Fishing and Camping at the Lakes & Rivers of Arizona
Far from being just a dry and thirsty desert, Arizona is home to more than 400 bodies of water suitable for fishing and camping. In this state, you can choose from warm- or cold-water fishing and find a place where the fish are biting any time of year.
Pitch a tent or park your RV and spend a few days or longer reeling in a few of more than 25 species of sport fish.
Licenses and Permits
To fish in Arizona’s lakes and rivers, you’ll need a Arizona general fishing license from the Arizona Department of Game and Fish (azgfd.gov). If you’re blind or younger than 14 years old, you don’t have to have a license, though.
If you are camping or fishing on one of Arizona’s Native American Indian reservations, you will need a permit to fish and camp from the tribe whose land you are visiting. You will need to get a backcountry permit to backpack, boat and camp near fishing waters in the Grand Canyon and most wilderness areas in the state.
Lakes and Rivers
Major rivers in Arizona are dammed, creating reservoirs where you can fish and camp. Some of the state’s larger lakes that allow dispersed camping along their shores include Lake Powell, Lake Mead, Lake Mohave and Lake Havasu on the Colorado River and Roosevelt Lake, Apache Lake, Canyon Lake and Saguaro Lake on the Verde River.
Small mountain lakes are found in ponderosa pine forests in the White Mountains and Mogollon Rim in the northeastern portions of the state.
Species of Fish
Oak Creek in north central Arizona has some of the best brown trout fishing in the state, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department (azgfd.gov). You can also catch seven other species of cold-water fish including several varieties of trout, Arctic grayling, perch and northern pike.
Nineteen warm-water species are found in waterways of the low desert and can include varieties of bass, tilapia, catfish, bigmouth buffalo, crappie, walleye, chubs and sunfish. Urban lakes in Tucson, Phoenix and Payson are stocked with trout, catfish and bluegill.
Many fishing lakes and rivers lie within one of Arizona’s six national forests or on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Both entities provide developed campgrounds near busy lakes as well as allowing dispersed camping on public lands. State parks with campgrounds are also found near some popular fishing spots, including Lake Havasu, the Colorado River, Roper Lake and Alamo Lake.
Dispersed camping is not allowed in state parks. Developed campgrounds in Arizona may be as simple as a fire pit, picnic table and level tent pad with vault restrooms, or could include electric and water hookups, hot showers, flush restrooms and potable water.
Cold weather in most parts of the U.S. brings weather perfect for camping and fishing in Arizona. Visit waters in low elevations, such as the Colorado River and its reservoirs, or lakes just outside the metro Phoenix area, such as Bartlett, Saguaro or Pleasant.
When temps start soaring over 100 degrees in the lowlands, head up to higher elevations on the Mogollon Rim. Try Oak Creek, the Verde River and numerous cold-water lakes in northern Arizona.