Watson Lake Fishing, Size, Depth, And More

Watson Lake Arizona
© Nick Fox/Shutterstock.com

Written by Heather Burdo

Published: July 15, 2023

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Watson Lake in Prescott, Arizona, is a beautiful natural haven in the Granite Dells. Spread across 380 acres, this reservoir was built in 1915 and has since been a popular spot for locals and tourists. Apart from providing irrigation, the lake also offers various recreational activities. What makes it unique are the stunning views and granite boulders that surround it. Watson Lake is a must-visit destination if you’re looking for a getaway in the heart of the American Southwest.

Watson Lake Arizona

Watson Lake is approximately 100 miles north of Pheonix.

©Nick Fox/Shutterstock.com


Watson Lake is about four miles northeast of downtown Prescott and about 100 miles north of Phoenix. The lake is easily accessible via Highway 89, and its proximity to Prescott allows visitors to enjoy not just the outdoor activities at the lake but also the city’s vibrant dining, shopping, and cultural offerings.

This ideal location offers an escape from the busy city life while maintaining easy access to amenities. Watson Lake is set amidst a landscape of rugged, prehistoric boulders.


Watson Lake has a rich history, created in 1915 as part of the Chino Valley Irrigation Project. The Watson Lake Dam Company designed the dam that led to the lake’s creation, hence the reservoir’s name. Over the years, the lake and its surroundings have become a recreation hub, attracting thousands yearly visitors.

The Granite Dells, in which Watson Lake resides, are said to be over 1.4 billion years old, adding a historical depth to this natural landscape. The area has been used by humans for thousands of years, with artifacts from the Paleo-Indian period found nearby.

A panoramic winter image of Watson Lake in Prescott Arizona with the Granite Dells taken by a drone.

Watson Lake spans about 380 acres.

©Jason Yoder/Shutterstock.com


Watson Lake covers approximately 380 acres with an average water surface elevation of 5,100 feet. The lake’s size and the surrounding Granite Dells make it a significant spot for birdwatching, with more than 280 species of birds reported in the area. The parkland encompasses the lake, providing ample camping, hiking, and picnicking space.


Watson Lake has a varied depth due to the surrounding granite boulders and the irregularities of the lake bed. The lake’s average depth is about 50 feet, with some areas reaching depths of up to 90 feet. The variation in depth creates a unique habitat for aquatic life and provides exciting opportunities for anglers.

Water Level

The water level in Watson Lake can fluctuate significantly depending on the season and the annual precipitation. The City of Prescott manages the water levels, and typically the lake is at its highest during spring due to the runoff from the winter snow. The changes in water level offer dynamic scenery and affect the lake’s accessibility for various recreational activities.

Watson Lake Fishing

Fishing is one of the main attractions at Watson Lake. This beautiful body of water is home to various fish species that provide an exciting and rewarding experience for anglers of all skill levels. Both boat and shoreline fishing are allowed, and several fishing docks are scattered around the lake. The unique underwater topography created by the granite boulders provides an exciting challenge for anglers. Some of the common types of fish you can find in Watson Lake are:

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth bass is one of the most sought-after species in Watson Lake. They are a favorite among anglers because they put up a good fight, making the catch a rewarding experience. Largemouth bass in Watson Lake can grow to impressive sizes, with some catches reported to be over 20 inches long. They are most active in the spring and fall, making these seasons prime fishing times.

Channel Catfish

Channel catfish is another common species in Watson Lake. They are typically most active in the late spring and throughout the summer. Known for their robust and smooth fight and excellent taste, channel catfish are a popular target for beginners and experienced anglers.

Black Crappie

The black crappie is popular among families and young anglers due to their tendency to school, making them easier to catch. They are known for their delicious taste and are typically found in the more sheltered areas of the lake.


Bluegill is plentiful in Watson Lake and is an excellent species for beginners to target. They are smaller fish, usually six and ten inches long, and are known for their aggressive nature when hooked.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout are a real treat for anglers in Watson Lake, mainly because the Arizona Game and Fish Department regularly stock the lake with this species. This type of fish is revered for its beautiful colors, intense fight, and great taste. The best times to fish for rainbow trout are in the cooler months of late fall, winter, and early spring.


The geology of Watson Lake and its surrounding area is a significant draw for visitors. The lake is within the Granite Dells, a unique geological feature comprising exposed bedrock and large granite boulders. These billion-year-old granite formations offer a spectacular backdrop for outdoor activities and have also shaped the lake’s unique underwater landscape, affecting the local flora and fauna.

Red Kayaker at Watson Lake, Arizona

Kayaking is one of the most popular activities on Watson Lake

©Courtney L Fowler/Shutterstock.com

Boating and Other Activities

Boating is permitted at Watson Lake, and canoes, kayaks, and motorized boats (with electric motors) are commonly seen on the lake. The lake’s unique landscape, calm waters, and granite boulder formations offer an unmatched boating experience.

Besides boating and fishing, visitors can enjoy hiking, rock climbing, and bird watching. The Peavine and Iron King Trails, which skirt the lake, offer miles of multi-use trails with awe-inspiring views.


Overnight camping is not permitted at Watson Lake. However, daytime picnicking is allowed, with several picnic sites available around the lake. The nearby Lynx Lake, just south of Prescott, offers excellent camping facilities for visitors seeking camping opportunities. Its campgrounds surround ponderosa pines, providing a tranquil setting for overnight stays.

Profile view of a Canada goose laying on the coast of Watson Lake in Prescott, Arizona

You can find various types of wildlife on Watson Lake.

©Charlotte Evelyn/Shutterstock.com

Wildlife Near Watson Lake

The landscape surrounding Watson Lake provides excellent habitat for various wildlife species. Visitors may be able to spot birds, mammals, reptiles, and other animals around the lake and in the adjacent Granite Dells.


Over 200 species of birds have been observed around Watson Lake. Some of the most notable include bald eagles, osprey, common loons, western and eared grebes, northern harriers, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, and various waterfowl. The lake also attracts songbirds like warblers, tanagers, and flycatchers. Prime bird-watching spots include the trails along the lakeshore.


Mammals native to the Watson Lake area include mule deer, grey fox, ringtails, beavers, muskrats, and skunks. Lucky visitors may glimpse these critters visiting the lakeshore to drink or feed at dawn or dusk. Mule deer tracks and scat are often visible along the trails.

Reptiles and Amphibians

Various reptiles and amphibians call Watson Lake home, including snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs, and salamanders. Species found near the water include garter snakes, western pond turtles, canyon tree frogs, and tiger salamanders. Hikers may also see fence lizards, side-blotched lizards, and Great Basin rattlesnakes.

Aquatic Life

In addition to the sport fish stocked for anglers, Watson Lake contains aquatic species like crayfish, bullfrogs, and some native minnows. These provide forage for birds and mammals that feed along the lake. Keep an eye out for signs of life under the water’s surface.

With a diversity of habitats around Watson Lake, wildlife enthusiasts will have plenty to discover on a visit. Remember to respect all wildlife, keep your distance from animals, and be aware when hiking.


Watson Lake is a captivating natural getaway that offers a unique blend of recreational activities, geological wonders, and stunning scenery. Whether you’re an angler, a boater, a hiker, or just someone who appreciates natural beauty, Watson Lake has something to offer you.

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About the Author

Heather Burdo is a digital marketing enthusiast who has written content for countless industries over the last decade. However, content related to animals, nature, and health has her heart. When she's not working her magic with content, she enjoys being with family, going for walks, camping, and gardening. Self-development is non-negotiable for her.

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