Member Blog Post The Canal Cats of Maricopa

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  • I am a bait casting, channel Cat angler. Every once in awhile I will break down and fish for Stripers or Large Mouth Bass, but more than anything I enjoy pleasant summers evening with the stars surrounding me, pulling up channel cats using chicken liver and hot dogs.

    To most bass fishermen, flyfishers, and deep-sea anglers, bait casting is boring. To those who have no problems though with a.d.d. or o.c.d bait casting for channel cats can be some of the most relaxing and exciting ways of fishing.


    For me it is like the art of Zen. I meditate, pray, joke around with my kids, and count the stars, read a book. On the inside though, I am slowly being wound up like a clock with too many springs. Almost as if by magic when the fish strikes, it seems I am at my most high strung. The rigging is bouncing while the bell is ringing and I snap that hook back praying to Fortuna (the roman goddess of luck) that I tied my hook on tight.

    For those of us though that are not patient waiters, and crave more excitement but still love catfishing. I suggest taking the I-10 southeast to Highway 347 and visit the little town of Maricopa.

    Establishing itself as an official city in 2002 and boasting a population of 43,000 Maricopa is a quaint little ranching community that is striving to turn itself into a suburb of Awatukee. Stop in at the local eatery named Headquarters Café and you will be surprised at how well they can fry up a Chimichanga. After feasting on some of the best Mexican food, you ever snapped a lip over, head east on the Maricopa Casa Grande highway into the Desert Mountains of Hidden Valley.

    Yes, I know there are a thousand Hidden Valleys in Arizona but this one is unique. For, as you pass the railroad tracks, you will find yourself staring at one of the most impressive canal systems in the nation. Built originally almost two thousand years ago by a civilization still unknown it winds expertly through hundreds of farms growing everything from cotton and cucumbers to alfalfa and corn. At its widest, it is almost twenty-two feet across, and at its narrowest, it is only three and half. This Canal system is owned and operated by the Akchin Indian Community. The water is brought in from the Gila River and feeds the 28-thousand acres that make up the reservation. There is over 100-thousand farming acres surrounding the reservation that the canal feeds as well. The water rights, given to the nation by the Truman presidency in 1912, have been the principle source of income for the tribe for exactly a hundred years now. That is until the arrival of Harrahs in 1996.

    As you travel along this canal wondering about the people that built this structure out of mud and brick two thousand years ago, keep an eye out for places in the canal that widen and retain large amounts of water. These are called platform mounds. They usually have a small fence around them that is not enclosed, as well as a bridge and small dam-like structure that you can walk upon. The point of these platform mounds is to control the amount of water being released to the acreage in the area.

    It is on these platforms that you want to make yourself comfortable. The fish in these waters are not stocked or fed frequently. Rarely do they get a full meal and they spend their days and nights on a constant desperate search for food. They are highly competitive and move in schools of up to thirty.

    If you throw into this cannibalistic school of channel cats an all-beef hotdog or a piece of chicken liver, the fun you will have will be worth writing home about. You will always catch the big fish first for these schools have some sort of pecking order similar to a pack of canines when thrown a raw t-bone steak. The big eat first followed by the medium and then the small.

    As anglers, you probably know that with Channel Cats, the females are bigger than the males so expect your first couple of fish to be large females ranging in size from three to six, and sometimes, eight pounds. The males, though smaller, fight much harder than expected and you must be wary of the invisible shopping cart or debris that lies at the bottom of these canals for they will wrap your line in heartbeat.

    Take with you; plenty of bait for you will need it. Also, because you are fishing at a distance of no less than four feet above the water line, bring with you a rod that can handle the weight as well as line no less than a ten-pound test. Believe me you will need it.

    My final suggestions are this. Do not go during the summer months of July, August, and September for during these months, the catfish starve and you will pull up fish that disappoint you. Literally, you can count the ribs on these creatures. Go in spring and in fall, these are the best months to go for food seems to be in more abundance and they are strong and healthy. Bring yourself a folding chair and a good hat for you will burn out there even in the cooler months. Take with you non-alcoholic beverages for the Indian police detest bottles of beer being left on their reservation. They will D.U.I. you just for that. Also, if you do not succeed at the first platform continue to the next one. There are no less than sixty platforms in a ten mile radius.

    Final thought is this, I have taken more than one specimen to the Az Game and Fish and they have found nothing wrong with the samples very little mercury so I suggest that you take these wonderful fish home and enjoy them with corn meal and tater tots, for they are wonderful tasting.
Bgm5278 and HookedAZ like this.

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  1. HookedAZ
    This is one of my favorite articles on the site. Definitely heading out to Maricopa for the day.
  2. Robert davis
  3. Tammy
    Great article. I fish the az canal in Phx. when I can't afford a trip to the lakes. I've caught more channel cats there, than any of the lakes and you usually don't have to wait long for a bite. I've often wondered why the canals aren't mentioned in the AZGF reports. It seems to me that the canals aren't good enough or they don't make alot of money from the fishing there, so they avoid mentioning it. Whoever thinks this way is MISSING out and thats okay with me, because more fun for me. Thanks
  4. barb morni
    A few questions come to mind. Is this regulated by Az.Fish&Game, or by the Akchin reservation? Do you need a permit from the reservation? Is there a daily limit? How far down the 'Casa Grande Hwy' from Hwy.347 before you find a decent spot? I am a former Az. resident who will be returning soon and I would be very interested in more information on fishing the canals! Thank you!
  5. davidh
    do you need a special license from the indian reservation ?
  6. Steve
    I usually go to the Gila at the p.i.r. I have had alot of luck there lately for some reason.