The great rampart of the Mogollon Rim divides the waters — determining the shape of the major watersheds of Arizona. As a result, Rim Country boasts some of the most diverse fishing, boating, swimming and splashing about opportunities in the Southwest. The region boasts both the most popular trout streams in Arizona and a nationally ranked bass fishing tournament on Roosevelt Lake. That’s reflected in the great variety of lakes, every single one of them man made.
Much of the rain that falls on Arizona passes through Rim Country, including water that ends up in the state’s major rivers. The Rim catches storms, extracts the rain and snow, hoards it through the winter and releases it through the spring.
Early settlers took advantage of that terrain to build a network of dams that would hold the water back, rather than letting it run on down into the thirsty desert.
As a result, the Rim Country offers easy access to both high-altitude trout lakes and the bass fishing and boating joys of Roosevelt Lake, with its shoreline saguaros and water storage sufficient to see Phoenix through major droughts.
Bass fishing tournaments attest to Roosevelt Lake’s status as one of the best fisheries in the country. Last year, the lake attracted three different professional bass tournaments, including a stop on the prestigious FLW tour. Meanwhile, generations of heat seared Phoenix residents have escaped to the lakes above 7,500 feet as an essential rite of summer.
Green Valley Lakes
Payson operates a chain of lakes set in an expansive park, complete with stocked fish, picnic ramadas a bandstand, a war memorial and historical museum. Payson uses treated
wastewater to fill this chain of lakes in Green Valley Park. People enjoy the lake year-round
in non-motorized boats and sailboats and fish for stocked trout and sometimes giant catfish.
Bear Canyon Lake
A fisherman’s favorite, this 60-acre lake holds rainbows, brookies, cutthroat and arctic grayling. A steep trail limits access to the hardy, just right for keeping the crowds down. The contrast between the blue water and green pines is absolutely stunning.
At nearly 8,000 feet, this cool country lake covers 75 acres and features stocked rainbows and browns, plus a campground. Try fishing from the shoreline that runs from the boat ramp toward the island.
Willow Springs Lake
Easy access, a paved boat ramp and a campground make this lake popular. Fish the upper ends of the two long coves that form the “Y” in the lake for rainbows and brown trout.
Woods Canyon Lake
Dammed in 1956, the store at this lake sells more fishing licenses than any other spot in Arizona. The lake offers boat rentals, a picnic area, five campgrounds, and nature trails — plus loads of stocked trout. The best fishing is in the spring and fall, but summer is good too. A pair of bald eagles has started to nest at the lake, delighting visitors but also prompting the Game and Fish Department to close off a section of the lakeshore during the nesting season.
Black Canyon Lake
An idyllic spot where bank casting after rainbows and browns is a productive way to spend a day. The lake has a paved ramp and a campground.
Blue Ridge Reservoir
This narrow man-made lake that covers 200 acres when full, also fills up with rainbows and browns. Always a good bet early in the spring.
A steep trail thins out the potential crowds at this 200- acre lake, which winds back through canyon walls. The biggest fish on top of the Rim live here, but catching them
usually involves floaters and a stiff hike.
A half-hour drive from Payson, the biggest reservoir on the Salt River system remains one of Arizona’s favorite water playgrounds. It also offers some of the best bass fishing in the country, especially during high-water years when the lake covers shore-side vegetation, creating the “new lake” effect sought so eagerly by bass and catfish lovers. The lake covers 19,000 surface acres and is 25 miles long and up to two miles wide.
The lake is home to large- and smallmouth bass, crappie, channel and flathead catfish, and is a playground for water skiing, sailing, wind surfing, jet skiing and swimming.
The wet winter in 2009 filled the reservoir to the brim, submerging brush and trees that had grown up along the shoreline in the dry years. As a result, fish like bass have great new hiding places to lay in wait for the small fish making the most of all the new nutrients in the water, which should make for a banner year for fishermen. That could also explain why major professional bass tournaments will be held there this year.