Apache Lake - Worth the Drive
September 1, 2019
Apache Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Arizona, and because the road is not paved, Apache rarely gets crowded, even in summer. Fishing can be awesome here, with largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, trout, yellow bass, catfish, carp, sunfish and crappies all represented.
From the main marina west to Horse Mesa Dam the shoreline is mostly steep and rocky. Several good-sized coves cut into the shoreline, though, and provide plenty of good shallow-water fishing at this end, too. Right across the lake from the main marina is a good place to start fishing for bass, and you can work your way down toward the dam throwing crankbaits and rip baits along the walls and in the coves. Worms and jigs pitched to the bluffs and steep stuff work well, too. Get right up to the edge of the water all year long. You never know how shallow the bass will be. The smallmouth here love little spinners like Yellow Jackets and Mepps, and you can catch trout and yellow bass on them, too. Big walleye will take bass lures, also – especially crankbaits.
The coves on the northern shore (Castle Rock, Amethyst, Hideout, and Burnt Rock), are great places for topwater lures and rip baits. Spinnerbaits are great, too. These coves can harbor anything from smallmouth to crappie, so no matter what you're fishing for it's a good idea to try these cuts. Westy Worms have accounted for some huge bass in these areas, particularly pitched to the walls at night. Trolling this canyon area with down riggers is an excellent way to bag some big trout or walleye, too.
As you get nearer the dam on the north shore, the rock rubble reefs are a favorite hangout of the smallmouth bass. We've had them come up in 80 feet of water to grab a TD Minnow or a popper on top. Sunfish and yellow bass love the rocky rubble along these shorelines and they are pretty easy to catch on meal worms or small plastic grubs. The south shore is mostly cliffs, but rubble at the base of the walls can be excellent for all kinds of fish. There are a couple of coves on the south side, too, including Sam's Cove and Horsetail Bay. All of these coves are good places to check out.
The middle part of Apache Lake, from the marina to Burnt Corral, has a little bit of everything – steep walls, rock rubble, flats, islands, reefs, and even weedy areas and bulrushes at times. At the marina, the river channel swings clear across the lake to hug the farther side, so the marina side slopes down a bit more gradually. There are several coves around the marina that are always worth fishing. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and split-shot rigs are usually pretty good producers all around this area. Pay special attention to the point just to the north of Jack's Cove – the river takes a turn right here and the channel swings back near this side of the lake.
From this point down to the next big cove is steeper stuff and a lot of people ignore this part of the shoreline. But bouncing a jig or a double-hooked worm down these banks is a good way to tag a big bass. The cove itself has a big hump out toward the front at the north side – be sure to check it out. As you leave this cove you approach Admiral Perry Point, which stretches way out into the lake. After the point drops off it rises back up and turns into Turtle Island. Everyone fishes Turtle Island and it's always worth a try. There is a small area of flatter shoreline just past the point, then the shoreline gets steep again as the channel moves in close. Keep bouncing stuff down these walls, then try a crankbait in the Waterdog Area. From there all the way through Pine Cove and down to Burnt Corral is good jerkbait and spinnerbait territory.
You can use the same types of baits on the other side of the lake, but there are several good flats here that deserve special attention. They are dynamite areas for smallmouth and yellow bass. If the fish aren't on the flats, try fishing the edges of the flats. On the steeper shorelines, get out the Westy's and jigs again, and make sure you get them right to the shore. You'd be surprised how shallow the fish can be on this steep stuff. Running a crankbait really fast works well for smallmouth, even when the weather is cold. When the sun gets up, try a popping topwater lure, even in deep water.
From Burnt Corral up toward the dam at Roosevelt Lake, Apache Lake is basically a steep-sided river. There are no significant coves upriver from Burnt Corral, but that doesn't mean that this part of the lake doesn't have good places to fish. Starting at Burnt Corral, the first place you should try is the flats around the launch ramp. These are fairly extensive, and stretch from the ramp north to where the river takes a bend to the east.
The river channel is almost in the center of the lake right in front of the ramp, and there are flats on both sides of the shore here. Across the lake from the ramp is Deer Flat, which is usually good for a bass or two on crankbaits or jerkbaits. On the ramp side of the lake the flats are rocky and have a hump or two and some other good structure. You need to investigate these flats thoroughly. On St. Patrick's Day a few years ago, my partner and pro angler Rob VanderKooi caught seven or eight huge smallmouth off a single hump on the flat in front of Burnt Corral ramp. These smallies were an average of four pounds each and they all took white spinnerbaits with double willow leaf blades.
Another tremendous smallmouth that sticks in memory is the giant that Jerry Laughran caught off that same flat on an orange Wiggle Wart. Make it a point to fish every inch of these flats with some kind of reaction bait. When the fish are hungry, they roam over these flats looking for an easy meal, and some of the fish are huge. North of the campground at Burnt Corral the river channel swings over to the West side of the lake. This side is very steep and is directly across from Horse Flat, which is on the east side between Burnt Corral and Upper Burnt Corral. Once you pass Horse Flat the river turns toward the northeast and stays fairly steep and narrow from there on.
The steep, rocky shorelines from Hackberry Cove to the no entry buoys are ideal for fishing jigs or worms. You'll also find small areas with tules and shallow water that are great places to flip. Casey Iwai and Rob VanderKooi have caught some awesome fish off these little tule patches.
The smallmouth in Apache seem to be particularly fond of rock rubble, probably because that's where the crawdads live. Be sure to fish these piles of loose rock wherever you find them. Bouncing a Westy Worm or a jig down the bank is one of the best ways to catch some nice smallmouth. Fish a Westy or Press-Ur-Bite worm on spinning gear with about 8-pound-test line. Pitch the lure to the bank and let the line go slack. Reel a couple times and let the lure settle back down until the line goes slack again. Then reel again. If it feels heavy when you reel, you have a fish. At times the fish will slam the lure and take off. They usually set the hook on themselves with Westy's and Wired Worms, so all you have to do is reel steadily and keep pressure on them.
About three miles upriver from Burnt Corral is Three Mile Island. The wash there is a nice place to park your truck and launch your boat. It's a rather small parking area, but if you get there early you may be able to squeeze in. You still have to pay the Tonto National Forest fee, and there is a pay station there. Three Mile Wash is only a couple of miles south of the Roosevelt Lake Dam, so you don't have to drive a long way on the Apache Trail to get to it.
North of Three Mile Island there are numerous small areas of shallow water scattered along the otherwise steep rocky banks. Both sides of the river here are loaded with excellent places to throw a spinnerbait or a worm. Jigs are good all year long, and so are little Panther Martins or Yellow Jackets. In spring and fall the trout fishing can be really good near the inlet, but make sure you don't try to pass over the barrier near Roosevelt Dam.
Apache Lake has some of the best amenities of any lake in the state. At the marina you'll find a restaurant and bar, motel, RV sites, boat rentals, boat storage and launching, public showers and laundry, and conference facilities. There is a small store where you can buy groceries, souvenirs, tackle and bait, fishing licenses, and ice. The two concrete launch ramps at the marina are both very good and there are no motor restrictions on the lake.
Further east is Burnt Corral launch ramp and campground. Burnt Corral is part of the Tonto National Forest, while the main marina is privately owned. Burnt Corral also has a very good paved ramp, plenty of parking, rest rooms, picnic areas, and 79 camp sites. There is a fee for launching and/or camping.
Apache Lake is about 17 miles long and has almost 42 miles of shoreline to investigate. It is over 250 feet deep in places and covers over 2600 acres when it is full. At an elevation of about 1900 feet, it stays fairly pleasant at Apache all year long. In winter it gets pretty chilly, though, and I've even been snowed on while fishing there. Dress warmly and think "layers".
There are two ways to get to Apache Lake. You can take the Apache Trail (Highway 88) north from Highway 60 near Apache Junction or you can get on the Trail from the other end at Roosevelt Lake. I prefer to go to Roosevelt and head south because it lets you avoid Fish Creek Hill, which is really the worst part of the Apache Trail. From Roosevelt to Burnt Corral it is only about a twenty minute drive, even towing a boat. Launch at Burnt Corral and you're at the dam in a matter of minutes.
For information about the motel and marina, call them at 928-467-2511. For the Tonto National Forest, call 602-225-5200. There is an elder hostel at Apache (main marina) where groups of people 60 years old and older can study archaeology and geology, make pottery, pan for gold, and generally have a good time. They start taking reservations in February and are soon booked for the summer. Call the Apache Lake Resort and Marina at 928-467-2511 for information and reservations. The rooms at the motel can be hard to get unless you call ahead, too.