Rim Country Lakes
Arizona’s Rim Country is an outdoor paradise waiting to be explored. The lakes in the Rim Country are truly the centerpieces to a landscape that rivals any other outdoor getaway. Rent a kayak, bring your fishing pole, or simply pack a lunch to enjoy on the shore. Whichever activity and lake you choose, be sure to stay for sunset and marvel at the breathtaking colors and ambiance. One thing is for sure: a lake trip in Rim Country should be on every itenerary.
Before you plan your trip, be sure to check for forest closures and restrictions from the Tonto National Forest Service.
Before You Fish
While visiting Payson, several lakes and streams are within easy access and fun to fish. Be sure to have a current license when you fish any Arizona lakes or streams. Licenses are good for a full year from purchase. They can be obtained online at www.azgfd.gov under the fishing tab. You can also purchase them in town at Walmart and Big 5. Some lakes and streams in Rim Country may have specific tackle requirements or different daily bag limits. Be sure to check the fishing regulations, including the special regulations and seasons section. More information on Rim Country Fishing is available in the Rim Country Fishing books published by the Payson Roundup. These books are available at the Roundup office, Walmart and Bashas’.
Make Fishing Better for Everyone
If you plan to release your fish, please handle them carefully so that they can be returned to the water unharmed. If a fish swallows the hook, cut the line just outside of the mouth and the fish will generally make a full recovery. If the fish is bleeding at all, then please consider keeping the fish. Trout are especially fragile. Handle them gently, and ideally with wet hands, to avoid compromising the protective slime on their bodies. When you release trout, it is best to allow them to swim off on their own, rather than tossing them into the lake. If they go belly up, they can often still be revived by moving them forward and back to get water circulating through their gills; but if not righted and revived, they will likely die. Used fishing line and trash is not only unsightly at our favorite places to fish, it can be harmful, if not fatal to fish and wildlife. Please be sure to take your trash with you when you fish Rim Country lake and streams.
New to Fishing?
Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) has a short four part video series on Youtube to learn the basics of fishing that will help you catch fish in Rim Country!
Green Valley Lake is actually three lakes which are part of a 45-acre park located at the west end of Main Street in Payson, Arizona. As part of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s community fishing program, the three lakes are stocked with rainbow trout from mid-October to mid-May. Bluegills, crappies and bass are caught regularly by anglers all year. There is a playground on the north side of the park that families can visit after fishing.
Bear Canyon Lake is about a 45 mile drive from Payson including traveling on gravel roads (FR 300 and the turn-off to the lake). The 60- acre lake is stocked about once a month from April through September. A steep trail limits access to the hardy, just right for keeping the crowds down. The contrast between the blue water and green pines is absolutely stunning.
Black Canyon Lake is stocked with rainbow trout April through June. There are also largemouth bass in the lake. The shoreline is often extremely weedy, so it can be a challenge to fish from the bank. The lake has a paved ramp and campgrounds nearby. Located 18 miles Southwest of Heber on Arizona 260, FR 300 & FR 86 at an elevation of 7100 feet.
Formerly known as Blue Ridge Reservoir, C.C. Cragin Reservoir is a narrow man-made lake that covers 200 acres when full. Take SR 87 north past the Lake Mary road turnoff, then turn east on FR 751. The lake is stocked in May with rainbow trout. The easiest time to catch fish is in May while they are near the boat ramp.As the summer progresses, the fish move deeper throughout the lake, which often experiences an algae bloom in June and July. The shoreline is steep, so a small boat will provide better access.
Chevelon Lake Is one of the largest but most difficult lakes to access. Take SR 260 east to the top of the Rim and FR 300 north for approximately 13 miles. Turn right on FR 169 for an additional 12 miles and then turn on to FR 169B. Access is accomplished by hiking or by a quad or small side-by-side (50 inches wide or less). The banks are steep and heavily forested. A small boat, canoe, kayak, or float tube will provide better access. This lake has trophy rainbow and brown trout, but be sure to check the angling regulations for this lake to keep this a trophy trout destination.
At nearly 8,000 feet, this lake covers 75 acres. Take FR 300 (a gravel road) north past the Woods Canyon Lake turnoff for another 21 miles. Rainbow trout are stocked by AZGFD during May and June each year. There is a 35 unit campground. You can fish from the shoreline, but the banks are steep. There is a boat ramp, so you may want to consider a small boat or float tube for better access.
Willow Springs Lake is the closest lake to access from Payson on the Mogollon Rim . It is a fun lake to fish. Take SR 260 east. About a mile after cresting the Mogollon Rim, look for the Willow Springs Lake sign (FR 149). Turn left to access two paved parking lots and a boat ramp for boats up to 10hp. Continue east on SR 260 and turn left on the first dirt road (FR 148) to access a somewhat less crowded part of the lake. Summer weekends are busy, so plan on getting to the lake early. The lake is stocked from April through September with rainbow and tiger trout. It also has largemouth and smallmouth bass as well as a large
population of green sunfish easy for youngsters to catch along the shore.
Woods Canyon Lake is one of the most popular recreation areas in all of Arizona. Head east on SR 260 from Payson. At the top of the Mogollon Rim, turn left on FR 300 for approximately four miles, then turn right on FR 105 for about a mile to the lake. Amenities include: boat rentals, picnic area, five campgrounds, and nature trails. The lake is stocked with rainbow and tiger trout from April through September. Like Willow Springs Lake, Woods Canyon Lake gets crowded during summer weekends. Arrive early for best access.
While not a Rim Lake, it is one of Arizona’s favorite water playgrounds. Located 35 miles southeast of Payson, it covers 19,000 surface acres and is 25 miles long and up to two miles wide. The lake is home to largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, channel, and flathead catfish. It is also a playground for water skiing, sailing, wind surfing, jet skiing, and swimming. Camping facilities abound in the area.