Winter Fishing Forecast: Colorado River-Southwest
Based upon recent surveys and fishing reports, we believe fishing at Alamo Lake should be good this winter, though not likely as good as during the warmer times of the year.
The lake level has already increased 7 feet to 1,122 MSL as of this writing (Mid December) due to some great early winter storms. How successful anglers will be this winter could depend on how much more inflow the lake receives from the Big Sandy and Santa Maria Rivers. If the lake receives a lot of inflow and the lake level increases, though it will be great for the fish population, it could make fishing difficult as the water could be turbid and the fish spread out into flooded terrestrial vegetation.
This past October’s survey showed a bass population that was evenly distributed. Large numbers of bass less than 13 inches in length are abundant, so the toughest part of catching the bigger bass in Alamo may be getting your bait away from the smaller bass. Water temperatures should increase from low 50s in early December to possibly the low 60s by the end of February, which means that slowing down any type of presentation is going to be key to good fishing on Alamo. Using top-water baits or other reaction-style baits fished quickly may not be the best strategy for the winter months on Alamo. Instead, fish crankbaits or spinnerbaits slowly, or fish deeper and slower with plastics such as drop shot rigs. Fishing in or around cover for bass is going to continue to be a winning strategy for bass on Alamo Lake.
Black crappie fishing should continue to be good this winter, though it may not be as fast and furious as anglers experienced last spring and fall. Good reports of crappie in excess of 16 inches have been coming in recently, with the possibility of catching even larger fish. Trolling jigs tipped with minnows or small crankbaits in 10-25 feet of water, especially near cover, should produce during the morning and late in the day. For something different, try anchoring in deeper water during the night, deploying underwater lights, which attract bait and crappies, and then using jigs tipped with bait to catch crappies.
Channel catfish fishing should be good throughout the winter. Just anchor near cover and use any of the prepared catfish baits as well as chicken livers or stink bait, or other baits like hot dogs or shrimp.
Other fish such as bluegill, redear sunfish, tilapia and common carp are a lot of fun to catch. Many types of baits should work for these species.
Just an FYI to all anglers: The Department will be performing a creel (angler) survey on Alamo Lake from January to June 2020. During this survey the creel clerk will ask to interview anglers to see what they are catching and ask some simple opinion questions regarding their fishing day. By answering the questions, anglers can take an active role in helping fisheries managers make good choices about the management of Alamo Lake so the Department can help provide the best fishing possible! We thank you all very much for helping us out!
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 abundant 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 increase from the upper lower 50s in December to the 60s 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 to 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.
Striper fishing has been getting better in recent years. Bigger fish have become more common in the last year, we even received a report of a 38-inch and 30-plus pound striper that was caught last winter! In addition, the 2019 WON Striper Derby in May had one of the best tournaments ever.
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 will continue to be amongst the best redear fisheries in the entire world, 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 2019 fall survey we captured dozens of fish of more than 2 pounds, with one even tipping the scales at 4.6 pounds and 15.9 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. See more info on the redear population and fishing.
The channel catfish population 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 soon. Channel catfish are widespread in the lake and can be caught using nightcrawlers, 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.
Colorado River – Parker Strip
Largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing in the Parker Strip should continue to be good! Results from several bass tournaments over the course of the year showed 5-fish bag weights that were higher than have been seen for quite awhile.
Our Yuma-region aquatic wildlife program caught abundant bass in the 2- to 4-pound range during the last electrofishing survey. As a general rule, smallmouth bass are more common in upstream stretch of river towards Parker Dam and decrease in abundance as you progress down the river, whereas largemouth are the opposite in that they are more common in the lower sections of river near Headgate Rock Dam and decrease in abundance as you progress upstream.
The middle stretches should offer a multi-species bass fishing opportunity that few places in Arizona can match. Fishing for both species could be a little slow in early winter as the water temps will be fairly low due to the bottom release nature of Parker Dam.
Largemouth bass fishing should be best in slackwater areas with aquatic vegetation such as bulrush or around boat docks. To catch largemouth bass this time of year, be sure to fish slowly. Plastics can be some of the best options, some of the best plastic baits are weightless Texas-rigged Ikas, Roboworms on a dropshot rig, or weightless Texas-rigged Senkos. Due to 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.
Smallmouth bass fishing should be best near slackwater areas, rocky points or docks. Many of the same baits and techniques used for largemouth bass will be effective for smallmouth bass as well.
Redear sunfish are also widespread but are most likely to be found around aquatic vegetation in slackwater areas. In the past electrofishing survey we captured numerous redear to in the 1- to 2-pound range with a few close to 3 pounds. This underutilized fishery could provide lots of fun for anglers willing to try something different. Redear will bite on meal worms, nightcrawlers, flies or small crappie jigs.
Colorado River – Imperial Division and Associated Backwaters
Largemouth bass fishing should continue to be very good in the Imperial Division of the Colorado River. During the past electrofishing survey we found abundant medium-sized bass and as many fish over 4 pounds that we have seen for several years. The general rule for electrofishing catch was the bigger and deeper the backwater, the more fish we would catch. To be even more specific than that, areas that had two currents coming together (like the mouths of backwaters) generally held the largest numbers of fish. This healthy population has the ability to produce 5-fish tournament bag limits of more than 20 pounds any time of the year.
To target largemouth bass in the Imperial Division of the Colorado River, focus in the backwaters or near the mouth of the backwaters around structure such as weedbeds, emergent vegetation, tree stumps, brush, or boat docks. There are many different techniques used for largemouth bass, but as a general rule, due to the cool water in the winter, fishing slowly and using plastics will likely be the best strategy for winter fishing on the river, though it can’t hurt to have some rods rigged up with topwater lures such as frogs, buzzbaits, crankbaits, or swimbaits. Fishing should be slow during the early part of the winter, but should pick up as the water temps increase in February. Since the river warms up quicker than almost any other large water body in the state, start looking for bass to be spawning in some of the warmer and shallower backwaters starting in February.
Flathead catfishing fishing will likely be pretty slow during the winter, though the flathead catfish population of the Imperial Division continues to be very healthy and fishing should continue to be some of the best in the entire state. During the 2019 spring electrofishing survey, we caught abundant “eater” sized fish under 10 pounds, a solid number of 20 – 40 pound fish, and even a monster that weighed in at 68 pounds!
Throughout the duration of our survey it was hard to find a stretch of river that didn’t hold a flathead or two, but flathead fishing will generally be best in slack water areas, deep holes, or near overhanging vegetation along the main channel of the river and the fishing will generally be best at night. Flatheads prefer live bait such as sunfish or small common carp. Be sure to bring some heavy tackle with you: an 89.2-pound river monster was sampled by electrofishing and released back into the lower Imperial Division of the Colorado River back in 2008. Fishing for flathead catfish will really slow down when waters temps fall to the low 70s or even 60s by the end of November or early December.
AZGFD is currently doing a tagging study of flathead catfish on the Imperial Division of the Colorado River, if you catch a tagged fish please contact the Region IV office in Yuma. See more information.
Channel catfish are widespread in the main river channel and backwaters and will bite on nightcrawlers, hot dogs, chicken liver, stink bait, or about any other “smelly” bait. They can be caught year-round but probably bite best at night.
Bluegill and redear sunfish are also widespread but are most likely to be found around structure in the backwaters or slackwater areas. Bluegill and redear will bite on meal worms, night crawlers, flies, or small crappie jigs.
Mittry Lake can be a bit frustrating at times, especially for bass fishermen; the bass are sometimes finicky, and it can be challenging to bring any in on some days. Other days, the bite can be wide open. Changing weather, including wind, often brings on the bite. There are plenty of bass in the lake, with quite a few in the eight to 10-pound range, and occasionally larger. The department’s 2019 fall survey caught good numbers of bass of all sizes, indicating there should be plenty of bass for anglers to catch. Smaller bass should provide good fishing for anglers in the future. As with all of the other waterbodies in Region 4, fishing for largemouth could be a little slow during the early winter. As a general rule, due to the cool water in the winter, fishing slowly and using plastics should be a successful strategy, though it can’t hurt to have some rods rigged up with top-water lures such as frogs, buzzbaits, crankbaits, or swimbaits.
There is also a very healthy population of catfish in Mittry Lake, though the cool water temps of winter could make for some slow fishing. Channel catfish are the most numerous, but there are also a number of flathead catfish, which can reach weights of 30 to 40 pounds here, perhaps even larger. Flatheads prefer live bait such as sunfish or small common carp and fishing is best at night when the water temperature is more than 70 degrees. Channel catfish are widespread throughout the lake, and will bite on nightcrawlers, hot dogs, chicken liver or prepared stinkbait.
They are occasionally caught by bass fishermen on plastics, spinners and crankbaits. They can be caught year-round, but nighttime fishing during the summer is probably the most effective.
Sunfish species are abundant in Mittry Lake. Bluegill and redear can be caught around structure such as docks, vegetation, or artificial structure using mealworms, nightcrawlers, or small crappie jigs.
* Yuma Ponds
(Fortuna Lake, Council Ave. Pond, Yuma West Wetlands Pond, Redondo Lake, PAAC Pond)
The fishing in all Yuma-area community fishing waters should be good this winter, though there will be changes in the number of fish stocked from recent years. In addition, due to decreased numbers of fish available, Redondo Lake will not be stocked with rainbow trout this winter. Read more about changes in the stocking numbers.
To catch the remaining channel catfish, try nightcrawlers, anchovies, hot dogs, chicken liver or prepared stink baits fished on the bottom. Cheap hot dogs and shrimp were the best bait for channel catfish in the fall — they tended to outfish nightcrawlers, stink bait, or cut bait at least five to one. Bluegill sunfish were stocked during April and based on the small number of fish we’ve been seeing harvested down here from April to November, there should at least be a few sunfish for anglers to catch throughout the winter. For bluegill, use mealworms, nightcrawlers, or small crappie jigs under a bobber. Rainbow trout will be stocked monthly in community waters from December to February; fly anglers should try a bead head prince nymph or wooly bugger. Angler can also throw lures such as spoons or spinners and bait anglers should use garlic PowerBait in a variety of colors or nightcrawlers fished on the bottom.
* Community Fishing Program waters
Ryan Follmuth is AZGFD’s Aquatic Wildlife Program Manager out of Yuma