Roosevelt Lake Project Named 2018 National Fish Habitat Partnership’s Ten Waters to Watch

Roosevelt Lake is the upper-most reservoir of a four-reservoir chain in the Salt River watershed. Roosevelt Lake is the largest and is formed by Theodore Roosevelt Dam constructed in 1911 by the Bureau of Reclamation. Roosevelt Lake is located on the Tonto National Forest (TNF) in central Arizona almost entirely within Gila County. At full capacity, the lake is approximately 22 miles long with nearly 128 miles of shoreline with a water surface elevation of 2151 feet. The reservoir can store approximately 1,653,043 acre-feet (AF) of water at maximum conservation pool. The lake level fluctuates over time in response to water use, evaporation, and annual precipitation and runoff. As of June 2017, the lake is 69% full at an elevation of 2124ft with approximately 17,129 surface acres.


Roosevelt Lake provides a variety of recreational and environmental benefits with an estimated 451,242 angler use days per year (Fisheries Branch 2015). The lake is one of the top bass fishing lakes in Arizona and has been the destination of premier bass tournaments such as WON BASS Roosevelt Pro/Am (2012). However, electrofishing surveys in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013 indicated declines in largemouth bass, crappie and bluegill populations. Anglers have expressed concerns over the fishery declines and local communities, having felt the economic impacts of this decline, have contacted Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) to work cooperatively to reverse the declining trends in the fishery.


The decline in the fishery may be explained by a variety of factors including invasion and establishment of non-native gizzard shad, water quality (e.g. golden algae), diseases (e.g. largemouth bass virus), and lack of habitat due to the aging reservoir syndrome and the fluctuating levels. Roosevelt Lake has never had a fisheries habitat enhancement project and recent habitat analysis conducted at lower water levels (2070-2090 foot elevations) using side-scan sonar revealed minimal complex habitat available throughout the main lake body. The cumulative impacts of these stressors have negatively affected multiple species populations. There is also minimal ability to address each of the stressors due to limited availability of appropriate tools, methods, and feasibility. However, a collaborative partnership has been formed to address habitat issues.


The objective of the project is to improve fish community structure by providing structural habitat needed for various life stages of a variety of sport species important to the recreational fishery. The project targets structural habitat improvements to a minimum of 50 acres of the 2,719 littoral acres available between surface elevations 2060ft and 2080ft within the next ten years. We are seeking to provide a diverse array of structural habitat that will have a positive effect on multiple life stages of sportfish and their prey. The types of artificial structures being installed include Concrete Fish Balls, Mossback and Fishiding structures, and Georgia cubes, along with brush bundles comprised of native trees. The AZGFD, with the assistance of the local community, completed 620 volunteer hours and stockpiled a large number of structures for deployment. The AZGFD received a grant for $33,584.50 from the RFHP in FY2017. Partner contributions total $176,614.50 ensuring a robust addition of structural habitat. This effort is ongoing and will continue with local support and future support from the Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership (RFHP) and Friends of Reservoirs.


Human Interest/Community Benefit:
Local businesses have experienced an economic decline associated with the decline in the quality of the fisheries and decreased angler use. These communities have contacted Arizona Game and Fish to work cooperatively to reverse these declines.


Project Timeline: May 2017 through December 2027

Economic Calculator results:

Create 23.5 jobs,
generate $2,487,428 in total sales,
$1.29 million in value
added creating income of $936,124 over the 10-year implementation



Arizona Game and Fish Department in partnership with the Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership, Midweek Bass Friends of Reservoirs, Don McDowell Friends of Arizona Reservoirs, Tonto Basin Community, Tonto National Forest, and anglers have proposed to conduct a long-term (20 years) habitat enhancement project at Roosevelt Lake to address the habitat issues. Multiple Angler Roundtable meetings have been held in Tonto Basin to discuss the project and its. AGFD has initiated a media campaign that includes outdoor radio shows, websites, blogs, and newsletters to both inform and garner public support and raise funds for the project.

For more information on the National Fish Habitat Partnership and other projects named to the Ten Waters to Watch program go to: