Crappie Concerns For Roosevelt Lake

Anglers, Game & Fish search for solutions


The sterling reputation of Roosevelt Lake as a premiere crappie fishing site is getting somewhat tarnished. The crappie population is not thriving as it has in the past and part of the problem could be a plankton-eating forage fish named a gizzard shad, which appears to be increasing in astronomical proportions throughout Roosevelt Lake. Arizona Game & Fish is studying the problem.

The sterling reputation of Roosevelt Lake as a premiere crappie fishing site is getting somewhat tarnished. The crappie population is not thriving as it has in the past and part of the problem could be a plankton-eating forage fish named a gizzard shad, which appears to be increasing in astronomical proportions throughout Roosevelt Lake. Arizona Game & Fish is studying the problem. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Roosevelt Lake has long been considered one of the best crappie lakes in the Western United States. Reports of anglers catching a fish on every cast, if they were biting, travels fast among the fishing fraternity. When this sport panfish reaches a size of more than two pounds, it attracts even more attention from anglers throughout the country who want to try their luck. These stories are becoming fewer and fewer over the past five years.

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The sterling reputation of Roosevelt Lake as a premiere crappie fishing site is getting somewhat tarnished. The crappie population is not thriving as it has in the past and part of the problem could be a plankton-eating forage fish named a gizzard shad, which appears to be increasing in astronomical proportions throughout Roosevelt Lake. Arizona Game & Fish is studying the problem.

The springtime was crappie season when everyone in the family could join in on the fun of catching fish and partaking of delicious, deep-fried crappie fillets. A hundred boats could be found in some of the major coves where most would be having moderate success depending on an angler’s skill level. These same areas over the last few years have literally produced no fish even to the most skilled anglers.

Noted anglers Al Lindner and Jimmy Houston both have made trips to Roosevelt Lake having heard of the excellent springtime crappie fishing and they weren’t disappointed. When they highlighted Roosevelt Lake as a crappie hotspot on their famous fishing shows, the crowds came. Catching fish catches on, especially with winter visitors towing their boats and looking for a warmer climate.

Longtime crappie icon Curt Rambo would have the notoriety of being followed by a regatta of fishing boats as he headed to his favorite spot. Many of these coves on the east side of the lake no longer produce crappies for Curt as well as other locations he has fished over his long career. He realizes there is something wrong, and the problem needs to be identified and solved.

Tonto Basin had become a destination for winter visitors who were wanting to get away from the harshness of winter in the Midwest and continue their passion of recreational fishing. They would fill up the RV campgrounds, rent homes and even purchase property for a permanent winter residence. As the fishing has declined over the last five years so has the number of snowbirds returning to the Basin, which has obviously had a negative impact on the local economy. These visitors are leaving the Tonto Basin area and relocating in south Texas for better fishing and still have the warm climate.

The key question is, what happened to the flourishing crappie population in Roosevelt Lake? This was part of the discussion at a public seminar held at the Chamber of Commerce building in Tonto Basin six weeks ago. The Arizona Game and Fish Department fisheries division was present with one of the current commissioners hearing the concerns of the 50 anglers present.

Immediate solutions were not finalized until the problem is clearly identified. The AGFD fisheries division stated that a study of the current fish population was necessary to determine the percentage of various species present.

A plankton-eating forage fish named a gizzard shad appears to be increasing in astronomical proportions throughout Roosevelt Lake. This may be a part of the problem in finding the reason for diminishing sport fish numbers. A proposal made at this meeting of a 15-fish crappie limit per licensed angler is soon to be adopted in the new fishing rules and regulations. This is a start in dealing with the problem of diminishing crappie numbers and much more needs to be done to ensure Roosevelt Lake returns as the Crappie Capital of the West.

This week, enjoy the festivities of the 4th of July, Independence Day, and remember the freedoms we have that were fought for so sacrificially during the American Revolution by our Founding Fathers.

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