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Anglers share their tips on how to hook ’em in this Southern Nevada recreation area.
Photo: Darla Cook (above), Lee Allen (below)
Lake Mead is a huge body of water that literally contains millions of striped bass—and when you discover a school of these feisty foragers, set the steel and hang on.
“There are times you can actually become exhausted pulling fish in,” says long-time angler Larry Crim of Las Vegas. “Hitting a shad boil tends to peg the fun meter,” he says, remembering one such event in the Hay Stack area near Temple Bar. “Stripers chasing shad had the whole cove boiling from bank to bank. My partner and I threw top-water baits and locked up with each cast until the boil disappeared as quickly as it had started. By the time the cove was quiet again, there were nearly 40 stripers in the bottom of the boat, many of which weighed up to 10 pounds. We were so dog tired we bottom-fished with anchovies the rest of the day.”
These torpedoes dressed in pin stripes are constantly on the move and are forever looking for something to eat. “These fish don’t hang on every foot of shoreline or hide out in every cove waiting to ambush bait. You’ve got to move around until you find them,” says former professional angler Greg Hines.
He suggests keeping an eye out for diving birds smashing surface waters or looking for herons lined up on the bank. The birds are looking for the same baitfish, generally threadfin shad, and when the feathered critters start to actively feed, you can be sure the finned ones will also be on hand to respond to the sound of the dinner bell.
Depending on the season, these potential frying pan fillets will either be close to the top, busting schools of baitfish and then slurping up single shad, or they’ll be hanging deeper and need to be coaxed into a feeding frenzy by chumming.
Cooler weather will generally find stripers suspended, and January and February are some of the tougher months to entice them to strike. Striped bass descend because water temperatures have dropped, causing shad baitfish to leave shallow brush and go deeper in search of a constant temperature they’re comfortable in. Because shad’s lower lethal limit is about 43 degrees, they go deep and hold at 60-90 feet, and stripers go down with them.
“Obviously, if you can find a school of either one—stripers or shad—you’ll catch fish,” says fisheries biologist Wayne Gustaveson. “Focus on the 50-to-60-foot-depth strata towards the back of major canyons to make best use of your graphing time. When you spot a school of stripers, frequently over submerged creek channels, chum the spot and then use frozen cut anchovy bait to set the hook on deeper fish. Try jigging spoons for the more active fish that rise off the bottom in response to the chum.”
Trolled lures in 20 to 40 feet of water work well for active stripers that boil occasionally, while downrigger trolling can also be productive with lures that run down with the same 60-to-80-foot-deep fish seen on the graph.
“Those are the major two winter patterns because stripers will be searching for food all winter long,” Gustaveson says. “Use bait over the deep resting schools, but keep in mind that periodically hungry stripers will head into shallow water on a food foray. When that happens, top-water, shallow-running crankbaits and spinnerbaits will work for big catches if schooling stripers are cruising the back of a canyon where water depth is 25 feet or shallower.”
The winter pattern generally holds during cool-water months when fish tend to be more dormant. “By March or April, when the waters begin to warm up again, fishing will start to pick up again,” Gustaveson says, noting that where stripers can be found depends on food supply. “When they’re in good shape, they stay in the backs of canyons with the shad. When there’s limited baitfish available, they’ll head for channel currents where they can spawn. It’s a fine line to determine which way they’ll head in the springtime as they try to figure out which of the two most powerful urges will get satisfied first.”
As waters continue to warm, smart anglers keep a sharper eye out for early season shad boils. There’s no apparent rhyme or reason to predict when this will happen other than it occurs when shad spawn, and that’s strictly left up to the shad. Once the young fry are at eating-size for predators, the action starts hot and heavy. Shad can spawn at anytime from early spring to fall, so just keep moving, be on the lookout for signs of activity, and when the melee occurs, don’t stop casting until calm returns.
While it’s true that the best time to go fishing is whenever you have the chance, it’s also true that you can catch actively feeding stripers all year long on a variety of lures tied to all kinds of rods. Stickbaits, buzz baits, chuggers, poppers, and propeller lures will prompt a strike as will artificial minnows and jigs fished vertically or part of an anchovy stuck on a hook.
Past experience with shad boils in Grand Wash, a large bay popular with anglers who launch out of Callville Bay Marina to fish coves, points, and stair-stepping ledges, has shown the fish there really like Twitch’N Minnows, Thundersticks, or Rapala surface and shallow-running lures tossed right into the middle of that ring of fury.
Preferences vary, but a 5½-foot light-action casting rod accompanied by baitcasting or spincasting reels spooled with 10-to-12-pound test line should bring most fish to the boat’s livewell.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
601 Nevada Way
Boulder City, NV 89005
Visitor Center (Open 7 days a week)
Informaton Desk (Open M-F)