Arizona: 48th state in the Union; 43rd state of my fishing quest. But what Arizona lacks in chronology, it more than makes up for in beauty and fishing. Arizona wins the award for the state about which I was most asked where there is water, despite the fact that the Colorado River carved out the one feature in Arizona that everyone knows. Even after extensive research to determine the best place to fish in such a vast state, I was still unprepared for the gorgeous scenery.
I fished for trophy bass for three days with Rob Vanderkooi (https://thearizonafishingguides.com). (Because Arizona was late in my quest and not exactly a day’s drive from Virginia, I booked three days of fishing to increase the likelihood that I caught a fish.) Rob is an experienced tournament angler and I learned more from him than I could have from years of fishing on my own. When I was not reeling in one of the dozens of bass I caught, I was frantically scribbling down notes about fishing techniques. We fished two days on Apache (JUMP ON IT!) Lake, a gorgeous body of water nestled in the mountains of the Tonto National Forest. Aside from spectacular scenery, the lake also boasts incredible smallmouth and largemouth fishing, and receives less fishing pressure than the other Phoenix-area lakes, thanks in part to its having to be accessed via the manliest road on which I have ever been (Apache Trail, or Arizona-88). This route is not for the faint of heart; it is a narrow, rutted-out, unpaved road carrying two-way traffic despite being only slightly wider than a truck and not having a real guardrail to separate you from the sheer cliffs overlooking the valley one thousand feet below. My only problem with Apache Lake is that every time I think about it, I get that Sugarhill Gang song stuck in my head.
I caught 17 largemouth and six smallmouth over the two days on Apache Lake, the biggest of which were a 20-inch, 5-pound largemouth and a 17-inch, 3-pound smallmouth. My other day of fishing was on Saguaro Lake, a clear and beautiful lake close to Mesa. Saguaro produced my best fish from the trip, a pre-spawn 22-inch, 8-pound trophy largemouth. I caught 21 largemouth over the course of my one day on Saguaro. Unfortunately, Saguaro gets considerable fishing pressure and, while it is also a beautiful lake, it cannot compare to the serenity and pristine beauty of Apache Lake. Then again, Apache Lake is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever fished.
For baseball fans, I highly recommend Phoenix in March. Unlike Florida’s Grapefruit League, which is spread throughout the state and has some teams playing 2.5 hours apart from each other, the Cactus League is entirely in the Phoenix area. My hotel was near the Angels stadium in Tempe, so I ventured over there on the day I arrived and saw the Angels play. I did not know this until arriving, but the Angels were playing the Athletics, so Phoenix became the fifth city in which I have seen the Athletics play (Baltimore, Seattle, Detroit, and Minneapolis being the others).