To the uninitiated visitor, the sun-spanked Arizona desert surrounding Tucson may seem an unlikely place to find a good fishing hole. But you won't have to drive far to find an oasis in the desert sheltering several species of hungry fish just waiting for you to throw your hook in the water. Adjacent campgrounds or dispersed campsites let you enjoy the fishing action for days and cook up your catch over a campfire under the vast desert sky.
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If you have a hard time swallowing the reports of good fishing in the desert, you may think fishing for cold water trout within 35 miles of Tucson is just a fish tale. Head to Willow Canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains during early summer and autumn, however, and chances are good you'll have a rainbow trout dancing on the end of your line in no time. Arizona Game and Fish stocks the fish in Rose Canyon Lake from May through June and September through mid-November. The 6-acre lake has a mile-long trail around it partially accessible by wheelchair. The Rose Canyon Campground doesn't have hookups and is suitable for tents, RVs and trailers up to 22 feet long. The camp's 74 sites lie along three loops, with wheelchair-accessible restrooms and sites throughout. The campground closes during winter.
Head into the Hills
Strap on your backpack and bring your fly rod to angle for brown and rainbow trout along Sabino and Lemmon creeks in the Pusch Mountain Wilderness. Enter the canyon from the bottom on Sabino Canyon Road. A tram from the visitor's center saves 3.8 miles of shoe leather and steep climbing. The tram stops at the start of the West Fork Trail, which climbs to Hutch's Pool. You'll see flat, vegetation-free areas used for camping along the way. The lower end of Hutch's pool has a sandy beach suitable for swimming, but you'll find trout lurking in the deep waters at the upper end. Continue upstream to reach more pools or hike in from the top from the primitive Gordon Hirabayashi Campground along the Sycamore Trail.
Lake Waters Run Deep
An hour's drive south brings you to Patagonia Lake, known for the oversize fish that live in its 90-foot-deep waters. A 12.5-inch sunfish caught in the lake weighing 2-plus pounds equals the world record fish listed by the International Game Fish Association. Bring your boat to access 12 boat-in sites with a fire ring and picnic table at Patagonia Lake State Park. The park also has more than 100 sites with electricity suitable for tents and any size RV. Showers, flush restrooms and a dump station are on-site. Two primitive sites are also available.
Off the Beaten Path
Get back to basics with a trip to Arivaca Lake 50 miles south of downtown. The 90-acre lake holds bass, bluegill and catfish as it nestles in a riparian habitat attractive to many migratory birds. Grassy hills surround the lake, with rocky cliffs and distant mountains adding to the view. A primitive ramp provides access to launch your electric or paddle-driven boat, maintaining the peaceful atmosphere. A vault restroom rounds out the amenities, and you must bring your own water and pack out your trash.