It is early March and the hunting seasons are over. The rifles, shotguns, and bows have been put away for another season and all that lingers are the fond memories of hunting adventures in the wilds of Arizona.

It seems that every big game hunt teaches me something new about the outdoors and the animals we pursue. With the early draw period for antelope and elk, the anticipation is only rekindled for the next fall’s hunts.

But, don’t get in a hurry. It is time to break out the fishing equipment that may have been stored in a corner of the garage or a boat rod locker. Spring is right around the corner, and the largest desert reservoir of central Arizona is luring the fishing crowd.

The late fall rains and the December snows have made Roosevelt Lake levels approach 80% of capacity. The rising water has created a tremendous amount of new fish habitat, which will improve the overall health of the fishery. The Tonto and Salt River arms appear to be a jungle like maze of salt cedars, brush, and fallen trees for bass and crappies to hide.

These two species of game fish are moving to the shallows for their annual spawning activities and the healthy stable water conditions can help for fishing in the future years. There are an abundant number of bass in the 10-12 inch category from last year’s excellent spawning cycle. Many of these young fish are of the Florida strain variety, which have been stocked over the recent years. This unique strain tends to grow larger and faster which can pay big dividends to a fishery.

The crappie is a different story. After more than a decade in decline, they appear to be making a slow recovery. The crappie made Roosevelt Lake famous with winter visitors from the northern tier of states, who made Tonto Basin their destination because of this tasty game fish.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s fishery division has made multiple stockings of fingerling crappies in an attempt to bring back this popular game fish. The plan appears to be working, but there still is a lot of work to do in returning to the glory days of a couple of decades ago. With the new habitat in the water with stable lake levels, the crappie spawn should also be good in 2020.

A few years back the agency placed a 15-fish possession limit, which could also help as numbers increase in the years to come. Additional stockings of fingerling crappies could help in the recovery project for this popular game fish. The department also placed submerged numerous artificial habitat structures, which will benefit all fish in the reservoir. There is a definite plan in place for improving crappie numbers on Roosevelt.

My recommendation is to inspect your rods and reels to make sure they are ready for the first trip to the lake. Stripping the old line and respooling is the next step in making sure the big one doesn’t get away. Then, if you have a couple of hours, go through the tackle box and see what is needed to start the new fishing season. I adhere to the quote of that famous outdoorsman, Zane Grey: “If you can count your fishing rods, you probably don’t have enough.”

Good luck, this season, and make your own memory of fishing in the Arizona outdoors, God’s creation.

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