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AZGFD forecast rates area waters ‘good’ for winter action

December 15, 2018

PHOENIX — The Arizona Game and Fish Department has released its winter fishing forecast for area waters.

Of particular interest to anglers in the Tri-state, the AZGFD forecast rates the Colorado River, Lake Mohave and Lake Mead as “good” — the second highest level on the agency’s four-level rating system.

The statewide fishing forecast is available online at www.azgfd.com/fishing/forecast/. Navigate to the areas of interest — Central, Colorado River Northwest (which includes the Bullhead City area), Colorado River Southwest, Mogollon Rim, North Central, Southeast or White Mountains.

Here is the AZGFD forecast for the Colorado River Northwest region as well as Lake Havasu and Topock Gorge, which are included in the Colorado River Southwest Region forecast:

Colorado River (Davis Dam to I-40 bridge near Needles) — Rating: Good.

Flows fluctuate quickly in this stretch of the river. Many anglers prefer not to navigate the river when less than one unit is being released from Davis Dam. Check projected releases before your trip.

Trout are stocked weekly by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery from October through March. Additional trout will be stocked in September and April with funding from Bullhead Pest Abatement. With an abundance of blackfly and caddisfly larvae available for the trout to feed off of, not only can you catch the recently stocked fish, but older holdover trout should be growing quickly here. Trout are stocked at Davis Camp , Community Park and Rotary Park during the fall. Many anglers prefer to fish for the holdover trout away from the stocking locations.

Striped bass are also available. Anglers will have a great opportunity to catch stripers throwing big baits.

Lake Mead – Rating: Good.

As of mid-August, the lake level was at 1,078 feet. This is about 3 feet lower than it was last year at this time. The lake is at historic low levels, so key in on inflow areas like Sandy Point and up the Overton Arm. Threadfin shad hold to areas that have muddy or stained water. The striped bass will be with them definitely feeding heavy throughout the fall. Try trolling anchovies over reefs and around main lake points until you locate a school. Then very often you can catch as many as you want to filet, within the limit of coarse (20 stripers over 20 inches and unlimited under 20 inches per person). This pattern can work all winter long, you just may have to go deeper.

Channel catfish will go through a high activity period also during the fall. Fresh cut baits (bluegill and carp) typically work well, along with shrimp, night crawlers, and minnows.

Lake Mohave – Rating: Good.

The largemouth and smallmouth bass in Mohave are fewer and farther between than in Mead, however these fish can be quite a bit larger (3 to 5 pounds).

Clear water means it’s important to be aware of boat noise and slow down your presentations. The hatchery at Willow Beach still is growing trout and stocking them year round at Willow Beach. Power bait, night crawlers and spinners will catch these fish.

Look for very large striped bass to be around the stocking area. These fish can be caught with large trout imitation lures as well as with anchovies and other fresh-cut baits. Smaller stripers can be had in the main lake basin using similar techniques to Lake Mead. Remember, there is no limit on striped bass of less than 20 inches and anglers are encouraged to keep all they catch; this will help ensure the stripers that are left have enough to eat.

Lake Havasu and Topock Gorge – Rating: Good.

Lake Havasu continues to be ranked as one of the top places to fish for bass in the country.

The largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing should continue to be great. Fishing has been pretty good all year: Tournament anglers have needed five-fish bags weighing around 20 pounds to win a tournament and it was not uncommon to catch bass of more than 5 pounds and some even approaching 10 pounds.

This year’s electrofishing survey conducted by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife showed an abundance of bass with an adult population that should provide great fishing now and a juvenile fish population that anglers will be able to catch for several years to come.

Fishing should continue to be good as the water temperatures fall from the upper lower 60s in December to the 50s later in the winter. Due to the low water temps, the key to successful winter fishing in this desert lake is going to be fishing slow.

To catch largemouth bass this time of year, be sure to fish slowly. Plastics may be the best option; some of the best plastic baits for Havasu are weightless Texas-rigged Ikas, Roboworms on a dropshot rig, or weightless Texas-rigged senkos. Due the the cold temps, baits like top-water lures such as frogs or walk-the-dog type of baits, or reaction baits like spinnerbaits or crankbaits are not going to be quite as successful as during the warmer months, though it never hurts to have them rigged up just in case. For largemouths, it is generally best to fish around structure such as weedbeds, emergent vegetation, boat docks, or artificial habitat.

Early in the winter, smallmouth bass will generally be in deep water and occasionally will be difficult to locate. As the winter progresses, smallmouths will generally move shallower in preparation for the spawn. Targeting smallmouth will generally require anglers to fish different locations than largemouths; it is usually best to fish rocky points, ridges, shorelines, or canyons. As with largemouth bass fishing, the key to success will be fishing slowly. Many of the same baits work for both large and smallmouth bass.

Striper fishing was fairly good throughout most of the fall, we have been getting a few reports of limits of stripers, though the limits have been tending to consist mostly of 12- to 16-inch fish. There is still a chance of catching a 15-pound fish, but not as good as in years past. Using live shad for bait is a good bet any time of the year. Using your electronics to find schools of threadfin or gizzard shad will generally help you locate stripers, as these fish are the main forage for striped bass in Lake Havasu. As always, fishing on the bottom or trolling with live shad or cut anchovies should be a good bet. Even though it is not prime time for boils, always keep an eye out for “boils” or where birds are actively feeding — these boils could be your best bet for some fast and furious action. Use top-water lures, spoons, or swimbaits that resemble shad to take advantage of these boils. Night fishing with dead bait for stripers is another option that may be successful. When doing this, anchor on a point near a drop off and fish with cut anchovies or threadfin shad. To increase your chances of success, bring some underwater lights to attract both bait and stripers.

The redear sunfish fishing should continue to be world class, and the winter should provide some great fishing! Lake Havasu continues to host the state and world record for redear sunfish with a monster of 5 pounds and 12.8 ounces caught back in 2014. Redear sunfish in the 2-pound range and larger are regularly caught: During our 2018 fall survey we captured dozens of fish of more than 2 pounds, with one even tipping the scales at 4.3 pounds and 15.8 inches in length. Bluegill and redear can be caught around structure such as docks, vegetation, or artificial structure using mealworms, nightcrawlers, flies or small crappie jigs.

Channel catfishing gear is generally underutilized by anglers. Due to low water temps, the fishing may not be great, but there are still opportunities to catch fish. Lake Havasu has the potential to produce some very large fish; in fact, a Colorado River catch-and-release record channel catfish was caught in Lake Havasu in early May. Several fish of similar size were harvested during the creel survey of Lake Havasu from July 2017 to June 2018, which means this possible new record could be broken relatively quickly.

Channel catfish are widespread in the lake and can be caught using night crawlers, live bait, hot dogs, anchovies, chicken liver, stinkbait or about anything that “stinks.”

Flathead catfish are relatively uncommon in the upper part of the lake, but are relatively abundant in the lower half, especially in the vicinity of the Bill Williams River arm of the reservoir. Flatheads can be caught any time of the year, but due to low water temps, fishing for flathead catfish will generally be pretty slow during winter. For flathead catfish, it is best to use live bait such as bluegill or small common carp.

Large carp are abundant in the lake and can provide some exciting fishing. Twenty- to 25-pound carp are not uncommon. Most people use canned corn or dough balls.

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