by M.L. Anderson
We recently received an invitation to visit Arizona’s newest bass lake – Hidden Lake – from Nitro pro Matt Shura. I honestly hadn’t even heard of this lake until Matt called. Turns out this lake has been around for a long time. It’s an old gravel pit on the Gila River near Buckeye, AZ, fed by the river running underground. For years it was used as a dump by those who lived nearby – in fact, the new owners removed literally tons of trash when they bought the place, and they just opened it up in January. They are now managing it as a trophy bass lake, so it’s strictly catch and release, artificial lure only. They have stocked it with Florida strain bass, and it already has a reputation as a big-fish lake. The owners have so far invested over $1 million dollars cleaning and stocking it, and they are expecting another delivery of Florida bass soon.
In addition to being known for big fish, Hidden Lake is also known as a tough nut to crack. “You may only get five bites all day long,” Matt told us, “but they’ll all be good fish.” The lake opens at 7:00 a.m., a bit late for the already warm weather here, which we figured would make the fishing even tougher. You have to make a reservation to get into Hidden Lake. Once you get there, you call them and they come and unlock the gates for you. There are two gravel ramps, and 4WD is recommended, but if you do get stuck, they’ll help you out. They allow only eight boats on the 60-acre lake at one time to keep the experience top notch. They also have a couple of boats for rent, or you can use a float tube or kayak or even fish from shore.
By the time we got on the water it was almost 8:00 and already pretty warm, but breezes made it pleasant. Matt started out pitching a Yamamoto Kreature to brush and underwater trees at the end of the lake where there is a pipe that allows water to flow out. There is a lot of brush along the edges of the water in most places and some trees off the bank, plus a lot of good rock and chunk concrete that makes excellent structure. For all the brush and branches you see, there are many more that you can’t see, and Matt is bold about throwing his baits right into the thick stuff. He says he likes to cast where he thinks no one else will, because it’s the kind of place where you figure you’ll be in trouble – you’ll get hung up, or if you do get a fish, you’ll never get it out of there. “If you want to catch big fish, you have to take a gamble on not being able to retrieve your lure,” he says.
While Matt pitched a green Kreature (301), John threw a green/chartreuse laminate 5-inch Senko (990) to the outside edges of the brush and just let it sink. Within fifteen minutes, a fish grabbed the Senko. It actually snapped John’s 14-pound mono before he could get it in the boat. Then Matt flipped the Kreature into a brush pile, felt it go over a branch, then exlaimed it just felt heavy. He set the hook and boated a nice fat fish. We had no scale with us, but we were all betting it was close to five.
When you throw into the kinds of stuff Matt pitches his Kreatures and Cowboys into, you have to use big fish line. He likes Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon line in 20-pound-test. If he’s really fishing way back in the junk, or fishing reeds, he goes to 25. Those reeds are really tough on line. He actually prefers to stay out a way from shore and pitch rather than flip most of the time, because that enables you to work the bait back toward you. The one thing you need to remember about pitching and flipping, he says, is that when the water is coming up, the fish will be really shallow, especially where the water is coming in. So, if there has been rain and water is flowing in from creeks, you should get as far into the creek as you can. This also goes for tidal waters – when the tide is coming in, fish shallow.
The opposite is also true – if the water is going down, the fish will be off the bank. The day we were at Hidden Lake, the water was down at least a foot, and Matt and John were both catching fish a little ways off the bank. “You also need to pay attention to angles, especially as it relates to shade,” Matt says. He tries to hit the shade multiple times from different angles. The fish are going to be at the base of the tree in the shade – find the stuff you can’t see. Shura pitches and flips all year long – in the winter the wood warms up in the sun, and he’s seen fish spawn on wood many times. Spring and fall are especially good because the baitfish are up shallow.
The water at Hidden Lake is stained, not the crystal-clear stuff you find in most of our desert reservoirs. Matt uses a bead between the hook and weight for a little added sound – it’s more of a “clunk” and he prefers that to rattles. A friend of his who is a scuba diver told him that he once took a couple of rocks and just tapped them against each other, and pretty soon a bass came to investigate the sound. Ever since then, Matt has put beads on his pitching rig. If the water is really calm he tries for a silent entry, but at times it seems like making a big splash with the bait draws the fish. When the fish are very active or birds are working the area it seems like a bit of splash gets their attention. He likes the new Yamamoto Cowboy because of the extra water movement it creates, but he also really loves pitching the Kreature.
Shura goes for natural colors and rigs them on a 5/0 hook with a 3/8-ounce weight. The weight is heavy enough to get down into the thick stuff, light enough to fall a bit more slowly, and just enough weight to be able to feel on the bottom. His flippin’ rod is a Taipan rod with guides that sort of coil around the rod so that when it loads up, none of the line is touching the rod. It has a strong butt with a flexible tip so he can swing the bait out easily.
Although Hidden Lake has the “five bites a day” reputation, Matt and John had seven bites in three hours. They only got three of them in the boat, but those three were nice. In fact, they boated a Senko fish, a Kreature fish, and a Cowboy (330) fish, and lost big fish on all three baits as well. If you’re going to go after big fish in the spring, you need to target the thick stuff, use the right baits, and be prepared to break off now and then.
Matt says the best advice he has for someone who is just starting out with pitching and flipping is to practice. You can practice anywhere – even in your back yard or your living room. Put out some target like cups or bowls, and practice pitching and flipping to them. Because the brush and trees can be so thick, you need to be able to place the lure between the branches, and that take practice. Use the same baits, weights, and hooks you’ll be using when you fish so your muscle memory is perfect. If you’re worried about hooking the rug, snip the hook point off – just remember to re-tie before you hit the lake. And if by chance you’re going to be in the Phoenix area, give the folks at Hidden Lake a call and make a reservation. Bring your Cowboys, Kreatures, and Senkos and be ready for a great day.
If You Visit:
Since the Arizona Game and Fish Department has been so helpful to them, Hidden Lake does require an Arizona Fishing License. Prices are subject to change, so make sure you call them at 623-777-5814. The gates are locked, so call ahead for reservations. When you show up, call them again and they’ll unlock the gates for you. Right now the prices are $15/day for shore fishing, $5 for kids 5-12, and 4 and under are free. Boat fishing passes are $30 each person, kids 5-12 are $5, and 4 and under are free. Boat launch fees are $25 for a boat with a motor, $15 for kayaks and manually powered boats and paddleboards. You can also get annual passes. Visit their website at www.hiddenlakeaz.com for details, and remember that prices are subject to change. They also have boat rentals, so check that out as well. You can plan a special event at Hidden Lake as well – even a wedding!
Hidden Lake has crappie, bluegill, catfish, carp, and tilapia in addition to the bass, and the catch and release applies to the bass, bluegills, and crappie. Porta potties are available, and there are plans for flushing toilets in the future. This is such a cool place – you would never know there was a lake here! The birds are spectacular, and the owner told us that the Audubon Society had come out and counted over 150 species. While we were there we saw ibis, black necked stilts, black crowned night herons, egrets, great blue herons, the biggest flock of pelicans I have ever seen, and tons of songbirds. It’s an amazing place and I highly recommend you check it out.
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