February 12th, 2021: Two weeks ago, the lease for my apartment in Chicago ended; I packed my bags, grabbed one last slice of pizza, and said goodbye to my beloved neighborhood of Bridgeport. Next stop, Phoenix, Arizona. My cousin Charlie lives just outside of the city, and he invited me to crash on his couch for the next month. With frigid temperatures in Chicago and the ability to work remotely, I doubled up on masks and boarded a plane headed for AZ. The flight only cost me $45!
I research the fishing scene in places I plan to visit by scrolling through Google, Facebook, fishing forums, and state agency websites. This method jump-starts my quest on learning where to fish and what species to target. After scanning Google Maps and watching low production YouTube videos, I had a better understanding of the urban fishing scene in the Phoenix area. This simple research narrowed my lure selection tremendously, which is a major bonus when trying to avoid checked bags at the airport.
Man-made ponds, lakes, and canals surround the Phoenix metro region. Although the ponds look like glorified fountains, the canal systems lack depth and structure, and many of the lakes are private. Apparently, the fishing near Phoenix can be pretty dang good.
Keeping Things Light
I’ll travel mostly on a bike carrying minimal gear while exploring the canals, rivers, and ponds within a 10-mile radius of my cousin’s apartment. Knowing this, I’ve boiled down the local fishing scene into a three-tiered system to help me approach things more effectively. I’ve only been here for nine days, so I’m a new and inexperienced Arizona angler. However, I’ve been fortunate enough to talk with over 20 local fishermen since being here, and together they helped develop this approach.
1) Fishing Phoenix: Salt River Submarines
Phoenix has harnessed the Salt River’s power and divided it into an intricate system of shallow water canals to distribute irrigation and drinking water. The Salt River Project Utility Company controls the system and stocks the waters with sterile grass carp. The carp cruise the cement banks, eating allege and vegetation, serving as little vacuum cleaners for the Phoenix area. Grass carp can grow to enormous sizes, and there is no shortage of food in these canals; I’ve personally seen multiple 20+lb carp while riding the bike trails along the canal system. The average size seems to be 4-7 pounds, and fish usually cruise in packs ranging in size from 4-12. Grass carp, also known as White Amur, must be released back into the canal.
Carp are notoriously spooky, and in shallow water canals, their skittishness is turned up. Successful anglers use stealth tactics like tying ultra finesse rigs and utilizing the few surrounding shadows from overpasses or bridges to help stay out of view. Most people use corn, bread, worms, fly fishing gear, or European-inspired carp rigs.
2) Fishing Phoenix: If You Stock It, Anglers Will Come
The Phoenix metro area is blessed with ample park space, and within many of those parks, you’ll see 1-5 acre ponds. Some have fountains, others cascading waterfalls, but most are a bit more modest, lined with palm trees and a cement perimeter that reminds you of a swimming pool. While these places don’t scream “natural,” they are filled with fishing opportunities and passionate anglers excited to wet a line.
Arizona Game and Fish developed the Community Fishing Program with the vision to enhance urban fishing throughout Arizona. This program stocks roughly 40 ponds throughout the year with catfish and trout. Their mantra is,“‘If people can’t get to the fish, we’ll bring the fish to the people.” Participating anglers must have a community fishing license, but about 70% of that license cost goes directly back to the stocking program.
I spoke with anglers in the area fishing for trout, and almost every one of them knew the precise stocking days for lakes they’d be fishing. All stocking information is available on the AZGFD website. There was a stocking scheduled for the pond 2 miles away anytime between 2/8-2/12. Last night (2/11), I cruised over there on my bike and chatted with some anglers, and according to everyone I talked to, the bite was real slow. This makes me think the trout truck might be dumping a load of freshly farm-raised fish sometime today. This makes my after-work plans very easy.
3) Fishing Phoenix: Private Pond Honey Holes
The Phoenix area is a sprawling spread of strip malls, subdivisions, and well-manicured roads. And the first two things on that list are often linked with quality fishing. Around here, many subdivisions or strip malls have either a retention pond or recreational lake. Some of these spaces are private or require permission from a resident, but others are open to the public. Private ponds seem to give anglers the best opportunity to catch quality bass in the metro area.
Wrapping Things Up
While this write-up didn’t highlight any storied catches, I hope that this simple approach of breaking down a new area helps make your future fishing trips a little bit easier. Do your research, and don’t be afraid to speak with local anglers. Please don’t ask them where they are catching them, but it’s ok to ask them what they are catching them on. Be curious but respectful at the same time. Tight lines!
P.S. – Stay tuned for part two of this series, including my reports from fishing nearly every day (before or after work) in Arizona for the entire month.
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