As a fisherman, Lake Havasu has been calling my name. I’d been on the lake as a kid when my family camped off our boat, but I’ve never fished Havasu. For years I’ve been thinking about going and finally I decided it was time. This was a last minute trip and I only had a couple days to plan. I scoured the internet for good places to kayak and camp for free, but found very little information specific to kayaking. I also reviewed the weather forecast for each day because I’ve heard many stories about how windy this lake can be. I saw my best weather windows and planned my trip accordingly since half of the time I’d be fishing off my kayak and the other half off a motorboat. I prefer kayak fishing, but every now and then it’s nice to fish off a motorboat and on a new lake that motor helps me see more of the lake.
I arrived at Parker Strip, AZ, around noon on a Thursday. The beauty of the Colorado River water was pulling at me to fish it, but I continued on my path toward Havasu. I was heading to Cattail Cove where I thought I would camp and kayak fish, but the car in front of me turned into the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge. I saw this refuge on Google Earth during my scouting so I decided at the last moment to swing in. I love wildlife and I enjoy visiting these refuges where their sole purpose is to benefit critters.
I immediately noticed the water was a beautiful dark shade of seafoam and smooth like glass. I know flat water on Lake Havasu is rare and I needed to get my kayak in the water NOW! The Bill Williams Refuge has a free nonmotorized launch area where you can drive your vehicle right to the water to unload and the refuge is in a no wake zone, which is a major plus for kayaking. I could hardly contain my excitement and I immediately paddled toward the Bill Williams River. I saw reeds everywhere and those reeds were my target, but I casted along the way in areas I thought looked fishy. I fished with the same lure for 5-10 minutes and then I’d switch if I didn’t get a bite. It took me about an hour to hook my first bass, but now I knew what they wanted. The refuge is full of birds and their songs filled the air. This is an amazing place to kayak. There were a couple other kayakers leaving the water and a few motorboats scattered throughout. I caught a few fish, but knew I still needed to find a place to camp so I left the water about 4 pm and headed to Cattail Cove.
Cattail Cove is an Arizona State Park and little did I know the campground would be full on a Thursday in March. Without a reservation I was out of luck and moved to plan B. With permission, I drove by the campground to the ramp because I wanted to scope it out for future trips. I then headed to BLM land to find a free place to camp. Keep in mind BLM is down and dirty camping with zero amenities except nature.
North and South of Lake Havasu City is filled with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public land on the east side of Highway 95 with campers scattered everywhere (Havasu BLM maps ). After seeing all these campers I now knew there would be no issue finding a place to camp. I drove by the London Bridge and Mesquite Bay nonmotorized area, which has a free hand held launch for nonmotorized watercraft), before heading north up 95. I chose a spot to camp a couple miles north of town and had this area all to myself.
Day number two I started at Mesquite Bay and this nonmotorized area is part of the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. There is a North Mesquite Bay, Mesquite Bay, and South Mesquite Bay (3 bays right by each other) and this whole area is nonmotorized, which I love! The free hand held launch is in Mesquite Bay. I could see fish jumping everywhere and had two fish go after my top water lure, but I couldn’t hook them. I paddled south to the next nonmotorized cove and this is where I saw my first underwater cage. These cages are artificial fish habitats that were put in 40+coves to help maintain a healthy fishery. Little fish can enter the cages and be safe from big fish eating them and bigger fish hang out by the cages. I was absolutely mesmerized by how clear the water was and found myself looking down at everything under the water. I located a couple bass and some very large blue gills. I got the bass to inhale my lure, but he spit it right back out. The bluegills tap tapped at my offerings, but I couldn’t hook them either. I know the Mesquite Bays are fishy, but I left this area without catching a fish and I’d come here again for the sole reason that it’s fishy and motorboats are off limits here.
The winds picked up and midday and I moved to my friend and sponsor Mr. LureMaker’s motorboat (http://www.luremakercustombaits.com/) for the afternoon. He picked me up at the Site 6 boat ramp, which is FREE for motorized and nonmotorized watercraft. I did not fish this area, but it looked fishy and I’d like to try in the future.
Every day I planned around the wind. The wind dictates what you can and can’t do when fishing from a kayak. I knew the next day and a half was calling for 20-30 mph winds and I’d be safer on a motorboat than my kayak. We worked many areas on the California side without catching a single fish before moving back down to the southern end of the lake where we picked up a handful of large mouth between us.
The waves were literally rolling in the afternoon and we had to battle all the way back to Windsor Ramp (paid ramp) where he launched from (I caught a fish here too!). The next day we decided to launch at Cattail Cove since we were primarily fishing the lower end of the lake. Cattail has fees for any use, but there are annual passes available that cover day use and launching from the boat ramps. We both picked up fish in the morning and I caught my first Havasu small mouth. I really wanted to get into the smallies and I couldn’t help it – I was hooting and hollering with excitement that I caught one! I’m sure the boats around us heard me, but that’s okay – I love fishing and I REALLY wanted a smallie! The wind picked up and we headed north up the lake. We again tried the California side and couldn’t pick up a bite. Because the wind was so strong and some of the waves wanted to come inside the boat, we stayed closer to the ramp and safety.
I only had the morning to fish before heading home on Sunday and I was planning to head back to the Bill Williams Wildlife Refuge, but last minute decided to check out the public beaches for kayak access. I pulled into London Bridge Beach and there were a lot of people. I also didn’t see a great place to launch my kayak from so I moved over to Body Beach, which was empty. This beach is just south of Rotary Park. Body Beach is all dirt roads and you can drive your vehicle down to the water to unload. I could see there was some sort of course with anchored balls here around the island, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it the course was used for. I launched and fished around the island without any bites. I moved south to fish the next series of coves all the while keeping a good eye on the wind. I don’t like getting too far from my truck on windy days. I picked up a nice large mouth off a point before battling the wind and heading back to my truck. By now the jet skiers were arriving and were starting to zoom around the course. This spot would be better during the week than on a Sunday.
Havasu is a beautiful lake and I learned a lot during these three days. I found ways to keep my costs down by using free launch areas and by camping for free. When all was said and done, I only spent about $100 on this trip and $80 of that was gas. The food I took was already in my house and I would’ve eaten it regardless if I was home or fishing. I camp so much that I don’t do special grocery runs to camp. I take what I have at home. It saves me time prepping for the trip and it saves me money in the long run. Canned soup, canned chili, Cliff Bars, bread, lunch meat, summer sausage, trail mix are staples for me. I always have these items on hand so I can easily grab them and go. I also make big pots of stew, chili, or soup and freeze the leftovers for my camping trips. All I have to do is heat these leftovers up and there is no meal prep!
Being able to tag along on Mr. Luremaker’s boat for some of the trip was a major plus and this allowed me to scout the lake much quicker. which allowed me to gather more information for this blog. I found it interesting when all was said and done, every single fish I caught whether I was on my kayak or a motorboat was within paddling distance of a launch area. The boat allowed us to cover more water, but the fish I caught on the boat where in areas that I could’ve caught them from my kayak.
On a side note, I could not find any free camping on the shoreline with truck access. Everything is clearly posted with no overnight camping signs. There are many Arizona State Park boat in only camp spots that require you to pay a fee ($20 per night), but if you can find a little beach that isn’t developed – you can kayak camp for free. Follow this link to a blog I wrote about kayak camping. Remember the water on this lake fluctuates in depth so you need to find a big enough beach that you won’t be in water come the morning. The fee for day use of these developed boat in only spots is $10 per day Mon-Thurs and $15 on weekends or holidays. Overnight camping use is $20 per day, but remember boating is the only way in. There are no roads, but there are nice picnic tables and most sites have their own bathroom.
I’ll be heading back to Lake Havasu. All the fish I caught were quality fish, the scenery is amazing, and the water is beautiful!! I will always keep a close eye on the weather/wind forecast when visiting this lake and be mindful of how quickly the water conditions can change when the wind picks up.
Tight lines and Catch & Release those fish so others can catch them too! The spawn is happening in many areas so please try to release those fish quickly exactly where you caught them to help those eggs hatch and our fishing opportunities improve! We can help stock Arizona lakes ourselves by avoiding bed fishing or at least putting them back quickly where you caught them!
Below is a list of information that I hope you find useful. I also used Google Earth to check spots out before I left.
FREE LAUNCH AREAS
Site 6 – FREE for motorized and nonmotorized boats
Body Beach (just south of Rotary Park) – free nonmotorized launch and I did see people launching their jet skiis on trailers here as well.
Mesquite Bay at Havasu National Wildlife Refuge – FREE nonmotorized hand held only launch. You will need to carry your kayak a short distance or bring a kayak dolly. There are three bays at Mesquite – Mesquite Bay North, Mesquite Bay, and Mesquite Bay South. I launched from Mesquite Bay. This is a very large nonmotorized area with fishing piers in some of the bays. This is part of the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. There were birds and ducks everywhere.
Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge – FREE nonmotorized launch at the refuge headquarters. I also really enjoyed kayaking here because the scenery is amazing, birds are talking everywhere, and it’s a no wake area. You can paddle up the Bill Williams River.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – There is free dispersed camping with no amenities or services north and south of Lake Havasu City on the east side of highway 95.
PAID LAUNCH AREAS AND CAMPGROUNDS
Arizona State Parks – There are three state parks at Lake Havasu, including Lake Havasu State Park, Havasu Riviera State Park, and Cattail Cove State Park. There are fees for day use and overnight camping. Please note each park has their own rates. There are 3 state park campgrounds on Lake Havasu and two just below Parker Dam on the Parker Strip that include River Island State Park and Buckskin Mountain State Park. These campgrounds have toilets, showers, electricity/water, and boat ramps. The sites average $20-$40 per night depending on the camp spot you choose. Day use fees vary between $10-$20.
PAID Boat In Only Remote Shoreline Camping - Cattail Cove Arizona State Park has boat in only recreation sites. Between Lake Havasu City and Cattail Cove there are approximately 30 or so sites that you can boat to and some are within kayaking distance of launch areas. You can camp here and most have tables and a restroom, but there is a fee with a self pay station they call the “Iron Ranger.” There is no water/electricity and the spots are remote. Fees are $10 for day use Mon-Thurs and $15 on weekends/holidays. $20 fee for overnight camping.