The area around Tucson and Southeastern Arizona rises from parched deserts to alpine lakes and streams.
The region’s fishing options range from excellent bass and panfish lakes to high-mountain lakes and streams with rare native trout. Park ponds swim through the seasons with stocked trout and catfish.
This article covers some of the best fishing spots throughout this five-county region that borders both New Mexico and Mexico.
We’ll cover each county individually, starting with the Tucson area and working counter-clockwise through the region.
Use the table of contents to jump to specific areas you want to fish.
Fishing Near Tucson and Pima County
Home of Tucson and more than 1 million people, this is the second-largest population center in Arizona, after the Phoenix area.
Pima County is home to Saguaro National Park, Catalina State Park, and the University of Arizona.
Here are some of the best places to fish in Pima County:
Largemouth bass fishing is often the goal for anglers who make an effort to reach this remote lake in the grassy hills several miles north of the Mexican border.
Then again, sunfish fishing also can be a blast here, with redear sunfish and bluegill willing to take a fly, small lure, or bait. The redears caught here have topped the state record list several times.
Either way, spring is an especially great time to fish at Arivaca Lake.
Small boats, kayaks, and similar watercraft are perfect for this 80-acre lake, which has arms that snake off in several directions.
Later in the season, work along the edges of thick weeds or walk weedless lures over the tops.
Know before you go that there is a 10-horsepower limit for motorized boats. There’s a boat ramp available.
Bird watching and rock climbing are other popular outdoor activities in the area. It’s also near the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.
It’s located about 25 minutes southeast of the town of Arivaca and nearly an hour and a half south of Tucson.
Note that there is a consumption advisory for the bass, so we’d recommend catch-and-release fishing.
Rose Canyon Lake
This small but pretty lake in the Santa Catalina Mountains offers anglers an alpine trout fishing experience just an hour or so northeast of Tucson.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department stocks rainbow trout in the lake during the cooler months. Typically the stocking is paused for the peak summer heat, but fishing for holdover trout can remain an option.
The lake, just 6 or 7 acres in size, is surrounded by Ponderosa Pines and sits at about 7,000 feet in elevation, which makes it a nice place to escape the heat even if the fishing falls off.
Trails and a dock provide fishing access, and many visitors stay at the nearby Rose Canyon Campground.
The road into the lake may be closed when the campground closes, typically from October until it reopens in the spring. However, the lake remains open to fishing for anyone who parks near the locked gate and walks in.
There are modest fees for day and overnight use.
Community Fishing Waters
This 10-acre lake in Tucson’s John F. Kennedy Park is stocked with trout and catfish during the season.
Recent stocking schedules anticipate plantings of channel catfish during the fall, likely beginning in October and continuing into November.
When the water reaches its lower wintertime temperatures, the AZGFD will likely stock legal-sized hatchery trout periodically for a couple of months. December and January are likely to be among your best bets for trout success.
When spring rolls around again, more plantings of catfish are likely beginning in late March or April.
The lake also is home to resident fish, with bluegill among the most likely you’ll catch year-round. In addition, bass and carp might be available.
Special regulations in this and other Tucson park lakes include no live baitfish and gasoline boat motors. Check the City of Tucson regulations we’ve linked below for current details.
The park, which also has picnic tables and playground equipment, sits on the north side of W. Ajo Way in southwest Tucson, near a U.S. Border Patrol and Pima County Public Library buildings. There are park entrances leading to parking from either side via S. Mission Road and S. La Cholla Blvd.
This lake within Chuck Ford Lakeside Park offers seasonally good fishing for stocked catfish and trout.
Expect plantings of channel catfish in the early to mid-spring and again a few times in the fall starting in about October.
Your fishing tactics will switch to hatchery trout around the holidays, as trout are often stocked starting in December and continuing well into winter.
Fishing will be at its peak soon after the lake is stocked and then taper off as anglers catch out the fish.
You might also catch bluegill in the lake, with the potential for other species common to the region, such as largemouth bass and carp.
Chuck Ford Lakeside Park is in southeastern Tucson. There’s a small parking area off E. Stella Road just past Inez C. Ford Elementary School.
This is a 13-acre lake in Christopher Columbus Park on the northwestern side of Tucson.
Fishing here should pick up when the first stocking trucks arrive. Recent schedules showed plans to stock channel catfish during the spring and fall months and hatchery trout during the winter.
Your best odds are to time your trip soon after a planting, when fishing is at its peak.
Sources also report that both largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill and carp may also be available in this lake.
Small boats without gas motors are allowed here, as with the other Tucson community lakes listed above.
Christopher Columbus Park is located along N. Silverbell Road, on the west side of I-10 and the Santa Cruz River.
More: City of Tucson parks information
This 10-acre lake offers seasonal fishing for catfish and trout in the town of Sahuarita, about a half-hour’s drive south of Tucson.
The lake is typically stocked on about the same schedule as community lakes in Tucson, meaning it’s likely to get planted with channel catfish several times in the spring and fall, plus hatchery trout periodically during the winter.
Largemouth bass and bluegill may also be available.
Watch for scheduled family fishing days.
Small boats are allowed, but not gasoline motors.
Good parking is available on the south end of Sahuarita Lake Park via S. Ranch Sahuarita Blvd. You also can walk onto the 1-mile lakeshore trail from S. Camino Lago Azul on the north end of this long, narrow lake in a residential neighborhood.
More: City of Sahuarita parks information
Santa Cruz County
This smallest county in the state by area is home to about 50,000 people in Nogales and other communities. One of the favorite outdoor destinations is Patagonia Lake State Park.
This lake in the mountains near the center of this county, an hour and a half south of Tucson, may be somewhat out of the way, but it’s often worth the trip.
Patagonia Lake earned a top spot on our website as one of the best bass fishing lakes in Arizona, and it also scored honorable mentions for catfish and crappie fishing.
At only about 250 acres, it’s practically a pond compared to the massive reservoirs in Central Arizona. But don’t let its relatively small size fool you.
Besides the great fishing for game fish we’ve already mentioned, the state regularly stocks Patagonia Lake with hatchery trout during the coolest fall and winter months.
The lake also has some very nice bluegill and redear sunfish that pick up the slack when the trout fishing fades with warming weather and are scrappy fish to catch.
We could go on, but you’re better off checking out our complete angler’s guide.
More: Patagonia Lake Fishing
Peña Blanca Lake
This is another mountain reservoir in the mountains just north of the Mexican border.
At just 45 acres, it’s quite a bit smaller than Patagonia Lake, but it has many of the same fishing opportunities.
Fishing is popular for largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill and redear sunfish.
And like Patagonia Lake, it’s also stocked during the cooler months with hatchery rainbow trout. Expect plantings about once a month from roughly November to March, as water conditions allow.
It’s worth noting that there is a consumption advisory for the resident fish caught in this lake. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality especially warns against eating any largemouth bass from this lake, due to accumulations of mercury, a naturally occurring metal that can be toxic in high enough quantities.
The advisory doesn’t include trout because they arrive as catchable-sized fish and haven’t spent their lives in the lake water accumulating mercury.
So, we recommend you catch and release the bass and possibly most other fish, but bring home a limit of fresh trout in the fall, winter, or early spring and enjoy a meal.
There is a day-use area, including boat launch and fishing piers. Camping is available just down the road at White Rock Campground, although limited campsites tend to fill up pretty fast in the summer.
The lake is about a 30-minute drive from Nogales and a little over an hour from Tucson.
Sierra Vista is the largest community in this county of more than 125,000 people in the farthest southeastern corner of the state, bordering both the Mexico and New Mexico borders.
Area attractions include the Chiricahua National Monument, Kartchner Caverns State Park, and Coronado National Memorial.
Parker Canyon Lake
This 125-acre lake in the Canelo Hills offers a nice variety of fishing opportunities huddled on the west side of this county and just a handful of miles north of the Mexico border.
Trout fishing is the main attraction during the cooler months, with hatchery trout stocked about once a month from around November to March.
Bait, lures and flies are among typical trout fishing techniques that will get the job done on planted rainbows.
Even before the trout fishing fades, Parker Canyon’s substantial largemouth bass fishery starts to heat up.
Warmer weather also will put the lake’s catfish, bluegill and redear sunfish on the bite. The bass and bluegill also come with a consumption warning here, and catch-and-release fishing for bass is seldom a bad idea.
Between the Lakeview Campground and Parker Canyon Lake Marina, you will find camping, boat rentals, and a store for supplies to make the most of your trip to the lake.
While boaters have the most access to the entire lake, shore anglers can do well from a fishing pier or setting off along a gravel path along the shoreline.
It’s a bit of a drive, about an hour and 45 minutes southeast of Tucson, but it’s a nice getaway in hills studded with juniper and oak trees of the Coronado National Forest.
Graham County on the New Mexico border is home to about 40,000 people in Safford and other communities.
Natural landmarks include Mount Graham towering over 10,000 feet and part of the Gila River.
Cluff Ranch Pond
The main pond at the Cluff Ranch Wildlife Area near Pima and Safford historically is stocked with hatchery trout during the coolest months, often from fall through winter.
The larger pond also has had year-round fish populations, including largemouth bass.
Only human- or electric-powered watercraft may be used here. Swimming is not allowed.
However, we should note that water conditions (including pond rehabilitation work) may impact fish stocking and fishing activities here, so check the Cluff webpage for information.
Located in Swift Trail Junction just off U.S. Highway 191, this former private catfish pond is now the centerpiece of Dankworth Pond State Park.
The park is a day-use facility, although anglers looking for overnight camping can find it at nearby Roper Lake (see separate entry below).
Expect trout stocking to occur when the water cools down in about November, with plantings possible every few weeks into about March.
Those trout bring out extra anglers, but they also bring out the largest of the pond’s largemouth bass, which gobble up whole trout and grow to impressive sizes here despite the relatively small body of water.
Try a large trout-pattern soft swimbait or a similar crankbait and work it like a wounded trout, and a big bass might think it found the easiest meal around.
After the epic fight that might ensue after the above tactic, we recommend releasing bass to help maintain this fishery. Bass are slow-growing species, and overfishing can easily occur on small lakes. Larger bass also aren’t the best-eating fish around.
Besides the bass and seasonal trout, gamefish here include catfish, crappie and sunfish such as bluegill.
Take Dankworth Lake Road east off the highway near the south end of this community.
See the Dankworth Pond State Park website for additional visitor information.
Frye Mesa Reservoir
This small reservoir near the northern foot of Mt. Graham is one of just three places in Arizona where you can legally fish for rare Gila trout, a native species found only in a relative handful of spots in Arizona and New Mexico.
The reservoir is only about 4 acres in size. The Gila trout reproduce on their own, but AGFD also has supplemented the trout population here with periodic stocking.
The reservoir is open to bank fishing only. Boats are not permitted.
Frye Creek is closed to fishing, at last check.
Located about 40 minutes southwest of Safford, using Frye Mesa Road.
Riggs Flat Lake
Riggs Flat Lake, also known simply as Riggs Lake, is a high-elevation lake near the towering Mt. Graham in the Coronado National Forest.
It’s a twisty nearly two-hour drive up the Swift Trail road into the Pinaleno Mountains southwest of Safford, but the payoff is a mountain lake in a patch of forest that can provide a welcome respite from the sweltering valley below.
Just 11 acres in size, it’s stocked with young brown trout in the fall, giving them time to grow over the winter to reach respectable size when the lake reopens in the spring.
The lake is also stocked with catchable-sized hatchery rainbow trout during the main season, starting mid-spring and continuing through summer and early fall.
Small boats are allowed, but many anglers fish this small lake from its accessible shoreline. Bait fishing is the most common method to catch hatchery rainbows, although artificial lures and flies often will entice both rainbows and the wilier brown trout.
See the U.S. Forest Service’s Riggs Flat webpage for additional information, including season and fees.
This is another attractive lake that is stocked trout multiple times from the fall into about early March, when water conditions are favorable for the species.
The 32-acre Roper Lake is the centerpiece of Roper Lake State Park, which also has camping, cabins, a boat launch, and other amenities.
The park is in the Cactus Flat area at the south end of Safford. It’s a pretty little spot that makes a nice weekend getaway for many Arizonans during the milder weather.
Fish include largemouth bass (some nice ones), channel catfish and panfish including crappie, bluegill and sunfish.
The state park reports bass in the 5- to 7-pound range. Larger bass move into shallows during the early spring to spawn and can be aggressive.
The lunkers also are likely to hunt stocked trout as mentioned under the Dankworth Pond entry, so try to “match the hatch” with trout-imitating lures.
As it gets warmer and bass seek out shade, try fishing the edges of reeds and weeds with your favorite bass techniques.
We also suggest you practice catch and release for bass here. These smaller lakes can use all the help they can get to maintain their populations of larger fish.
You can launch a small boat, but gas motors are not allowed.
Community Fishing Waters
Graham County Fairgrounds
This “Duck Pond” at the fairgrounds is likely to be stocked with catfish in the fall and spring, while periodic trout stocking occurs in the coldest times from late fall into winter.
Bank fishing access is easy from the outer edges and a circular peninsula that fills the pond’s middle and features shade trees.
The county fairgrounds are on the east side of U.S. 191 at the southern end of Safford.
Another New Mexico border county, Greenlee has fewer than 10,000 residents, making it Arizona’s smallest county by population. Clifton is the largest community.
The county includes rugged mountains, the San Francisco River and the Bear Wallow Wilderness and other primitive areas great for backcountry hiking.
This small lake amid high alpine meadows and evergreen forests is a spot where you can cast flies and lures for a shot at catching native Apache trout and even grayling.
You must carefully release anything you catch in this fragile ecosystem at nearly 9,000 feet in elevation in the White Mountains.
The drive takes you on one of the highest-elevation roads anywhere in Arizona in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, but it’s not far off U.S. 191.
Dispersed camping and lots of backpacking opportunities grace the region.
This mountain stream harbors rainbow and brown trout in the mainstem, while some of its tributaries, such as Bear Wallow Creek and Fish Creek, are home to native Apache Trout.
The Black River forms the northwestern boundary of Greenlee County. The lower sections of the boundary section also can be fished for smallmouth bass, and sections of this river are among the best bass fishing spots in Arizona.
If you’re a backpacker, study trail maps and bring along a lightweight fly rod or spinning outfit and a small selection of flies or lures to find wild trout away from the roads in this remote part of Arizona.
More Nearby Fishing
Best Fishing Near Phoenix (Maricopa and Pinal Counties)