List of Common Lake Havasu Fish Species [Updated]
Located on the border of California and Arizona, Lake Havasu is a nearly 20,000-acre lake with over 100 miles of shoreline. Frequently listed as one of the best places in the United States for bass fishing, this lake has the added benefit of temperatures that allow year-round access to a variety of water activities.
The name Lake Havasu means “blue” in the language of the Mojave people who were the original inhabitants of the areas surrounding the lake.
Lake Havasu is not a natural lake, but rather a reservoir formed by the Parker Dam — which was completed in 1938 and is currently the deepest dam in the world. The dam was constructed with the purpose of creating a reservoir of water from the Colorado River, and it also uses water flow to generate electricity. Surrounding the lake, the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Havasu State Park, and the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge provide important wildlife habitats and additional access to outdoor activities.
Second only to the Grand Canyon as a top tourist destination in Arizona, the original London Bridge — which was moved from the River Thames to Lake Havasu in 1968 — adds to the allure of this destination. As Lake Havasu is only a few hours’ drive from Phoenix, San Diego, and Los Angeles, it is a popular spring break destination for college students. As such, those seeking a more peaceful vacation may wish to visit during other times of the year.
Lake Havasu Activities – Can You Fish in Lake Havasu?
Popular activities in Lake Havasu include boating, camping (accessible by boat only), hiking, and diving. There are also several dog parks near the lake, and the area in general is a very pet-friendly location. Of the many activities in Lake Havasu, recreational fishing is among the most popular, and the lake hosts a variety of fishing tournaments every year.
Fishing in the lake requires an Arizona fishing license or a California license if shore fishing specifically from the California side. While the lake boasts many popular and well-sized sport fishes, there are several species that are protected at the state or federal level, which must be released immediately if caught. The following list describes the fish species that can be encountered in Lake Havasu.
Lake Havasu Sport Fishes
1) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)
Other names: widemouth bass, bigmouth bass, black bass, bucketmouth, green bass, LMB
Prevalent across North America, the largemouth bass is a favorite fish among beginner and expert anglers alike. The largest of the black bass genus, these fish are typically olive green or grayish-green in color with horizontal lines across the body. A black line, sometimes of broken splotches, usually runs along their sides from the head to the tail. As in most fishes, this lateral line has a sensory function and can help fish sense vibrations in the water to avoid predation. In largemouth bass, the lateral line is uniquely pronounced and highly sensitive, thus influencing the methods that are most successful for catching them.
True to their name, they can be distinguished from similar fish species by their large upper jaws that extend to or beyond the back edge of the eye. Additionally, a deep notch between the first and second fin can help identify this fish.
In Lake Havasu, bass thrive in the warm water temperatures and are most readily caught from March to May, often hiding in cooler water near structures or submerged plants. The early morning is the best time of day to target these fish, and they are attracted to a variety of bait ranging from small or medium baitfish as well as worms or other invertebrates.
Successful artificial baits mimic the natural prey of largemouth bass, and can include topwater lures, jigs, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, swimbaits, or even plastic worms. The successes of different baits or lures can vary depending on the season, weather, water conditions, or time of day. As largemouth bass are ambush predators, they are aggressive and will often strike at baits or lures while actively feeding and defending their eggs during spawning season.
2) Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
Other names: bronzeback, brown bass, bronze bass, bareback bass
A close relative of the largemouth bass, the smallmouth bass is named for its distinctly smaller upper jaw, which is level with the eye. These fish have a more brownish or bronze body with vertical stripes, and the notch between the first and second dorsal fins is shallow and does not fully separate the two fins.
Smallmouth bass typically favor clearer water than largemouth bass and can tolerate cooler water temperatures. Spawning is primarily dependent on temperature, occurring earlier in the spring due to the warm climate of the Lake Havasu area. For successful spawning to occur, these fish require clean substrates such as gravel or rocks.
Smallmouth bass can be targeted near less dense vegetation cover or at rocky points, canyon areas, and shorelines. They are best caught in the early morning or late afternoon and are plentiful in the lake from February through April. Many lures and baits can be used for smallmouth bass including creature baits, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and white crappie jibs, though due to their better vision and affinity for clearer water they avoid heavy lines — especially at midday. In Lake Havasu, the record smallmouth bass was a 6.28 pounder caught in 2017.
3) Striped bass (Morone saxatilis)
Other names: striper, linesider, rock, rockfish
Lake Havasu maintains a large, healthy population of striped bass which can be captured year-round. Named for their dark horizontal stripes, striped bass have a silvery streamlined body. Unlike largemouth and smallmouth bass, which are actually more closely related to sunfish, the striped bass is a true bass in the family Moronidae (though their level of intelligence is debatable).
Striped bass are schooling fish and are constantly on the move, swimming up to 15 miles per day. As such, the use of a fish finder can improve success in locating schools — as can a keen observer looking for flocks of birds on the water.
Striped bass catches are especially plentiful in the lake from August through October, with late winter and early spring fishing considered somewhat unpredictable due to lower water temperatures in which the fish are less active. Live bait including shad or anchovies work well, as well as lures such as shad imitations, topwater lures, and swimbaits.
4) Catfish (Ictaluridae)
Other names: mud cat, pied cat, channel cat
Both channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) and flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) can be found in Lake Havasu, with fish in excess of 10 pounds frequently captured. The two catfish can be distinguished by their colors and sizes. For example, the channel catfish, which is brown to light grey in color with a forked tail, rarely exceeds 30 pounds. In comparison, the flathead catfish is a mottled black, brown, or yellow without a forked tail, sometimes exceeding 100 pounds.
The record-sized catfish have exceeded 30 pounds in Lake Havasu specifically, but are not as large as the monstrously sized fish captured elsewhere in Arizona. Catfish are best captured at night in shallow waters with structure or vegetation present, and catch rates are highest from March through October.
These catfish are typically not captured with artificial lures, preferring baits such as anchovies, night crawlers, mackerel, or live sunfish. In Arizona and California, noodling — that is, capturing fish with bare hands — is illegal, and as such angling for catfish is generally the preferred method in these areas.
5) Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
Other names: bream, brim, sunny, copper nose, perch
A popular panfish — or, an edible fish that resembles a frying pan or easily fits into a frying pan — bluegill can be captured throughout Lake Havasu at any time of the day. Bluegill catches are most plentiful from November through March as well as May and June.
These fish can be distinguished from other panfish by their “ears” or black spots on each side at the edge of the gills, which become elongated in larger adult fish. Like other sunfish, their bodies are deep and highly compressed or flattened, which gives them a low water resistance that enables quick and agile swimming.
Though typically olive green, bluegill can vary in color from dark blue to yellow or gray, typically with 6 to 8 vertical bars on its side. Females typically have a light yellow or pink breast, while males can display brighter orange or red patches on the breast.
Bluegill are highly generalist, consuming aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, and as such will readily take many types of worms as bait and can be attracted with flies, small jigs, or small spinning lures.
6) Redear sunfish (Lepomis microlophus)
Other names: shellcracker, stumpknocker, cherry gill, sun perch, chinquapin
Lake Havasu is home to many of the world record sizes of redear sunfish, with a 5.78 pounder captured in 2014 that was recently surpassed by a 6.3 pounder in 2021. Redear sunfish have thick pharyngeal teeth (a set of teeth in the throat) as an adaptation for eating snails and other crustaceans, which allows them to capitalize on prey items that may be inaccessible to other fish in Lake Havasu. These unique teeth are thought to contribute to the reason why some of the largest redear sunfish on the globe reside in this lake.
Havasu redear sunfish are able to take advantage of the abundance of available food, including invasive quagga mussels as well as native prey favorites such as grass shrimp and red swamp crawdads. Like bluegill, redear sunfish possess a dark “ear spot”. In addition to distinguishing them from other sunfish based on their large size, redear sunfish have a red or orange trim on the operculum — also known as a gill flap.
These fish prefer to reside on the bottoms of lakes in areas with abundant cover from aquatic vegetation. In Lake Havasu, they can be captured year-round and at any time of the day, usually preferring live baits such nightcrawlers, mealworms, or crickets, though seeming to reject baits with weights or too much resistance.
7) Green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)
Other names: black perch, green perch, pond perch
Identifiable by their bright iridescent blue or green spots, the green sunfish is considered one of the more beautiful sunfish and is occasionally kept as an aquarium pet. Green sunfish are, of course, mostly green in color, ranging from blue-green to brown-green and usually with yellowish sides. They have larger mouths than most other sunfish, as well as white and orange markings on the margins of their median and pelvic fins.
Green sunfish tend to prefer areas in lakes with rocky substrates or brushy banks. Though usually fairly small — less than one pound — they are aggressive as predators. These fish display complex courtship behaviors and males fiercely guard nests during the breeding season. These behaviors make them a fairly common and easy fish to catch, readily taking live bait such as small worms or insects as well as small jigs and spinners. In Lake Havasu, they can be found throughout the lake and though not frequently targeted specifically, are considered an excellent tasting fish.
8) Black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)
Other names: grass bass, speckled bass, shiner, moonfish
One of only two crappies found in North America, the black crappie can typically be found in still, clear waters with abundant cover. These fish can be identified by their silvery color with irregular black splotches all over the body, usually with speckled fins. As they have considerable variation in color, ranging from various shades of green to almost entirely black during spawning, the most reliable way to identify this fish is by its seven or eight spines in the dorsal fin.
The best time to fish for crappie in Lake Havasu is from April to June at night, especially with the use of a green light. Black crappies are attracted to floating baits, which can include live minnows as well as crappie jigs and certain spinners.
9) Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
Other names: bows, freshwater salmon
Though native to the cold-water tributaries of the Pacific Ocean, rainbow trout have been introduced to every continent except Antarctica due to their popularity as a sport fish. Perhaps due to their wide range, high diversity, and desirability as food, more scientific research has been dedicated to rainbow trout than to any other fish species.
Rainbow trout are members of the family Salmonidae, and some members of the same species — referred to as steelhead — are anadromous (meaning that they migrate from the ocean into freshwater). In freshwater systems, introduced rainbow trout have adapted to a life cycle that does not require this complex migration step.
Notable for their distinct vivid colors, freshwater rainbow trout are typically blueish green or olive green, often with a broad red or pink stripe along the lateral line. Their heavy black spotted pattern extends onto the dorsal fin and tail. A favorite among anglers, many methods are used to catch these fish. Though not regularly stocked in Lake Havasu, rainbow trout occasionally disperse from the Colorado River into the reservoir, although smaller trout are frequently preyed upon by bass. They are most easily captured in the upper part of the lake near Davis Dam, especially during the winter.
10) Carp (Cyprinidae)
Other names: common carp, invasive carp
In many freshwater systems in the United States, carp threaten native fishes through competition for food resources and the destruction of habitats. In California and Arizona, grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) are particularly common. Like many other carp, grass carp have long, chubby bodies, but they can be distinguished from other species by their gray-brown color, jawed mouth, and lack of whiskers (also called barbels). Their eyes sit in line with their mouth, and they have large scales with distinctly dark borders. Grass carp typically consume aquatic plants and detritus, thereby posing a threat to other fishes via competition for food resources.
Eurasian carp (Cyprinus carpio) are also found in Lake Havasu and can be identified by their orange or reddish color, sucker mouth, rear barbels, and elongated dorsal fin. In contrast to grass carp, Eurasian carp are omnivorous and consume aquatic plants as well as invertebrates scavenged from lake bottoms.
As bottom-feeders, carp foraging behaviors can uproot vegetation and increase water turbidity, which subsequently reduces the amount of light available to plants. Ultimately, the presence of many carp in an area can lead to an overall reduction in dissolved oxygen in the water, which has been associated with increases in harmful algal blooms.
Invasive carp often prefer habitats with slow-moving or standing water and plenty of vegetation coverage. Since most are omnivorous, they can be caught using many types of bait including canned corn or bread, but they are often deterred by visible elements such as shiny hooks. Carp are often large — up to 80 or even 100 pounds — and are highly edible despite a somewhat poor reputation as a sport fish in the United States.
Lake Havasu Protected Fishes
1) Razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus)
Other names: humpback sucker
The razorback sucker is a critically endangered fish native to the Colorado River Basin. Habitat loss due to the construction of dams, as well as predation of young by non-native fishes, resulted in abrupt population declines in razorback suckers that led to their listing as a federally endangered species in 1991. Today, this species is primarily found in the Colorado River upstream of the Grand Canyon, and in Lake Mohave, Lake Mead, Lake Powell, and Lake Havasu.
Razorback suckers are easily identified by the sharply shaped bony dorsal keel behind their head, giving them a “humpback” appearance. Their coloration varies from dark brown to olive green with yellow or white undersides, though males may display bright yellow or orange colors in the breeding season. Adults can reach relatively large sizes — up to 8 pounds — with lifespans up to 40 years.
Conservation efforts have demonstrated some success in helping populations recover, and a recent proposal has suggested that razorback suckers should be reclassified from endangered to threatened due to the re-establishment of healthy populations in the Colorado, Green, and San Juan Rivers. However, this decision has been disputed, as some evidence suggests that changing climate conditions may necessitate permanent human intervention for the survival of this species.
2) Roundtail chub (Gila robusta)
Another fish native to the Colorado River Basin, the roundtail chub is a small- to medium-sized, elongated minnow with a thick body and a deeply forked tail. They range in color from olive-gray to silver, usually with a lighter underside. In the breeding season, males can display red or orange colors on the cheeks and fins.
Roundtail chubs are voracious omnivores, consuming algae, detritus, insects, and crustaceans. They readily take a variety of baits, but if caught in Lake Havasu or elsewhere in Arizona, they must be immediately released due to their statewide protected status.
Since the 1980s, roundtail chub populations have been threatened by habitat loss and invasive species. Although they are legally protected at the state level, proposals for listing the roundtail chub as an endangered species have not yet been successful. Additionally, questions regarding whether roundtail chub, Gila chub (Gila intermedia), and headwater chub (Gila nigra) are truly separate species remain controversial in terms of determining their status and level of federal protection.
3) Bonytail chub (Gila elegans)
Other names: bonytail
A relative of the roundtail chub, the bonytail chub is native to the southwestern United States and has been listed as federally endangered since 1980. Bonytail chubs are named for their thin caudal peduncle (the tapered region where the tail fin attaches to the body). They are streamlined in shape, usually with dusky blue upper coloration and a lighter underside. Breeding males can display red colors on their fins.
Like many other Colorado River Basin endemic species, the construction of dams, loss of habitat, and introduction of invasive fish has led to severe population declines. Bonytail chubs are found in warmer waters of streams, reservoirs, and backwaters. They are omnivorous foragers, consuming aquatic plants, invertebrates, and other small fish or amphibians.
Lake Havasu provides a habitat for bonytail chub reintroduction, though they remain rare in the lake and throughout their range. Due to their protected status, the intentional pursuit of bonytail chubs is not permitted, and if accidentally captured, they must be immediately released unharmed.