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Fishing for Catfish and Trout in Urban Lakes of the Phoenix Metro Area

Arizona has its own beauty. With local cacti and a mix of desert, high desert, pine forest and mountains, it's truly splendid.

The channel catfish is featured at Phoenix area park lakes and ponds.

The channel catfish is featured at Phoenix area park lakes and ponds.

Go Fishing in the Phoenix Metro Area

There are many things to be thankful for when living in the Valley of the Sun (the metro area of Phoenix, Arizona). The valley has beautiful weather from September to May, it has a cosmopolitan air with tourists from all over the world flying in daily to Sky Harbor International Airport, and it has Arizona State University, which provides fertile ground for research and education. The Arizona Diamondbacks, the Arizona Cardinals, the Phoenix Suns, and the Phoenix Mercury provide ample opportunity to watch top-notch sports. When you figure in the museums (especially of Southwestern history), historical points of interest, Native American and Hispanic cultural assets, and a treasure trove of other attractions, one could not do much better living elsewhere.

But those of us who enjoy angling have a nugget in the rough that outsiders may not be aware of. The Phoenix metropolitan area has one of the biggest urban fishing programs in America

My wife and I were, at one point, in search of activities that didn't cost a fortune. Just as everyone else has experienced, our budget was tight. But what sorts of things could we really get involved with? Enter the Arizona Game and Fish Department's cooperative urban fishing program which has a goal " to provide nearby fishing opportunities to city dwellers as a more convenient alternative to long-distance travel to lakes outside of town."

Urban Fishing Permits

One day while walking through Walmart doing errands, we saw a big sign above the sports department announcing, "Urban Fishing Permits." We were curious what such a permit was for. A clerk told us that there were 15 lakes in the metro Phoenix area parks that were fishable. We hadn't realized how many stocked lakes were out there! These lakes are stocked with rainbow trout, channel catfish, sunfish, bluegill, and large-mouthed bass. Carp, white amur, tilapia, and crappie are not regularly stocked.

Our journey to Walmart began as a serendipitous adventure. We had one reel and a pole. We weren't getting in too deep until we tried the fishing. My wife had a box of tackle her father gave her, and she had experience fishing in lakes and streams in central and northern California. Thank goodness! The first thing we needed was the $18.50 (2010) urban fishing license that gave us fishing rights at all those town lakes. It's just one of the Arizona fishing licenses you can buy. We put our money down!

Next, we needed to find a fishing hole. The Game and Fish Department puts out an annual pamphlet distributed at Walmart and sporting goods stores with all the information an angler could want. Included are maps of the locations of all town lakes and ponds. Here are the names of the lakes and ponds in the Phoenix Valley: Alvord, Papago Ponds, Desert Breeze, Surprise, Cortez, Chaparral, Red Mountain, Rio Vista Pond, Desert West, Evelyn Hallman Pond, Riverview, Steel I.S. Pond, Encanto, Kiwanis, Water Ranch, and Veterans Oasis. Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Payson, Peoria, Phoenix, Sahuarita, Scottsdale, Surprise, Tempe, and Tucson are all participating communities in the urban fishing program.

Nine of the communities are in the Phoenix valley. Providing maps and directions to all the lakes made it a cinch. We live in Superior, Arizona, 60 miles east of the city of Phoenix. We were anxious to find a spot on the east end of the valley.

Riverview Park Lake

Our first choice was Riverview Park Lake in Mesa, and a great choice it was. Shaped like a four-fingered hand, the lake is 3 acres in area with a maximum depth of 16 feet, and averaging 10 feet in depth. You can catch 4 catfish, 4 trout, 2 bass (13-inch minimum), and 10 sunfish. There is no limit on carp or tilapia. There is nothing like getting your feet wet (pardon the pun) on your first outing and landing a 14-inch largemouth at 2 pounds. This was the first fish I had ever caught, and it was when I had my turn at the pole. I was bitten!!

Riverview Park Lake Ducks

Riverview Park Lake Ducks

The Upgrade of Riverview Park

Riverview Park experienced an upgrade when the Chicago Cubs brought their spring training to Mesa, Arizona.

Construction began in March 2012 (the lake was closed for renovation) and was finished in December 2013. The new lake appears to be bigger than the old one (which was 3 acres and deepest at 16 feet). Paths are lined with huge palm trees and there is more area to sit and fish. In addition, there are new fountains that light up in different colors and dance.

There's a super-duper playground for kids with lots of climbing equipment. It looks like the usage has increased, as there are always parties and celebrations on the fields, but there is no sense of crowding due to its large size.

The vote is overwhelmingly positive for those who live in the area and those who visit. Many believe they have never seen as beautiful a public park. Not far to the west is the new training facility for the Chicago Cubs. It is wonderful and will no doubt be enticing to all the California baseball fans who love to follow baseball. In short, kudos to the city of Mesa.

The Price Includes Waterfowl- and People-Watching

It was a gorgeous day with shade trees near the shoreline. Occasionally we would hear the quackruptions of ducks and Canadian geese. A large white crane flew from tree to tree trying to spot fish on the shore. If he was in a tree near you he ruffled his wings in the leaves loudly and it was strange-sounding to me, but fun for us.

We packed a lunch in a Styrofoam chest along with our bait and enjoyed watching people lying on the green grass, while others bent their poles playing the line to pull in a fish. Aerators periodically placed in the middle of the lake gave off a faint bubbling sound.

And what was the cost of this fine outdoor day of warmth and breeze and setting? Why, it was $21.50, with the right to come back for a year! It cost $3 for bait and $18.50 for an urban fishing license.

Encanto Park Lake- Lakes are generally stocked with catfish in June, September and October, and trout in November and December. View the stocking schedule for specific dates. All state regulations apply to fishing in city of Phoenix parks.

Encanto Park Lake- Lakes are generally stocked with catfish in June, September and October, and trout in November and December. View the stocking schedule for specific dates. All state regulations apply to fishing in city of Phoenix parks.

What to Take Fishing

Most of what you need to fish you might just have: a box for tackle, chairs, food, ice, and don't forget a towel. Those fingers can get a bit smelly and sticky from handling a fish. Bring a bucket so you can fill it with lake water to keep your fish fresh. Later you can buy a chain to hold several fish in the lake near the shore.

If you don't have a pole lying around, you'll need one. Craigslist,, and eBay have a lot of used fishing equipment at good prices. Yard sales are a good place to shop, also. IF you want to go retail, you can get a pole for as little as $7 at Walmart. Likewise at Walmart, you can find a reel that is just fine for around $12. My wife and I now have Zebco reels and a Shakespeare rod purchased there. We use live bait, so night-crawlers cost $3 for a container. Walmart has fresh bait in refrigerators in the sports department - that's all Walmarts. At the park lakes, hooks, flies, and lures must be used so that the fish voluntarily take them into their mouths. If you need hooks, weights, and leaders, add another $15.

Stocking of Catfish and Trout

After our first excursion urban fishing we were HOOKED! The folks we met at the lake were friendly and eager to tell us what bait they were using and how the fishing was going. The urban lakes are generally stocked about every 2 weeks between September and the beginning of July. From July to September the water temp is too high and catfish being brought from Arkansas can't make the trip alive. The Game and Fish department has updates on stocking schedules. You can also find out when lakes were last stocked, and what the fish are biting. This info can be found at and click AZGFD eNews. We even heard folks describe the aquatic landscape at the bottom of the lake for tips on where the bass and catfish liked to feed!

More catfish are used to stock the urban lakes than any other kind of fish. Catfish can smell from far away. One Game and Fish officer told me that they can smell something up to a distance of one mile. Therefore, many people use smelly bait to attract them (sometimes referred to as stink bait). Some of the things that have worked well for me at the urban lakes has been cheese, shrimp, commercial shrimp bait dough, hot dogs, and earthworms. We have had luck catching bass with meal worms, but maybe they work for catfish too?

There is definitely trout fishing at the urban lakes. Trout are stocked in the winter. A variety of trout are used for stocking Arizona lakes, all of the varieties coming from Western states. These states gather eggs and send them to Arizona fisheries where the fish are nurtured and raised to be catchable size. Rainbow trout are solely used for stocking urban lakes.

Sport Fishing Education Program

The following material is quoted from The Arizona Game and Fish Department brochure. I am citing it because of the great job the department does in keeping this a quality program, and to show you what a terrific activity it presents, in particular to folks on a budget.

It’s fun and It’s free!

The Arizona Game and Fish Department has a statewide Sport Fishing Education Program, which teaches introductory fishing skills to people of all ages. Fishing clinics are led by department sanctioned instructors.The department further supplies all educational materials, rods, reels, bait, and terminal tackle at no charge. Topics of instruction include: where and when to fish; selecting tackle and bait; casting and rigging techniques; fishing safety and ethics; care of your catch; and much more.

Fishing for Non-Residents

If you are planning to come to the Phoenix area, you might think about a daily license, and pack a pole. The non-resident one day license runs $17.25. I include this because good fishing in the middle of the desert may be hard for some people to believe.

Several times that first day fishing I thought back to bumper stickers that said, "I'd rather be fishing." Now I understood!

Tempe Town Lake

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 John R Wilsdon


SebSvendsen on December 26, 2011:

What a great post John. I live to fish. I have relatives that live in Phoenix but had no idea there were so many lakes and type of fish to catch. I liked your comments on the catfish and how they can smell for almost a mile. I do believe that it is the smelliest bait that is the best bait for catfish. Again, great post.