Toothy predators with moon-like eyes and a penchant for deep water, walleye have a reputation for being mysterious.
That’s especially true in a place like Arizona, far from walleyes’ native range in the upper Midwest and Canada.
Their other reputation is for being delicious. Walleye have flaky white meat that many anglers consider among the best tasting fish caught in freshwater.
Walleye have been stocked in a handful of Arizona lakes, and pursuing these unique game fish in this part of the country has become an obsession for a handful of dedicated anglers.
Arizona Walleye Fishing Tips
Identifiable by their elongated body shape, olive-gold coloration, reflective eyes and sharp canine-like teeth, walleye look a bit like yellow perch. The two species are, in fact, related. But walleye grow quite a bit bigger… and toothier.
Walleye are capable of exceeding 15 pounds, though individuals in the 2- to 5-pound range are far more common. They’re voracious predators, dining on crayfish, smaller fish and minnows, and a variety of invertebrates.
Walleye almost always stay close to the bottom, and they generally favor deep water. Chalk it up to their eyes, which can detect light even in the darkness of a deep, muddy lake, but are a little too sensitive for direct sunlight.
Walleye spawn on rocky points, gravelly flats and river inlets when water temperatures are between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In Arizona’s lowland reservoirs, that happens in February or March, but it’s often as late as April in the White Mountain lakes.
Once spawning is over, walleye will prowl reefs, rock piles, points and drop-offs, typically staying in deep water during the day, but often prowling shallower structure around dusk and dawn. Night fishing for walleye can be excellent.
The best time to fish for walleye is generally spring and fall, when water temperatures are in the mid to upper 60s. This is their optimal comfort range, and when waters are too warm in summer, walleye are unlikely to leave deep haunts.
Keeping your bait or lure close to the bottom is almost always crucial to success.
Live nightcrawlers are often the best bait, and many anglers will rig them up on a worm harness or bottom bouncer rig, often with beads and spinner blades for extra flash and attraction.
Jigs and crankbaits are effective as well. Rattling crankbaits are most effective in stained or muddy water, and curlytail grubs in white or chartreuse are perennial favorites. Many anglers favor scented grubs.
There are exceptions to every rule, but when it comes to depth, walleye are often predictable. Expect to find walleye in 10 to 15 feet of water in spring and fall, 25 to 40 feet in summer and winter, and 15 to 25 feet during the transitional periods in-between.
In addition to keeping your bait near bottom, it’s often most effective to cast or troll parallel to shore. Walleye often hide around ledges and drop-offs.
In waters with a discernible current, they will position themselves facing upstream. On sunny days, they will almost always seek shade.
When it comes to tackle, a 6- to 7-foot medium to medium-light spinning rod spooled with 8- to 10-pound test line is ideal in most scenarios.
Fluorocarbon line is a good choice, offering improved abrasion resistance and greater density (it sinks) compared to monofilament.
What follows are the best places to catch walleye in Arizona.
Show Low Lake
Nestled among the White Mountains in east-central Arizona at an elevation of 6,500 feet, Show Low Lake is a picturesque dot of blue surrounded by swaying pines and rolling mountain slopes.
Though the reservoir covers just 100 acres, its reputation among walleye anglers is disproportionately large.
That’s because Show Low Lake has kicked out no fewer than five state record walleye over the years, culminating in the current 16-pound champion, which has been unsurpassed since 2002. If you’re out after big ‘eyes, this is the place to find them.
The area around the dam is always popular among walleye anglers. The lake has a maximum depth of 50 feet, and there’s a variety of rocky bottom structure near the dam at varying depths.
Try deep-diving crankbaits and jigs around the rocks, focusing on shallower areas in spring and fall, or deep parts of the lake in summer. In spring, walleye congregate toward the upper end, where Show Low Creek flows into the lake.
Thanks to ample open shoreline and minimal weed growth, Show Low Lake is a great place for shore fishing. You can fish from the bank here any time, but the best chances to catch walleye in shallow water are during low-light hours.
Crankbaits often draw strikes when walleye are in shallow water. Try casting more-or-less parallel to the shore.
Dragging a nightcrawler across the bottom on a bottom-bouncer rig is often productive as well (live bait fish are prohibited here, but nightcrawlers are allowed).
Show Low Lake Campground provides shore fishing access and boat launch facilities in addition to campsites. Boats are limited to 10 hp or less.
Lakes in this part of the state often freeze over in winter, and Show Low Lake is no exception (though seldom is ice thick enough for ice fishing). The road over the Show Low Dam also closes down in winter, limiting access until spring.
Show Low Lake also offers anglers some other options, with regular plantings of hatchery trout as well as enough largemouth and smallmouth bass to land it an honorable mention in our Best Bass Fishing Lakes and Rivers in Arizona.
Fool Hollow Lake
Fool Hollow Lake is located just 10 miles from Show Low Lake, and like its neighbor, it’s a man-made reservoir on Show Low Creek. Of course, that’s not the only thing these two bodies of water have in common.
They’re both outstanding walleye fisheries, and Fool Hollow Lake is where Arizona’s 33-inch catch-and-release record walleye was caught in 2004. It would be fair to call it Arizona’s second-best walleye lake.
Fool Hollow is a little larger than Show Low Lake at 150 acres, but the underwater habitat is similar. The lake has an average depth of 23 feet, with the deepest water being near the dam.
Rip-rap shores in the dam area can be productive around dawn and dusk. There’s also a distinct shelf near the dam where the depth drops off quickly, and this can be a great place to troll for walleye and smallmouth bass, which are both abundant.
Live nightcrawlers are the bait of choice for many walleye anglers here, and Rapalas and other minnow-imitating crankbaits often draw strikes from hungry walleyes. Letting a lipped crankbait bounce off the rocky bottom as you retrieve it is a great tactic.
As in many lakes, spring and fall are the best times to find walleye in relatively shallow water. In spring, as they prepare to spawn, walleye will head toward the upper end of the lake around the mouth of Show Low Creek.
Many anglers would argue that fall is really the best time to fish for walleye at Fool Hollow Lake.
When the water starts to get chilly just before winter, walleye will often hunt in shallow water because it’s the warmest water available. It’s possible to catch them within a few feet of the bank at times.
Fool Hollow Recreation Area surrounds the lake, and is managed by AZ State Parks, and offers camping, shore fishing access and boat launch facilities. There is a 10 hp max on gas-powered motors on the lake.
Salt River Lakes
A series of large reservoirs in central Arizona, the Salt River Lakes—Roosevelt, Apache, Canyon and Saguaro Lakes—are among the best fishing lakes in the state for a variety of species.
Saguaro Lake is the best of the bunch for walleye. The lake is about 10 miles long and spans 1,200 acres, with a variety of deep, rocky structure. The shoreline is mostly made up of rocky cuts and coves, with a steep drop to the main river channel.
The area right around the shelf that drips off to the river channel offers some of the best walleye fishing.
With the exception of the spring spawning season, walleye are usually fairly deep in Saguaro Lake, and anglers often catch them by trolling right along that shelf as the sun sinks down.
The Campers Cove and Weaver Ledge area of Saguaro Lake is one of the better walleye spots, with a steep shelf 30 or 40 feet from the bank.
The bluff walls between Razorback Point and Bat Cliffs are good too. Walleye will seek out shade here on sunny days.
In general, steep canyon walls make Saguaro Lake a tough place to fish from shore, but the US Forest Service provides bank access sites at Bagley Flat and Butcher Jones Recreation Site.
In addition to Saguaro Lake, 950-acre Canyon Lake and 2,568-acre Apache Lake also offer some solid walleye fishing opportunities. Both have given up walleye in the 5-pound class, though fishing reports in recent years suggest that walleye populations aren’t what they used to be.
Still, these lakes are always worth a few casts.
Try the Skull Cove area in Canyon Lake, which is a south-facing cut with a steep drop-off into the main river channel.
In Apache Lake, numerous ledges and drops have potential, including Cross Point and the river channel just off Amethyst Cove.
A few walleye also stay in the Salt River itself for all or part of the year. The tailrace area directly below Saguaro Lake’s Stewart Mountain Dam is a particularly good spot.
Note that the reservoirs on the Salt River also rate among Arizona’s best bets for bass, crappie and catfish.
Upper Lake Mary
Formed by a dam on Walnut Creek in central Arizona, Upper Mary Lake is an underrated fishery for walleye, crappie, catfish and—somewhat of a rarity in Arizona—northern pike. It’s one of the best fishing lakes in the Flagstaff area.
Upper Mary Lake is part of a man-made chain, along with Lower Mary Lake. But while Upper Lake Mary spans about 600 acres, neighboring Lower Lake Mary often dries up in summer, and offers little to no fishing opportunity.
But Upper Lake Mary offers solid numbers of 1- to 3-pound walleye, along with the occasional larger fish. The best fishing tends to be from the center of the lake (known as ‘the Narrows’) to the south end of the lake.
Upper Mary is long and narrow, with steep drop-offs and easily accessible banks that make it an excellent place to fish from shore. Try casting swimbaits, crankbaits and curlytail grubs parallel to the bank.
The best lure colors tend to be white/silver, which mimics juvenile crappie, and firetiger, which looks like nothing in particular but offers high visibility in Upper Lake Mary’s often-turbid waters.
Tie on a red-and-white Daredevle spoon for a shot at catching both walleye and pike.
Lake Mary Road runs along the northeast shore of Upper Lake Mary, which has extensive stretches of riprap shore. The prevailing winds tend to drive plankton and baitfish toward this bank, and larger game fish like walleye usually follow.
The lake is located within Coconino National Forest, and the US Forest Service operates access sites at the Lake Mary Narrows Boat Launch and Picnic Area and the Upper Lake Mary Boat Launch and Picnic Area.
Spanning over 161,000 acres, Lake Powell is the second-largest man-made reservoir in America behind Lake Mead at full pool, although full pool has been elusive in frequent years of drought.
Most of Lake Powell lies within the state of Utah, but Arizona’s relatively small slice of the pie is still a lot of water and offers plenty of fishing.
Powell is well known for striped bass fishing and other tremendous fishing opportunities, including a decent walleye population.
The best time to go after walleye in Lake Powell is usually toward the end of April into May, when water temperatures warm up to the mid-60s. By this time, walleye will have finished spawning, and will be feeding heavily.
Along with shad and small sunfish, crayfish make up a significant part of walleyes’ diet in Lake Powell, and you have a good shot at catching fish with diving crankbaits and curlytail grubs around main lake points and rock piles.
White and chartreuse are great lure colors, and crayfish patterns can also work well. Try tipping the hook of your lure with a piece of nightcrawler to give it a little extra smell and taste.
Wahweap Bay offers some of the best walleye habitat on the Arizona end of Lake Powell. A lot of good-sized fish have been caught around Antelope Point and the mouth of Antelope Creek as well.
As the water warms up in summer, try trolling in deep water along the shady side of rock walls. With their sensitive eyes, walleye will seek out shade whenever possible on hot, sunny days.
Lyman Lake—sometimes referred to as Lyman Reservoir—is the largest lake in Eastern Arizona, although at 1,400 acres it’s dwarfed by some of the major reservoirs in the central part of the state.
Still, it’s an excellent fishing lake for a variety of species, and walleye are certainly one of the marquee fish in Lyman Lake. Giants are rare, but the lake harbors a tremendous population in the 16- to 20-inch range.
Lyman Lake is a man-made reservoir on the Little Colorado River. The deeper, northern end of the lake near the dam tends to be the most reliable walleye haunt, and deep structure in this area can harbor walleye just about any time of year.
In spring and fall, it pays to shift your focus toward shallower rocks and the deep edges of near-shore weed beds. The water tends to be somewhat stained at Lyman Lake, so it’s a good idea to add a little flash or vibration to your offering.
Noisy crankbaits like Rat-L-Traps and Rattlin’ Rapalas often result in some of the biggest catches. Nightcrawlers are most effective on a harness rig that includes a spinner blade and a few beads.
Unlike most lakes in this part of the state, Lyman Lake has no horsepower restrictions, so you’ll see more pleasure boaters and personal watercraft here, especially in summer.
Launch facilities and shore access, including an accessible fishing pier, are located in Lyman Lake State Park.
Catch More Walleye
You will improve your odds of landing these excellent game fish by checking out our free guide, Walleye Fishing: Simple Techniques and Tips.