Fishing Forecast For The Rim Country

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Arizona is one of those unique locations where freshwater sport fishing exists year round.

When most anglers in the country are only thinking of the spring thaw and dreaming of being on their favorite lake, Arizonans are hooking up their bass boats and making the January trip to one of our desert reservoirs.

Roosevelt Lake is the destination choice for a growing number of anglers.

These fishing fanatics spend upwards to eight months in the northern tier of states and when they make the migration to the warmer Southwest have their fishing boat in tow.

The word is out that those bass and crappies do bite in the winter months and really do not have "lockjaw" in January and February.

The ever-increasing numbers of winter visitors as well as Arizonans who live in other areas of the state have second homes or trailer spaces in Tonto Basin where they can take advantage of a quick 10 minute drive to one of the boat launches on this side of the lake.

Consequently, they may fish 4 or 5 times in a week and very likely figure out the pattern for a winter bass or crappie bite.

Any successful angler will tell you that the most important factor in catching fish is spending quality time on the water.

If you don't have that luxury of being on the water frequently and want to make the most of that Saturday trip to Roosevelt a few tips from the pros will always help.

I asked a simple question of, "How can I catch a bass in the winter months on Roosevelt Lake?" There was a distinct similarity of answers from Frank Powell of Frank's Fishing Guide Service, National Guard and FLW tour pro Clifford Pirch, and Mark Kile Bassmaster Rookie of the Year 2003.

All three successful tournament anglers recommended crankbaits that were larger in size and a color pattern that represented their food source of shad or crawdads.

A mid diving crankbait made by Rapala, Norman, or Luckycraft will do the trick at this time of year.

The diversity of the water depth may be as shallow as five feet or less on the bank to a depth of 25 feet or more near submerged points or other structure.

Each day on the water could create a little different condition, which may have an impact on the location of feeding bass. The depth of the target fish zone will determine the style of the crankbait and how deep it needs to dive.

With the low winter sun, the best time of the day may be in the warmer daylight hours between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., which is different from other seasons of the year.

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Roosevelt Lake is more a part of the desert than the foothills of the Mogollon Rim, but the Rim waters are its source, with creeks from the area feeding the large lake that provides an opportunity for great winter and spring fishing and summer recreational boating.

"Some of the best bass bites can happen when the sun is at its highest point and maximum daytime heating is occurring," Clifford Pirch said.

Veteran angler Frank Powell also chimed in, "Be ready for a big bass in the heat of the winter day when they are cruising the shallows for their next meal".

Wintertime bass are vulnerable and can be caught on crankbaits that create the right action and color pattern that replicates their food supply.

Besides bass fishermen, there are a growing number of anglers that are in pursuit of the crappie because it makes tasty fare at the dinner table.

"January and February are the staging months for large schools of crappies in the deeper channels on the lake.

Keep in mind that the better locations are at the mouth of the Salt River or Tonto Creek where the water depths may vary from 20 to 40 feet while the fish may be suspended in 10 to 15 feet as they are feeding on small shad," Curt Rambo, a veteran expert of crappie fishing on Roosevelt Lake, said.

A quality graph is extremely beneficial in locating these large schools of crappies. If you don't have a graph then go to where the boats are located and join the "oil slick regatta."

At certain times when the crappies are biting in the winter months more than 100 boats may be cruising in a very small area.

Curt Rambo and Art Chamberlin, both veteran crappie guides, agree that a Kalin's two-inch grub in black, blue, chartreuse or John Deere will do the trick at this time of year slow trolling in the deeper water. Remember, as spring approaches these fish will move to the shallows to begin the spring spawning activity.

The capacity of Roosevelt Lake has improved to 55 percent in the last month because of two very rainy weekends. Hopefully the winter snowpack will add much needed water to the lake by springtime.

Don't wait for April to take a trip to the lake for some real quality bass and crappie fishing.

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