Roosevelt Lake near Payson, Arizona is a beautiful body of water set in the desert about 40 miles by car southeast of Payson in the Tonto Basin. Roosevelt Lake is the first lake on the Salt River Chain of lakes and is by far the larges of the desert reservoirs. Because of its lower elevation in the Tonto Basin south of Payson, Roosevelt is a warm water lake with a desert landscape.
Roosevelt lake was created in 1911 with the completion of the Theodore Roosevelt Dame that was constructed on the Salt River as part of the Salt River Project. The dam was constructed just below the confluence of Tonto Creek and the Salt River in the Tonto Basin. Early Phoenix farmers considered the flow too volatile with big swings in flow from drought to flood. The main purpose for the dam was to provide water storage and flood control in the Salt River Valley. The lake was the world's larges man-made lake at the time and today remains the largest lake located entirely in the State of Arizona. Both the lake and the dam were named for U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt who dedicated the dam himself in 1911. The dam is primarily used for generating hydroelectric power, water supply and flood control. The dam as renovated and expanded in 1996 and stands 357 feet high after the height was raised 77 feet. The expansion of the dam increased the capacity of Roosevelt Lake by 20%.
As part of the expansion of the dam highway 188, the Apache Trail, was rerouted from the top of Roosevelt dam to the newly constructed Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. Roosevelt Lake Bridge is the longest two-lane, single-span, steel-arch bridge in North America. The bridge spans 1,080 feet across Roosevelt Lake and is painted blue to blend in with the water and the sky.
Tonto Basin - Roosevelt Lake's Watershed
Melting snow and summer rains drain from the vast Salt River watershed toward the Tonto Basin. The erosion from this water has carved numerous canyons and arroyos throughout the mountains. The Salt River enters Roosevelt Lake from the east. Carrying runoff from the melting snow and rain from across northeastern Arizona, the Salt River at time a raging torrent. Tonto Creek enters the valley from the north, merging with the Salt River where Roosevelt Dam now stands. The Construction of Roosevelt Dam allowed downstream communities to manage and control downstream water delivery.
Roosevelt Lake is a bass fisherman's paradise. Because of its massive 21,500 surface acres most fisherman utilize a boat. The lake contains large populations of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. The lake is loaded with underwater brush and timber, particularly when the lake approaches 100 percent capacity.
Bass in this lake spend much of their time chasing shad and the topwater bite can be phenomenal when the bass follow them into the shallows. Fishing with plastics such as Senkos or drop-shotting is popular at Roosevelt Lake. The birds at this lake generally know what is going on so if you see birds on top of the water diving for shad there are also likely to be bass lurking nearby. Swimbaits and crankbaits can work well in this situation.
Roosevelt Lake also contains large populations of both channel and flathead catfish. Channel catfish are generally caught on traditional catfish baits such as stinkbaits, shrimp, chicken or beef liver, or cut up fish. Flathead catfish on the other hand tend to like their bait alive and are often fished for with live bluegill, sunfish or smaller carp. Flathead catfish occur in Roosevelt lake that are 60 plus pounds and flathead fisherman generally fish with heavier gear.
Crappie fishing is popular at Roosevelt lake. The lake has an enormous population of crappie and finding the schools is the key to catching them. Some fisherman choose to fish for them at night and use lights to attract the shad which in turn bring the crappie.
Bluegill and sunfish can be found throughout Roosevelt lake and can be caught on baits such as worms, flies or small lures. Carp are also found throughout the lake and can be taken with a rod and reel, or hunted with a bow. Bowhunting for carp is popular at Roosevelt lake.
Roosevelt accommodates a variety of boats ranging from kayaks to houseboats and everything in between. The lake is popular with fisherman, water-skiers, jet skiers, and kayakers and has 6 launch facilities that support both motorized and non-motorized boats (Listed Below the image). There are additional launch areas for non-motorized boats. Roosevelt Lake requires a watercraft sticker for boats.
- Indian Point Recreation Site
- Roosevelt Marina
- Cholla Recreation Site
- Windy Hill Recreation Site
- Grapevine Group Site
- Schoolhouse Recreation Site
The lake has a full-service marina and store offering boat rentals on a variety of different kinds of boats and jet skis. Accommodations around the lake include camping, and RV Park, and even a floating hotel. There are also hotels in nearby Punkin Center and Tonto Basin. There is a full service bar, restaurant, and public barbecue at the Marina. There are also restaurants and bars near the lake and in Jake's Corner, Punkin Center and Tonto Basin.
The newly remodeled museum features artifacts and replicas. The park movie shows on demand through the day. The bookstore, operated by Western National Parks Association, sells educational items. The park is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm and closed on December 25th. There is a picnic area available with tables and ramadas.
- Indian Point
- Cholla Bay
- Bachelor Cove