Fishing Lake Pleasant

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

By Lee Allen

Located in the desert scrub brush country just 30 miles north of metropolitan Phoenix, Lake Pleasant – the core of Lake Pleasant Regional Park – has become the most popular outdoor recreation spot in Arizona. It is often filled to capacity, especially on the weekends, by anglers, boaters, water skiers, swimmers, wind surfers, sailing enthusiasts or those who just want to soak their feet and cool down. It is even visited regularly by recreationists who hit the lake on their way home from 9 to 5 jobs.

Lake History

Originally constructed in the mid-1920s as part of a private irrigation project, Lake Pleasant was created by the Waddell Dam, a 250-foot long structure which impounded water from the Agua Fria River system. The lake itself was named after Carl Pleasant, the engineer who designed the dam. Its waters were supplied primarily by the river and by Coles Creek, Castle Creek, Humbug Creek and other drainages. The lake covered something over 3,000 surface acres before the new, and much larger, Waddell Dam was finished in November, 1992. The new dam effectively tripled the size of Lake Pleasant, making it the second-largest body of water (behind Lake Roosevelt) in central Arizona. It now impounds the water, not only from the river system, but also that conveyed across the state from Lake Havasu by the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal. It has become critically important for both recreation and irrigation.

Lake Zones and the Rising and Falling Waterline

Lake Pleasant comprises three zones of water. Near the dam and marina, where the mouth of the CAP canal is located, the water is extremely clear and highly-oxygenated. At mid-lake, near the original, now submerged, Waddell Dam, the water, with many islands, reefs and coves, is clear and deep (up to 100 feet or more when the lake is full). In the upstream channels and drainages, the water, which covers a forest of submerged vegetation, is shallow, turbid and nutrient-rich. The lake’s waterline falls and rises dramatically as the lake is drawn down when downstream irrigation needs peak and as it is replenished when the irrigation requirements subside.

Fishing Opportunities

As the new Lake Pleasant rose, coves, originally only 100 yards or so in length, reached into the mountains for a mile or more. Fishermen who once had to search for structures are now overwhelmed with highly promising submerged brush and timber, vegetation that provides cover and nutrients for the lake’s food chain. Upstream drainages, including Castle Creek, Humbug Creek and Cole’s Wash as well as Jackass and Honeymoon coves on the east side of the lake have become anglers’ favorite fishing sites.

The fish, which include some sixteen species, ranging from Florida-strain largemouth bass to crappie, have proliferated and grown. The lake, with the only significant white bass population in Arizona, has not only produced state records for the species. It has raised speculation that it could even yield a new world record. The white bass story began in the early 1960s, before the lake expansion, when the Arizona Game and Fish Department stocked Lake Pleasant with the species to provide extra fishing fun for state anglers. None of the stockers showed up on stringers for several years.

The experiment was about to be deemed a failure, then reports of catches of "funny-looking crappie" suddenly began to surface. White bass! Now, in places like Humbug Creek, the water often turns frothy, churned by white bass chasing silver threadfin shad. Lake Pleasant has also produced record white crappie and trophy largemouth bass. The Arizona Game and Fish Department consider the bluegill fishing the best in the state.

The Striper Dilemma

When water from the CAP arrived, it not only helped raise Lake Pleasant, it introduced new arrivals—tilapia, flathead catfish and striped bass. The stripers, an introduced salt water species, get pumped into the lake as eggs or fry, according to Game and Fish spokesmen. "With stripers in the lake, it’s going to cause an obvious change," said one fisheries biologist. "They’re here and they’re getting bigger."

The interlopers worry avid largemouth bass anglers, who know that the stripers compete aggressively with their favorite sports fish for bait. "Bass clubs are concerned because we don’t want to happen here what happened 10 years ago at Lake Powell," where stripers crowded out game fish and depleted the bait fish, said Troy Bell of the Arizona Bass Club. Previously, he says, "It was nothing to catch 5- and 6-pound largemouth bass every time you came here. Now you get one every once in a while. Numbers are going down, and the [largemouth bass] are becoming smaller." Fortunately, stripers are themselves excellent game fish.

Fish and the Lake Environment

Surprisingly, the rise and fall of the lake’s waterline enhances rather than hurts the aquatic environment for the fish. In the autumn, when CAP water is delivered to Lake Pleasant, raising water levels, seasonal vegetation gets flooded, enriching the lake’s nutrient levels. In the spring, levels are held steady to foster the bass spawn. By late spring, levels fall as the downstream demand for water increases. The lower lake levels allow exposed shoreline grasses, plants and bushes to re-seed and produce new forage and cover. The cycle is then repeated. What this means, however, is that anglers’ "honey holes" often change by the day, making Lake Pleasant a major challenge for anyone trying to load up a stringer. Islands appear and disappear with the falling and rising water. Currents change. The fish move swiftly in their search for food sources.

Pleasant Harbor Marina and Convenience Store

Visitors will find an array of facilities and services at Lake Pleasant. The Pleasant Harbor Marina and Pleasant Harbor Convenience Store, for instance, provide wet slips, dry storage, fuel and stores and supplies. The Arizona Ducks that offers rides in a WWII amphibious landing craft that has been modified for tours. Cruise the desert on land and then shoot right down the ramp into the water making a huge splash! The whole trip is about an hour and a half.

To reach Pleasant Harbor Marina, take Interstate 17 north to Exit 223 (Carefree Highway). Turn west and proceed for approximately 11 miles to Pleasant Harbor Drive.

More Information

The Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers the following information:
Lake Pleasant is located 15 miles west of I-17 (Black Canyon Freeway) on Carefree Highway (State Route 74) 30 miles north of Phoenix, within the city limits of Peoria. The park’s 23,662 acres offer an ideal destination for boating and camping enthusiasts. With 10,000 acres of crystal clear water, visitors can enjoy water skiing, jet skiing, sailing, or fishing. Lake Pleasant offers over 140 developed sites for RV and tent camping.

Main Park Entrance

The main entrance to Lake Pleasant is located two miles north of State Route 74 off Castle Hot Springs Road. The entrance provides access to the visitor center, a 10-lane boat ramp, staff headquarters, and the Desert Tortoise and Roadrunner campgrounds. Park entrance fee - park fee page

North Entrance

The second entrance into Lake Pleasant is located three miles past the main park entrance on Castle Hot Springs Road. This entrance provides access to the four-lane boat ramp, two restroom facilities, shoreline camping, and the Cottonwood day-use picnic area. Park entrance fee - park fee page

Visitors Center

The visitors center provide information where park visitors can learn about the Central Arizona Project, Waddell Dam and Lake Pleasant. Books, pamphlets, and a variety of gifts are available for purchase inside the visitors center. Step out onto the balcony surrounding the visitors center and you get a beautiful view of Lake Pleasant and an close-up view of the Waddell Dam. Admission to the visitor center is included in the park entrance fee.

Maps of lake and campgrounds.

Day Use Fees
For further information, contact:

Lake Pleasant Regional Park
41835 N. Castle Hot Springs Rd.
Morristown, AZ 85342

Contact Station 1-928-501-1710
Operations Center 602-372-7460
Fax 602-372-7465


There are resorts, hotels and motels in Peoria with something for every taste and price range. For more information and a complete list, click here. (Rates, availability and reservations online.)

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