Fishing in Arizona: Tips, Tricks, Species, and More

Arizona might remind you of baked red earth and barren deserts, but that is just one side of it. The gushing streams, rivers, and reservoirs in the state are the habitat of multiple fish species that offer year-round fishing opportunities.

“Year-round,” you think. “Really?”

Well, most akes in Arizona do not freeze. If you know the right tricks you should be able to bag some sport fish even during the winter months.

Time to take a closer look at the various aspects of fishing in Arizona.

larry smith outdoors cta

Best Fishing Spots in Arizona

A few places to fish in Arizona are favorites among the anglers. However, even if you head to a remote corner, you are most likely to find a quiet fishing paradise. 

Salt River

For veteran anglers, a small section of the lower Salt River is one of the best spots in central Arizona for fishing rainbow trout and largemouth bass. This stretch of water is open for fishing all year round and being close to Phoenix, it is a popular spot for flyfishing.

Initially, the idea of catching trout when the air temperature is around 100 degrees seemed absurd to me. But there is more than what meets the eye. This section is located below the Saguaro Lake. The cold water from the depth of the lake passes through the Stewart Mountain Dam into this section of the river, making the trout thrive.

The Colorado River and Reservoirs 

One of the best places to fish in the Colorado River in Arizona for rainbow trout is Lee’s Ferry. This relatively short, 13-mile stretch is best approached on a boat and 20-inch trouts are not uncommon in the area. The amount of fish in this area is incredible and during my first visit, I found it challenging to pick a small section to concentrate upon. 

Besides, it is also an excellent fly fishing destination as well. There are creeks and side streams around the Grand Canyon where the waters are crystal clear and the shallow pockets are great for trout hunters. If you head down the river, there are great spots for catching prespawn bass. Not to forget, you will need the right prespawn bass lures for that.

Among the reservoirs of the Colorado River, Lake Mead is a top choice for striped bass. Largemouth bass and rainbow trout are also found here. Another spot for trophy smallmouth is Lake Mohave. The upper reaches of the lake are also great for fishing rainbow trout.

The White Mountains

With miles of trout-filled streams, creeks, and lakes, the White Mountains are the perfect destination for outdoor lovers looking to combine fishing and camping. Beyond rainbow and brown trout, some of the lakes harbor Apache and Gila trout as well. No wonder, the area is a hot spot for fly fishermen from all over the state 

Some of the best angling spots are near Show Low. The Show Low Creek, the Show Low Lake, Big Lake, and Rainbow Lake are some popular spots for trophy trout. The best season is during early spring and summer. In autumn, you may find walleyes as a bonus.

State Parks

The State Parks in Arizona offer different fishing opportunities depending on their altitude. While the parks in lower altitudes are great for bass fishing, those in higher elevations are great for trout and walleye.

Lake Havasu State Park is one of my favorite destinations for early spring bass fishing as it offers all three varieties of bass– largemouth, smallmouth, and striped. The Roper Lake State Park is a fantastic destination for rainbow trout and largemouth. Bass hunters also prefer the Alamo Lake State Park for its excellent largemouth action.

lake havasu

Species of Fish in Arizona

Arizona has a wide variety of fish species that makes fishing a fun experience for anglers of every level. Let’s take a look at the main types of fish in Arizona.


The first species that comes to mind is trout because you will find 8 varieties in Arizona. 

Apache Trout

The most unique species found here is the Apache Trout, found nowhere else in the world. Overfishing led to a steady decline of the species, but thankfully it has made a steady recovery. Presently, fishing of the species is allowed in some designated waters.

Rainbow Trout

The other popular attraction for anglers is the rainbow trout which is stocked every year in large quantities. While they are not native to the state, they are the most abundantly available species.

Gila Trout

Originally found in the tributaries of the Gila River, this is another native trout species of Arizona. Though this was an endangered species a few decades back, thanks to the Gila Trout Recovery Plan, it has made a comeback. At present, it is listed as a sports fish, albeit, in a limited manner.

Brown Trout

With a voracious appetite, the brown trout can pose a threat to other native fish species. As a part of the incentivized harvest of the species, the Brown Trout Spring Bonanza has become an annual event in Arizona. The harvesting is done on a stretch of the Colorado River and the rewards range between $15 to $50 per fish.

Tiger Trout

The Tiger trout is a sterile hybrid, resulting from a cross between the Brown and the Brook trout. A few monster-sized specimens of this colorful species lurk in the stocked lakes. The Arizona state record boasts a fish weighing 5 pounds, 15.4 ounces, measuring 23.5 inches.


Arizona is a bass powerhouse. Largemouth bass reside abundantly in most waterbodies, except in the lakes at higher altitudes. The state parks also present excellent opportunities for catching smallmouth and striped bass.


Most warm water reservoirs in the states also have a healthy population of black crappie. My first angling trip to Arizona was to catch crappie and I found some real monsters in Roosevelt Lake with a few jigs. 

fishing in arizona

Best Ways to Fish in Arizona

Fly Fishing

For fly fishing, you need not head to remote lakes and streams of Arizona at higher altitudes. Multiple creeks and lakes in urban locations offer excellent fly fishing opportunities. And the best part is, there is no wrong season for fly fishing in Arizona, provided you pair the rod with the right fishing line.

I tried fly fishing on a summer afternoon in Oak Creek which runs through the town of Sedona and managed to catch a few rainbow trouts. The Encanto Lake is another great urban fly fishing destination for fishing in Phoenix

If you are new to fly fishing, I’d suggest finding a still body of water for perfecting your techniques. While fishing in the lake for trout, pick the deep water sections where the larger trout lurk. Take note of the bugs that hatch during the season to find out what the trout are feeding on. 

Canal Fishing

While canals are not the ideal habitat for fish to thrive, multiple species are found in the canals in Arizona. These include largemouth and smallmouth bass, sunfish, carp, and bluegill.  Make sure to check out the latest fishing regulations before heading out as they may change depending on the season.

One of the best locations for canal fishing is the Arizona Canal in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. This 50-kilometer-long canal offers plenty of great stretches to look for carp. Fly fishing for carp from the canal edges can be somewhat tricky. You need to nail down the casting technique to get strikes. However, stalking the carp along the canal is a lot of fun.


When the water is warm and shallow, bowfishing is a super exciting and addictive sport. While carp is the most common choice for bowfishing in Arizona, you can also find catfish, tilapia, and buffalo. In fact, bowfishing is encouraged in spots like Apache Lake, Saguaro Lake, and Roosevelt Lake where the carp density is high.

One of the most exciting ways to bowfish is from a boat during the night as the carp go into a feeding frenzy during that period. There are services that you can pick to book a late-night trip for bowfishing in Phoenix.

Fishing in Arizona: FAQs

Do you need a permit to fish in Arizona?

All anglers 10 years of age and older need a valid Arizona fishing license for fishing in any publicly accessible water body in the state. Those under the age of do not need a fishing license. The license can be bought online from the website of the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Are there certain fish found only in Arizona?

There are multiple fish species native to Arizona. Among these, the Apache trout and the Gila trout are the two important options for anglers.

What are some rare fish to find in Arizona?

There are around 20 fish species in Arizona that are listed as endangered. Apart from the Apache and Gila trout, the roundtail chub is another rare species native to Arizona.

larry smith outdoors cta

Final Thoughts

The fishing experience in Arizona is as diverse as its landscape. While there are an incredible number of trophy-type fish in the water bodies of the state, you may need to use new techniques to lure them. That makes the experience more unique.

To preserve the unique diversity of fish species in the state, practicing catch and release is the best policy. Just make sure to research the regulations for any water body, before you plan a fishing trip in Arizona.

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