Fishing Big Lake Arizona

Simple colored-in drawing of a fish being cooked over a campfire.

Fishing Big Lake Arizona is fantastic for hooking trout! And then cooking them up over your campfire. Does that sound like a plan? 

We used to fish all the time. Not so much since retirement. But still like checking in with how anglers are doing at lakes we visit. We remember the fun our son had, about 7-years old, reeling in sunfish & even trout! And the fun we had, plus the delish meals.

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We'll get you the details and best tips about fishing at Big Lake in the White Mountains of Arizona. A wonderful setting.


Big Lake Arizona

This popular lake in the White Mountains is within the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest jurisdiction. Not far from Mt. Baldy, the White Mountains' highest peak (sacred to the Apaches), the lake's got nearly 9000' of elevation.1 Be ready for cooler summer weather, in general, compared to desert areas. And typically snowy winters.1

Official season is generally mid-May to Labor Day or soon thereafter. Fees are specific to activities, thus you can enter off-season as well. However, major road access is closed in winter. But how about the weather at Big Lake now?

Weather - Big Lake Arizona

Big Lake Arizona WEATHER
A crayfish amidst underwater plantsCrayfish Eat Aquatic Plants

Big Lake's shoreline goes for about 8 miles. Surface area about 575 acres.2

One season we parked ourselves at the shoreline fishing for crayfish (they're invasive) & caught tons of them! Cooked them up over our evening campfire for dinner. Didn't do that again: wasn't thrilled with effort vs. reward!

But fishing for FISH is altogether a different ratio!


Getting to Big Lake AZ

From Pinetop-Lakeside, take 260E. Right turn onto Hwy.273. Then depending on your campground site, or boating intent, take one of these routes:

  • Pass Crescent Lake, right at 113A (may be unnamed): To North side of Lake. Parking, picnic area, Dam.
  • Hwy. 273/Three Forks Rd., right to 8115 (Big Lake Rd.): For multiple camping areas, Tackle/Supply Shop, Parking, Dock & Boat Ramp.
  • Continue 273, straight on along Three Forks Rd., right on FR249E...
  1. 2nd right to access Big Lake South Cove Boating Launch.
  2. Or continue past Apache Railroad Trailhead to next unnamed right. To parking with dock & boat ramp.

Big Lake Fishing

What types of fish will you catch at big lake? How can you get prepared to catch them? What are the best tips for catching these fish? We have some insider Fishing Big Lake Arizona lowdown for you.


Big Lake AZ - Fishing Conditions

Big Lake is deeper than most in the area, averaging almost 16' deep. Mostly resulting from the dam bulwark elevation in 1953. That helped keep weed growth in check. Weedy areas with increased aquatic growth are Railroad Cove, Marina Cove & South Cove.4

The water quality is stable, mostly contributed via area & local mountain snowmelt. Winds contribute to water blending, helping maintain adequate dissolved oxygen levels. Alga blooms have been minimal.4 However, keep in mind Drought Conditions. This has been affecting water levels, which also affects boat ramps.

Now considered the best area trout fishing lake.4


Big Lake Fishing Access

More anglers fish from the shoreline, than they do from various types of boats. There are three Boat Ramps, all accessible in high/normal water:4

  • Main ramp adjacent to the Big Lake Store
  1. Store run as private concession. Tackle, limited food & gas, fishing licenses, boat/kayak rentals (all boats 10hp or lower)
  2. Fish cleaning station
  3. Ramp not functional in low water
  4. Not formally Americans with Disabilities Act accessible
  • South Cove - Usually serviceable at all water levels.
  1. Not officially ADA accessible
  • Railroad Cove
  1. Not functional in low water
  2. Not ADA accessible

Fishing Big Lake Arizona - Regulations

Arizona regulations must be followed when fishing at Big Lake.5

  • First be sure you have your valid Arizona fishing or combo license. Whether a resident or not, if you're at least 10 years old. Blind Arizona residents are exempt from this requirement.
  • Maximum of two poles per angler, must always be attended.
  • Live baitfish NOT allowed for fishing in Big Lake. Other types of bait are allowed such as worms & salmon eggs, as well as lures and flies. 
  • Treble hooks are okay when fishing Big Lake Arizona, though that's not the case in all Arizona lakes. 
  • There is a bag (fish not released) daily limit of 6 total trout, with 12 total fish per 24-hour day (begins at midnight).

It's really important to be prepared. Know The Regulations when fishing Big Lake Arizona.


Trout Stocking at Big Lake AZ

A fish called a brook troutWant to Catch a Brookie?

You'll love fishing for trout at Big Lake. Arizona Fish & Game stock the lake regularly. Rainbow and brook trout are favorite catches.1 

Very young 3-4 weeker (150,000 fingerlings) Rainbow Trout are stocked each spring. In the fall another 40,000 older, but just under limit, Rainbows are stocked.4

Around springtime or summer's start, yearly stocking happens for Cutthroat (60,000 fingerlings) & Brook trout (50,000 fingerlings). But they adjust any of these numbers if need be to get/keep their plan on track.4

What plan?4

Diagramming how to manage a plan, from design to develping, to analysis, to evaluation, and then redesign and continuing the loop

Arizona Game and Fish Department has a Big Lake Management Plan for the years 2020 through 2030, approved on March 1, 2020 by sign-off from the Aquatic Wildlife Branch Chief. They're emphasizing cold water sport fishery usage. To promote that goal, they're stocking Rainbow, Cutthroat and Brook trout. In the past, they'd stocked Brown & Apache trout, also Artic Grayling, but no longer.

The want to ensure fishing success in Big Lake Arizona. They plan to survey this, aiming for an angler catch rate of 1 Rainbow Trout per hour between May & September. They created a similar, but not quite as strict goal for Cutthroats & Brookies.

What it comes down to is keeping those coming to do fishing in Big Lake happy! They want at least 80% satisfaction from Arizona anglers. Thus their aim is to assess what still needs to be done, developing plans for improvement. That even includes educating people newer at fishing to be successful.


Trout Fishing Experience at Big Lake

Many anglers have fantastic results fishing for trout at Big Lake. They have tips.4

  • More shallow spots at the shoreline is the best bet early in the season. Trout like those areas scouting out minnows & crayfish that survived the winter. Later when it's warming up, go out farther for deeper water. They're also typically attracted to red-coloring in lures & flies.
Rainbow trout swimming amongst rocksRainbow Trout - From Your Hook to Your Pan!
  • What type of trout fishing at Big Lake Arizona?
  1. Rainbow - Usually hard fighters. These are regularly well-stocked, & so tend to get big in this "big lake."Most caught are at least 10 inches.4,7
  2. Cutthroat - Give a really good fight.3 About 25% of analyzed samples are from 11-20 inches.4
  3. Brook - Can be intermittent in fighting your reel-in.
  4. Brown - Randomly possible in early Spring. If you hook one, it'll fight big-time.3 Secretive, not easily snagged. Tips: fish nights or cloudy/rainy days, likes shallow spots, tolerates warmer/cloudier water.7 Since not stocked, this is a rarity.

Hints for Catching Big Lake Trout

  • Usual pole set-up - 4 to 6 lb. test line with 8 to 12 size hook.Remember it's just best to go with the lightest line possible for best results. As one author said: "less is best in Arizona" for test weight.7
  • Techniques:
  1. For bait-casting, what's often best is a bottom set-up with an 1/2 ounce egg-sinker. Add a swivel & give your hook 12-18 inches of leader line. Add floating bait to the hook.One angler has success with adding on vividly colored marshmallow.7 How about red?
  2. Or use a bobber with your spin-cast. This works best with non-floating baits like worms or salmon eggs. Add about 4 feet of line below a pencil bobber, attaching your hook. Thread a split shot sinker nearly 3 feet below the bobber.5 If using salmon eggs, best with a short-shank, rounded-gap brass hook. Ensure the egg covers most of the hook.6 Salmon eggs are notable for falling off, this helps with stability.
  3. For fly fishing Big Lake Arizona, some fly lures & plugs work well. Peacock Ladies, Warden's Worries & Crystal Flash have all gotten good results.3 Summertime, with warmer temps, slower retrieves seem to work better.7 You can also try the weedy coves, using smaller Baetis patterns. Finally remember that anything with a red feather will likely work.3

Winter Fishing Big Lake Arizona

Consistently freezing temperatures at Big Lake generally begin late autumn. Big Lake begins icing up in December. The ice-over lasts through March, sometimes into April. Snowstorms can occur during this time, leading to road closures.4

Large snowpack with formidable snowdrifts impede traveler access to Highways 273 and 261. They typically reopen when finally plowed. Therefore dependable opportunity to enter Big Lake is iffy at that time of year. In fact, until Big Lake ice melts, road crews are unlikely to plow these highways.4

However, ice fishing at Big Lake Arizona is fine if you can get there!


Ice Fishing Big Lake Arizona

Ice fishing is doable at Big Lake, if you can get there. How can you get there? Snowmobiles! Do you have one? Or if not, and are ambitious enough for this - you can rent one.

BIG LAKE ICE FISHING RULES:4

  • Not really different regulations, still follow state laws, such as having a license, etc. 
  • No rules on number or size of holes you drill for casting your ice fishing lines
  1. Remember: only 2 poles allowed

ICE FISHING SAFETY & NEEDS:

  • Plan ahead, become familiar with fishing Big Lake Arizona in warmer weather first, to know the area
  • Be prepared with proper clothing, it gets frigidly cold there!
  • Follow the more experienced to safe ice areas - but don't crowd them. Don't travel over slushy, soft or thin ice. And ask questions, they're usually a friendly sort.
  • Essential Equipment: 
  1. Shakespeare Ugly Stik has rod/reel combos that are popular. Not sure you'll stick with it? Try their inexpensive Wild Series.
  2. Ice auger to cut the hole. Consider the fish size you'll be after to get the right size. Hand augers are economical. Add an ice scoop for clearing ice shavings.
  3. Combo seat/bucket for sitting while fishing, & storing fish catch or other items
  4. Tools such as needle-nose pliers
  5. Small plastic sled for bringing your equipment out
  6. Fish in these cold waters will be sluggish, calling for even lighter test-line
  7. Use soft shot weights & 8-14 size hooks.

Nearby to Big Lake, is Reservation Lake, where this was filmed. Same kind of experience, using minimal equipment. What is really needed, especially once experienced?


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