By Nick Walter
Arizona Game & Fish Department
Sun sweats, triple-digit fidgets, the dog days—they seem to make most of us crave cool times in the high country.
Some of the best family camping and fishing options include waters with stocked or self-sustaining fish, quality camping amenities, and striking scenery.
Be sure to check the latest fire restrictions at firerestrictions.us/az/.
It’s a good idea to reserve a campground in advance if possible, but if you’re looking for a walk-in site, consider booking your spot before you start fishing. Finally, remain vigilant with fire safety, and also be safe with summer monsoons. Get off the water when you hear lightning, watch out for flash flooding, and don’t forget to bring a few extra layers and a rain jacket to stay comfortable in the mountain cold.
OK, here is this year’s top-5 list of family camping and fishing spots. Find them on our updated Fish and Boat AZ map at fishandboataz.azgfd.com/. Are any your favorites?
5. Ashurst Lake
At 7,113 feet in elevation, this 229-acre lake southeast of Flagstaff has good shoreline access, wide-open water for boat anglers, and has had great summer fishing. Anglers have been catching trout on the lake using PowerBait and lures.
The fish are moving deeper as the water warms. Try flies or lures to catch the bigger trout. Bait anglers fishing worms under a bobber have been catching some fish.
There is a boat ramp and 50 single-unit campsites (25 at each of two campgrounds on both sides of the lake) with tables, fire rings, cooking grills, plus drinking water and vault toilets. A seasonal store typically operates out of a trailer from late spring to early September.
Don’t forget your crayfish traps—the lake is full of “mudbugs.”
Directions: Take Forest Highway 3 (Lake Mary Road) and turn east on Forest Road 82. The lake will be 4 miles away.
4. Bear Canyon Lake
Bear Canyon has good water quality (due to its max depth of 50 feet), appears to be near full, and as of mid-July had no fire restrictions. Plus, we added an additional 3,000 fish to the already scheduled 2,000 catchable rainbow trout that were stocked.
There isn’t a public boat launch, so the only option at this walk-in lake is to bring “carryable” boats.
There is only dispersed camping in the nearby forest, but you don’t have to pay fees to camp.
For directions, see Google maps.
3. Fool Hollow Lake
Fool Hollow Lake State Park has some of the best camping amenities in the state.
An excellent fishery for getting the family into the outdoors and onto sunfish and mudbugs (crayfish). Fool Hollow Lake State Park, https://azstateparks.com/fool-hollow/, has excellent family-fishing amenities such as clean and spacious campgrounds, picnic areas and fishing piers. The lake nearly reached full pool and both boat ramps are in good condition.
Kids can catch sunfish off piers and over rocky shoreline areas using No. 12 hooks and small pieces of worms. Crayfish can be trapped here as well. See a video, http://bit.ly/2JU0rdz, about how to catch both.
The lake has self-sustaining populations of largemouth and smallmouth bass, sunfish, walleye, carp, catfish, black crappie and black bullhead that are easy for kids to catch (try a simple worm on the bottom). Fishing also is good for 12-inch stocked rainbow trout—try fishing at least 10 feet deep.
Directions: Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area is located in east-central Arizona, 2 miles north of U.S. Highway 60 off Highway 260 in Show Low.
2. Big Lake
An Arizona summertime family staple.
Cutthroats have been biting on and off, and there are plenty of rainbow trout along with lots of crayfish for kids if the trout are not biting. The best part may be the excellent and plentiful campground amenities. There are two subspecies of cutthroat at Big Lake: Snake River finespot cutthroat are more commonly caught in Railroad Cove and prefer dry flies or nymphs, especially in the mornings and evenings. Bonneville cutthroat are behaving more like rainbows and cruising along the bottom or several feet off the bottom. Trolling should be effective for both rainbows and Bonnevilles.
Shore angling is still an option, but as the summer goes along, you might want a boat (rentals are available at the store) because most trout will be deep.
Trolling from a boat is the most productive method during the summer. If shore fishing, get out early or late in the day, and take cover in your vehicle or camp during monsoon/lightning storms.
Directions: Big Lake is accessed via state routes 260 and 273 (Forest Road 113).
1. Woods Canyon Lake
Perhaps the Arizona nerve center of fishing, families and camping. Woods filled and spilled, has a newly paved parking lot and road leading to the boat ramp, and has been stocked with tiger trout, and along with nearby Willow Springs Lake, is scheduled to be loaded with rainbow trout weekly.
For families who aren’t in to camping in a tent or camper during the summer monsoon storms, the closest lodging is at Forest Lakes Lodge (forestlakeslodge.com), just 11.5 miles away on Highway 260.
A little tip: refuel your automobile at the Rim Resort Filling Station, just a mile east of the Forest Lakes Lodge on Hwy 260. Call 928-535-9682 to ensure it’s open.
Back to fishing. For a novice angler—or for a kid’s first fish—try putting a small piece of a worm on a small hook (No. 12 or smaller) and dangle it in shallow water between rocks for sunfish. Don’t forget about catching crayfish, too.
The best bet for anglers with boats or kayaks is the Woods Canyon Lake Store (woodscanyonlakesaz.com). It has boat and canoe/kayak rentals and necessary camping amenities to hit the water just before sunrise and troll, or slowly work, small in-line spinners 15 feet deep. Any deeper, and you’re typically fishing below the thermocline where there is no oxygen during the summer.
Anglers could have no problems getting a six trout daily bag limit or hooking into a rod-rattling tiger trout.
Directions: From Phoenix, take Highway 87 (Beeline Highway) northeast to Payson and then Highway 260 east to Forest Road 300 (Rim Road). Then turn north onto paved Forest Road 105 and proceed about a mile to the lake. The lake is about 30 miles east of Payson.
Honorable mentions: Rose Canyon Lake (Tucson region), Show Low Lake and Creek, Kaibab Lake (Williams), Black River, Knoll Lake, Dogtown Reservoir.
Remember to check any special regulations (bit.ly/2K9ps3o) that may be in place. So, grab online (that helps conserve all species of wildlife, not to mention provides funding that goes back into fishing opportunities) and go. You won’t regret the memories