Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sunday Morning Bass Fishing

 I don't have a lot of opportunity to get to the larger lakes around southern Arizona, and I do not own a boat, so when I do get to go I usually have to fish from shore. The lakes here are basically large canyons with an earthen dam at one end, and the shore lines are usually sheer rock walls that rise hundreds of feet out of the water with some worked over areas for boat ramps and picnic areas. Fishing from shore usually means being limited to a couple hundred yards of brush lined shore, swim or play areas, or playing Spider-man from a cliff face a hundred or more feet above the water. Needless to say, this is not a very productive, or safe way to fish, so when a buddy of mine asked me if I wanted to take his canoe and go with him to Arivaca Lake last weekend I jumped at the chance to be able to actually fish a body of water.

Sunday morning found me already awake when my alarm clock went off at 5:00, and the sun was just starting to brighten the sky. I had to drop my daughter off at her volunteer job at the local animal shelter, so after waking her up, I bounded down the stairs and warmed up a cup of coffee. While I was waiting for Kayla to come down stairs I went through my tackle and loaded three poles, two tackle boxes full of lures, and a plastic grocery sack with catfish bait and rags. Even I knew this was overkill for this trip, but like any fisherman, I didn't want to need something that I had left at home.

After making a lunch, and loading the truck I found Kayla eating a bowl of cereal, and looking like she wanted to kill me. She looked up at me with her sleepy blue eyes and grumbled "I don't have to be there for three more hours, you owe me Starbucks on the way!" She didn't have to be there until 8:00, but could get there as early as 7:00. I was too excited to feel bad for her or to object so I just smiled and agreed to her demand. I poured myself another cup of coffee (I love plain black coffee) and urged her to move a little faster because we still had to load up the canoe at Stu's house before we could get going.

Stu and I had agreed to meet at his house at around 6:00A.M., and I pulled up to his house around 5:45. He must have been just as excited as me, because he had already pulled his tackle, life vests, and canoe oars out to the curb and was fussing with his project motorcycle while he waited for us to get there. By 6:30 we had the canoe strapped to the truck at a rather steep angle from the roof of the cab down to the tailgate, and the rest of the gear stowed neatly in the small back seat area. so it was off to Starbucks for Kayla's coffee drink, then the local convenience store for a cup of coffee for me and a can of night crawlers, and then to drop off Kayla. Finally we pointed the truck south on I-19 and were headed to Arivaca.

The trip to the lake takes about 15 minutes on the freeway and then another hour and a half on some fairly empty highways. We drifted through the hilly countryside talking about the various ranches and farms that have been in the area since the early 1800's. The rout took us through an ever changing landscape of desert scrub, mesquite forest, desert grassland before the pavement ended and we took the single lane dirt track back through some low mountains and down into the large canyon where the towering cottonwood and oak trees let us know we had arrived at the lake.
A picturesque view of Arivaca Lake from the bottom of the boat ramp.

Stu had talked to some of the locals during the week, to get a kind of fishing report, and had heard that the lake level was extremely low and the banks were muddy due to the extended drought the southwest has been going through, but i was shacked at how low the lake really was. A small shallow channel has been cut into the lake bed for boats to use to get to the lake from the ramp. This runs in a slow curve for about a hundred yards before it met with the main lake, and is shallow enough to prohibit anything larger than a row boat from getting to the water. As a reference point, when the lake is full my Nissan Titan would be completely under water where we parked it to unload. The lake is probably 15-20 feet low and losing water at an alarming rate due to the drought.

Part of what I love about this lake is the fact that it is kept in an extremely primitive condition. There is only one dirt road to get to the lake, and the boat ramp is basically a bunch of 2'x10' concrete slabs spaced out just wide enough to provide some traction. There is also a composting toilet by the small parking area, but that is all of the amenities this lake has. Even the trail that goes along the shore line was cut by people trying to get to some bank to fish or swim. This is done on purpose, and in conjunction with a strictly enforced catch and release policy for large mouth bass, provides an almost world class fishery with an average catch size in the two pound range. Arivaca also has Bluegill large enough to make Bill Trussell over at Fishing Through Life drool. Though harder to catch, this lake also has some carp, and channel catfish in it to round out the ecosystem.

Because of the low water levels and the primitive nature of the lake, Stu and I were practically alone. Once we got out on the water there were only two other boats, a float tube, and three or four people fishing from shore. so there was absolutely no pressure on any of the prime fishing spots. so we rigged up a pole with a couple of night crawlers on it for bluegill, and I started throwing a buzz bait in towards the shoreline. But I quickly changed over to a small jointed crank because we were too far away from the shore line to get the buzz bait in under the shadow where it could do some good.

After a few minutes throwing the crank I decided to rig up my other pole with a 4" semi clear rubber jerk that has always produced in this lake in the past. By the time i got the jerk bait tied on, the wind had blown us up against the riprap that made up the earthen dam at the far end of the lake. Stu got a little antsy about being that close to the dam, but i assured him we were alright and started throwing my jerk bait in around the rocks. It didn't take long before i felt the first bite, but I felt the line go slack right after I set the hook. I Threw back out to the same rock again and let the bait drop slowly to the bottom and gave it a small tap and let it settle. as it was settling i felt the light tap of a bass taking the bait, set the hook, and a short fight later I had my first bucket mouth of the day in hand.
Me with the first bass of the day.

A few minutes later I hear Stew grunt behind me I ask if he is hooked up. He just kind of grunts a little and I turn around to see his pole nearly doubled under the strain of the fish he is fighting. I let out a "yea boy!" just in time to see the fish jump up out of the water and right off Stu's hook!

Stu looked down at the water where the fish disappeared, shook his head and said "I should have set the hook harder."

I replied with "Bummer, but you'll get the next one." and he just kind of grinned a little.

we drifted to the end of the dam where the lake makes a dramatic turn down a narrow canyon. In this area there are several stickups that I was casting to when I hooked into my second fish of the day which was a little smaller than the first one, but still pretty big as compared to what I am used to catching.

From there we went down the canyon until the water got too shallow for the boat and then rowed back out to a small stream mouth that i wanted to fish around. I started by casting in towards a rock outcropping that looked promising. I made several casts out to it when Stu starts to fuss with the oars behind me, and then I hear my bait pole start to bounce and vibrate against the side of the canoe. We had drifted back into a stickup on the other side of the stream mouth and third bass had taken the night crawler that was all but forgotten behind me. Stu just about fell out of the canoe laughing at the way this one was caught.

From there we headed over to a large rock pile in the center of the lake. we set the boat up against the rocks on the upwind side so that we could sit there for a bit. Stu put on a night crawler and hung his pole over the side. I decided to try throwing a crank bait in around the rocks. I got hung up real good at one point and jerked the crank lose it hit the water and spun. when i started cranking it again bass number four hit it hard. After I landed him we decided to go back over by the dam again.

We let the canoe drift up against the rocks and started throwing the jerk baits up around the rocks and stickups. Stu asked if I was ready to leave yet, and I replied that it was about time, but continued to cast out around a small stickup i was fishing when number five hit my lure. no sooner did i get that one in and released then Stu let out a whoop. He brought the last bass of the day to the boat and said "I finally get a picture to go with yours!" with a big old grin on his face.

Back at the boat dock, we loaded up the tackle and tied the canoe back up on the truck, and headed out. We stopped at the Arivaca Mercantile and got some sodas and then headed down the highway to our last stop of the day. On the way in Stu had mentioned an old cemetery that he knew about and he wanted to stop and check it out real quick. I am always a sucker for historical places so I was all ears as he was telling me the stories of some of the people who were buried there.

We parked the truck next to the highway and hopped a barbed wire fence and headed out across a small field. I didn't see the cemetery until we were almost on top of it, but it took my breath away when I did see it. It was close enough to the highway that I could still make out the truck, but at the same time it was invisible from the highway. We opened the a small barbed wire gate and passed over a granite stone that had the most profound words I have ever had the privilege to read carved deeply into it.

Even this small plot of land with barely more then twenty graves had the serene quieting affect that I have always felt in cemeteries, But this one was somehow different, somehow more. I wont bother you with the details of the few grave stones that could be read, but I will say they were from the 1860's. But most were weathered far beyond legibility.

This was a fascinating ending to an absolutely wonderful day, and I have to thank my good friend Stu for showing me a wonderful artifact of Arizona, and American history.  

Weathered beyond legibility
Elias G Pennington Died in Tucson 1869

Ann Pennington Died At The Sopori Ranch 1867
This one was in Spanish, but badly weathered no date.
I found it rather odd that a tree would be growing out of the top of this tomb.


  1. That has got to be some of the coolest Arizona pics I have ever seen! Those graves we're ancient. Any nasty creepy crawlers while you were out?

    1. Thanks, Anthony. There were not any creepy crawlers this trip. They really aren't as common as you would think, but I do have a great picture of a diamondback rattle snake that got into our back yard a couple of years ago. There is a great story to go along with that, so I may do a post about that some time.

  2. Rick
    Some of the rock formations reminds me of my home lake Smith, with the rock walls. Yes the bluegills there would give me a boost. Was the jerk bait you was using a Rapala? This lure works well in clear water, and I assume this lake is fairly clear. You guys landed some nice bass, had they spawned. Next time you go you might want to try a grub worm on a small hook with a tiny shot using your fly rod. You would be surprised how the bluegill will hit this combination. As for the cemetery, I am working on my family tree and any grave sites get my attention. I am sure that this cemetery has been visited my individuals who are working on their family trees. Really a great post!!

    1. Bill,
      I was using a Zoom Super Fluke 3" in a white ice color pattern. you can see it in the first bass picture. This bait seems to be super effective in this lake. Yes the water was really clear, and i believe we are post spawn at this point. Our air temps have been in the mid 90's for several weeks and Sunday brought us a 100* day. I was really surprised that we didn't catch any bluegill. They are usually prolific in this lake and you can catch 20-30 of them at a time when you hit the right spots. we didn't even see one caught, and I really wanted to post a pic of one. Thanks for the great advise, I want to learn how to fly fish, but as of right now, I have never really had the opportunity to try it.

  3. Nice fish, and horrible drought. If we had that kind of drought here, all of our Brookie streams would be destroyed.

    1. Thanks Devin. Yea the drought here has been ongoing for a decade and has really decimated a lot of the lakes here. and there is very little flowing water left. most of the perennial streams around southern Arizona have gone dry. They were too small to hold fish, but is is still devastating to the rest of the wildlife in the areas.

  4. Rick
    If you ever start fly fishing it will interfere big time with your baitcasting and spincasting. It is very addictive!!

  5. Bill,
    LOL! Maybe i'd better not then, I have not found an aspect of fishing that wasn't addicting and my wife already thinks I am having an affair with a fish.

    But seriously, I have been watching the fly fishermen around my little lake for a couple of years now, and they out fish everyone else 3 to 1! I think I may give it a go this winter when they stock some trout. Do you have any suggestions on what a new guy should buy, on the cheap, to learn on?

  6. Great post! Love the photos and glad to see you getting fish. Stumbled across your blog via OBN and now following.

    1. Thanks for the follow. I checked out your blog and am really liking it! I think what you are doing with the trash pick up at your local fishing holes is great! I am looking forward to reading more about your Colorado adventures.

  7. Nice trip down history lane, the lake sounds nice too, but just thinking of being in the place of those pioneers is something else, it's amazing how fast this country has developed.

  8. Thanks Andy. Arizona still has a lot of hidden away historical places that you can run across every once in a while. That makes every trip into the field an adventure all by itself.

  9. It is nice and enjoying to do fishing in your free time. I also like to do fishing and target shooting in my free time. It is nice to go some beautiful place to do target shooting and fishing.
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