Patagonia Lake: Your Guide to Great Fishing

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A relatively small lake that’s well off the beaten path for most Arizonans, Patagonia Lake is one of the great sleeper fishing lakes in the state for bass, crappie, catfish and even trout.

Patagonia Lake is 90 minutes south of Tucson and less than 15 miles from the Mexican border in Southern Arizona. Created in 1968 with the construction of an earthen dam on Sonoita Creek, the lake is a regional hub for boating and recreation as well as fishing.

Patagonia Lake State Park encompases much of the lake’s southern shoreline, and serves as the primary access point on Patagonia Lake. 

Surrounded by rolling hills overgrown with scrub oak and juniper, Patagonia Lake is a picturesque lake perched at 3,750 feet.

The area is also popular for bird watching, and you might catch a glimpse of a canyon towhee, Inca dove or vermilion flycatcher while you wet your line.

At 250 acres, Patagonia Lake is dwarfed by many of the larger man-made lakes up in Central Arizona, but it’s still one of the largest bodies of water in southeastern Arizona. It’s also at a higher elevation than many of Arizona’s most famous fishing lakes, and the climate is significantly milder.

That makes this a lake with year-round fishing opportunities. Summertime highs are typically in the 90s—hot, but nowhere near as punishing as some parts of the state—and winter temperatures are typically in the 60s. 

Fishing for bass and catfish is possible even during the hottest part of the year, and Patagonia Lake is also stocked with rainbow trout during the cooler months. 

Patagonia Lake is a great lake to fish from a small craft like a jon boat, or even a kayak or float tube.

With its ample shoreline reed beds and cattails, overhanging trees, submerged brush and aquatic vegetation, this is a lake that benefits from being fished slowly and methodically.

Largemouth Bass

Patagonia Lake is the best bass lake in Southern Arizona, and really the only lake in this part of the state that can hold its own among the heavy hitters like Lake Havasu and Roosevelt Lake.

The largemouth bass population here tends to be very well balanced, with healthy numbers of fish in every size class.

This is a lake where you can catch 1- and 2-pound bass one-after-another on a good day, and there are more than enough 5-pounders to keep things interesting. Even a 10-pound bass isn’t off the table in Patagonia Lake.

The best time to be here is during the spring season when bass transition from deep winter haunts through pre-spawn patterns and eventually spawn in the lake’s shallow coves and flats. 

March through June are prime months for bass fishing at Patagonia Lake, and you can catch largemouths here all through summer, especially early in the morning and late in the evening. There’s usually a good fall bite too. 

Largemouths dine on a diverse forage base in Patagonia Lake, including frogs, bluegill, crawfish and shad. As a result, a wide range of fishing tactics can be effective. 

The abundance of shallow cover makes Patagonia Lake an especially great place to catch bass in less than 10 feet of water. In late March and April, it’s often possible to spot bass on their beds using polarized sunglasses. 

Flipping soft plastics around shallow reeds and cattails is almost always effective. Worms, creature baits, tube jigs and Senkos are all great options. Areas all along the north shore have tons of shallow cover, including some fallen trees. 

Look for gaps between beds of reeds and cattails, and try to flip your lure right into the pocket. Bass will often hit your lure as it falls. Working a weedless frog along the shoreline can be a fun tactic in summer too. 

If you prefer fishing deeper water, look to the area around the footbridge near the Patagonia Lake Marina, where a steep shelf drops off about 40 feet from shore. It’s a great spot to fish a drop-shot rig or a Carolina-rigged worm. 

There’s also a stretch of steep, rocky shoreline on the north shore right across from the state park launch ramp, where bass often congregate. Try Hangman’s Cove, which is nestled in a notch between two rocky slopes.

Trout are also on the seasonal menu for the biggest bass in Patagonia Lake. Rainbows are stocked monthly throughout the colder months, and a chunky trout-pattern swimbait might be your ticket to a trophy bass, especially in early spring.

Catch More Bass

Find Patagonia and other exceptional spots in our Best Bass Fishing Lakes and Rivers in Arizona.

Then learn more ways to catch them with our guide, Bass Fishing: Simple Techniques and Tips.

Black Crappie

Black crappie in Patagonia Lake don’t get quite as much attention as bass do, but this is a great spot for crappie fishing. With so much shallow cover available, this is the kind of lake where crappies feel right at home.

Spring is prime time for crappie, and these fish flock to shallows to spawn in April, often seeking out the warmest available water.

Crappies typically gather in 5 to 15 feet of water this time of year, but it’s also not uncommon to catch them right up against the bank. 

The best tactic is to slowly drift or troll along the reed-lined banks and cast small jigs to likely-looking spots. Anywhere the reeds are punctuated with a fallen tree or a visible brush pile is especially worth a cast or two. 

Work slowly and methodically, but keep it moving until you start getting bites. Once you do, stop and work the spot more thoroughly. Crappie almost always travel in schools, so when you catch one, you can bet there are more nearby. 

They often group up with similar-sized fish too, so if you catch one or two tiny crappies, you can take that as a sign that the bigger fish are elsewhere. There are plenty of big 12- to 16-inch crappies in Patagonia Lake, so keep looking for those.

A 1/16 or 1/32-ounce jighead adorned with a small tube or similar plastic body is standard-issue among crappie anglers. A split-tail jig like a Bett’s Beetle or a shad-shaped jig like a Bass Assassin Tiny Shad can also do the trick. 

Chartreuse and white are tried-and-true colors, but hot pink, black and various color combinations may also be effective. Carry an assortment of small jigs in different colors, and be ready to experiment to find the day’s hot lure. 

The Ash Canyon Arm, on the north shore of Patagonia Lake, is a reliable crappie spot, and there are often fish around the sunken Christmas trees, which are marked by buoys in the central part of the lake. 

Crappies have a way of vanishing into deep water in summer, though they’ll still be caught occasionally, especially around sundown.

When fall rolls around, there’s a turnover period on Patagonia Lake, that leaves the water stirred-up and muddy. Once things settle down and clear out, there’s often one last flurry of crappie activity before winter.

Catch More Crappie

Patagonia Lake has earned a spot on our rundown of the Best Crappie Fishing Lakes in Arizona. If you’re at all interested in catching a stringer full of the tastiest panfish around (and who isn’t?), check out that article.

Also, you have to catch them before you can fillet them, right? Look to our Crappie Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips for all the inside info.


If catfish are your game fish of choice, you have plenty of opportunities to catch them in Patagonia Lake.

Channel catfish are common enough that you can expect to catch a few pretty much any time of year, but it’s flathead catfish that really keep anglers coming back for more.

While most of the channel cats in Patagonia Lake tip the scales at a pound or two, flatheads commonly cross the 10-pound mark and occasionally get much bigger than that.

A 56-pound flathead caught in 2014 holds the lake record, but 20- and 30-pounders turn up almost every year.

Both species respond to different baits, but they have a few things in common. Both spend most of their time hunting close to the bottom, and both are most likely to bite early in the morning, late in the evening, and at night. 

Overall, shore access is somewhat limited at Patagonia Lake due to steep banks and overgrowth along the lakeshore, but catfish provide some of the best shore fishing opportunities here. 

Anglers armed with lanterns, sturdy rods and any smelly, natural bait have a good chance of catching catfish after the sun goes down. There are a few good shore fishing spots in the state park.

There’s also an abundance of shore access down on the west end of the lake close to the dam, where the best bet for catfish anglers is to fish close to the drop-off. Catfish use places like this to transition between deep daytime holes and shallower areas where they hunt at night.

Of course, if you have a boat, you have more options. Hang a right when you leave the little bay where the marina is located, and look for a stretch of shoreline with overhanging mesquite trees and sunken logs. It’s a great spot to load up on catfish.

Channel catfish have a reputation for being somewhat indiscriminate feeders. Nightcrawlers, chicken livers, hot dogs, dough baits, shrimp—they’ll gobble up just about anything that smells and tastes good.

Flatheads are more active predators, and are more likely to grab a live bluegill or shad. Some of the biggest flatheads have been caught using jigs and other lures intended for bass.

Catch More Catfish

Check out the following articles to boost your odds of having a fried catfish dinner following your next fishing trip.

Best Catfish Fishing Lakes and Rivers in Arizona

Catfish Fishing: Simple How-To Techniques and Tips

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout offer more of a seasonal fishery at Patagonia Lake, but they’re a great option during the winter months when the fishing for most other species slows down. 

Every Year, the Arizona Game & Fish Department stocks rainbow trout in Patagonia Lake throughout the winter. Trout stocking usually occurs once each month from November to March, and anglers looking for some off-season fishing can have a great day here in winter. 

Winter water temperatures at Patagonia Lake are typically in the 40s and 50s, which is right in the comfort zone for trout. The best bite tends to be early in the morning, so pack your rod the night before, and bring a Thermos of coffee to keep you warm. 

Stocking takes place at the state park, so focus your efforts on that general area.

Patagonia Lake operates as a put-and-take trout fishery, and the trout are usually fished out by the end of spring. You’ll be fishing for freshly stocked catchable-size rainbows mostly in the 10- to 12-inch range.

Panther Martin and Rooster Tail spinners are great lures for trout in Patagonia Lake. Small spoons and Rapala jerkbaits are often effective as well. 

If you’re more the bait-and-bobber type, you can catch plenty of trout using a nightcrawler beneath a float.

Other baits, including corn, salmon eggs, bits of cheese and dough are also effective. Manufactured dough baits like Berkley PowerBait Trout Nuggets often work like a charm.

Catch More Trout

Ever wondered what are the very best trout lakes and rivers in Arizona? Well, there’s your answer (the link goes to our Complete Guide to Trout Fishing in Arizona, which includes a complete run-down of the best places to catch trout).

New to trout fishing? Or need to brush up on your skills? We gotcha: Trout Fishing: How-To Techniques and Tips.


Patagonia Lake is a great panfish fishery, and tends to produce more and bigger bluegill than your average Arizona lake. This is a great place to catch chunky hand-sized bluegill that weigh close to a pound.

Proof of Patagonia’s ability to produce big panfish came in the form of a hybrid sunfish caught here that earned a spot among inland waters in the Arizona Game Fish Records.

Bluegill can seem to be everywhere in spring and summer, but the biggest ones often hang around the reeds and brush piles along the north shore, and around the sunken Christmas trees.

There are often some big ‘gills in the Ash Canyon Arm and Hangman’s Cove, and toward the east end of the lake near the Sonoita Creek Inlet. Look for them here especially in spring, when bluegill spawn on shallow flats.

Bluegill spawn around the same time as largemouth bass (typically in April on Patagonia Lake) and the males dig out nest-like depressions in shallow flats near shore. 

Most days, you don’t need a very complicated setup to catch bluegill. A red worm, meal worm or bit of nightcrawler beneath a bobber is usually all it takes to entice a bite.

Various small jigs can also be effective, and the biggest bluegills will often take jigs intended for crappie. 

Bluegill offer a great opportunity to introduce kids to fishing on Patagonia Lake. And because they often share habitat with bass, crappie and catfish, fishing for bluegill is a great way to “accidentally” have a fun day catching a mixed bag of various fish species.

Learn more about catching these feisty fighters (and tasty fish) in our Fishing for Bluegill and Sunfish: Simple Techniques and Tips.

Planning Your Trip

There’s no bad time to plan a fishing trip on Patagonia Lake. Spring offers arguably the best fishing, but thanks to the relatively mild climate, this is also a great summer fishing spot.

Summer is by far the busiest season, especially summer weekends, but anglers in winter may feel as though they have the lake entirely to themselves.

Directions to Patagonia Lake

Patagonia Lake is in Santa Cruz County, about 1 hour and 20 minutes south of Tucson via I-19 S.

Another route option is to head east on I-10 E, and then south on State Route 83 to AZ-82. From AZ-82, Patagonia Lake Road leads through Sonoita Creek State Natural Area to Patagonia Lake State Park. 

The Lakeside Market, located within the park, offers some basic groceries along with camping and fishing supplies, fishing licenses and souvenirs.

More shopping and dining options are available in the city of Nogales, about 15 miles south on the U.S. side of the border (Nogales, Mexico, is on the south side). There also are supplies and services in the town of Patagonia on State Route 82 as well as along Interstate 19.

Bank and Boat Access

Patagonia Lake State Park is the main access point on Patagonia Lake. The park offers two developed boat ramps—one at the marina and another closest to the park campground—as well as a smaller hand-launch for canoes and kayaks.

There are also a few shore fishing spots in the park. The small bay where the marina is located features a pedestrian bridge, and it’s possible to fish from shore around the bridge. The park also has two accessible fishing docks, and there are a few spots in the picnic area where one can cast from shore. 

For additional shore fishing options, try driving west from the state part to the dam at the western end of Patagonia Lake. There’s a lot of open shoreline here for anyone willing to walk a bit. 

Patagonia State Park also includes a swimming beach, as well as a campground with more than 100 campsites for tents and RVs. Electric and non-electric sites are available, as well as a handful of boat-in campsites scattered along various parts of the lakeshore.

Boat rentals are available at the marina, and the park’s visitor center will supply more information.

Know Before You Go

Boaters on Patagonia Lake should be aware that a little over half the lake is a designated no-wake zone. This includes Ash Canyon, Hangman’s Cove, and the entirety of the lake from the state park to the east end.

Fishing is permitted throughout the Patagonia Lake, but water sports including water skiing are restricted to the western end of the lake. Personal watercraft, jet-skis, water bikes, above-water exhaust boats and V-8 jet boats are completely prohibited.