of Wilson Mountain, about halfway between Sedona and Slide Rock State Park. All trout are hatched from eggs and raised in fresh artesian spring water without antibiotics or hormones and are supplied to many restaurants. Here, no fishing license is required, no outside equipment is needed (or allowed), and grills and picnic tables are available. $1 per person and $8.50-$13.50 per fish. They’ll even clean your fish (50 cents per fish), and they sell $1.50 grill kits (foil, paper plate, cutlery, butter/garlic/lemon/salt/pepper) as well as snacks and drinks. 3500 N. Highway 89A, Sedona. 928-282-5799 or sedonarainbowtroutfarm.com
Rancho Tonto Catch-A-Trout in Payson
This trout farm (pictured on the April issue cover) offers a fun day of fishing or a stay-on-site fishing vacation at its guest house starting in May. Pay only for fish caught ($1 per fish and $1 per inch; no catch and release). A fishing license is not required, and there is no fishing limit. Free fish cleaning, pole rental, bait, net and bucket, packaging and ice. Handicap accessible fishing available. Call for guest house rates and reservations. 2097 N. FSR 289, Payson. 928-478-0002 or ranchotonto.com