Lake Mead’s Fabulous Summer Stripers

Striped bass action as hot as a Nevada summer

7th September 2000.
By Bob McNally

Most striped bass anglers know well that the best fishing for linesides on almost all lakes nationwide is had during spring, fall and winter. Only on a few waters, in very special areas — such as spring holes and tailraces — are summertime stripers available in big numbers to average anglers.

This is because hot weather and hot water usually make for deep, and comparatively difficult, striper fishing. But massive Lake Mead, a man-made lake on the Colorado River, is the rare exception to that rule. While good striped bass fishing can be had from March through October on the lake that straddles the Nevada-Arizona state line, the best and most exciting lineside fishing is had during the bright, broiling days of July and August.

Although the Lake Mead striped bass record is a huge 52-pounder, only a few years years ago the reservoir had a reputation for harboring mostly small stripers. This was due to a shortage in natural forage, and it had even state fisheries biologists concerned about the lake’s gamefish. For a time there was talk about introducing other types of forage species to the lake to improve the health of Mead’s stripers. But since 1986, threadfin shad have noticeably increased, and with the abundant food striper sizes have gotten larger — and fast. During summer, the average Mead striper weighs a solid 5 pounds, 10-pounders are common, and plenty of 20- to 30-pound fish are caught. Moreover, stripers are available in enormous surface-breaking schools. At times several thousand fish can be seen boiling the surface gorging on shad, and, naturally, great action is then available to virtually anyone who can cast a lure into the fish-filled melee.

Mead’s booming striper population is the result of prolific natural spawning of the fish in the lake. Summer schools are especially large, since shad are typically massed, which attracts stripers from miles around. Five-mile long Vegas Bay and 1 mile wide Vegas Wash are two especially good summer striper areas, though the entire lower basin of the lake can offer excellent summer lineside action.

Other prime July striper spots include: Walker Wash, Burro Point, Paint Pots, Box Car, and Swallow Cove. The Overton Arm of Mead is one of the most productive parts of the lake and consistently has one of the best catch rates of stripers anywhere on the reservoir. Summer fishing can be had there, and stripers up to 38 pounds have been recorded there from the Virgin River area.

Since Mead’s summer stripers frequently are found breaking water and feeding on shad, live shad baits are deadly for stripers. Baits easily are caught with a cast or throw net. Schools of stripers generally are found in open coves and near points of land. Watch for diving gulls to indicate striper schools. Often the best fishing is in early mornings and late afternoons, but surface schoolers can be found feeding on top throughout the hottest part of even a scorching 110-degree day! Such daytime temperatures, incidentally, are not nearly as uncomfortable as many people might believe because the Nevada humidity usually is low.

“Mead’s summer fishing usually is better than during winter, and even inexperienced anglers seldom have trouble catching plenty of 5- to 10-pounders,” says Bob Gripentog, owner of Las Vegas Boat Harbor Marina, phone (702) 565-9111, a sprawling full-facility spot on Vegas Bay. “During the peak of the summer striper season in July and August, the boiling schools of shad and stripers often are just a few hundred yards from the marina. But there’s great fishing available all over the 5-mile long Bay, because the stripers move around a lot looking for shad schools. The Black Island and Government Wash portions of Vegas Bay are consistently good striper areas, and this is where a lot of the bigger fish are caught in summer. There are 25- to 30-pounders taken every summer in these areas, and there is always a chance at getting a 40-pounder, a couple of which were caught this spring.”

Locating schools of 5-pound average stripers working shad schools normally is no trouble on Mead in mid-summer. Often anglers simply cruise around until they spot surface disturbances, diving gulls or “nervous surface water” from shad schools. But when stripers are deep and scattered, slow trolling with graph recorders usually speeds the search for fish.

Catching bigger Mead stripers weighing 10 pounds or more can be tough, however, simply because it can be difficult getting a lure or bait by tightly-schooled small fish to the larger ones. Often a school of feeding, rampaging stripers is stacked from the surface down to about 25 feet, and typically the deep fish are the biggest ones. Sometimes larger stripers can be taken near schools of small fish by working jigs, diving plugs or live baits beyond the school and deep, or to the outer edges of surfacing schools. Casts should be made well away from the school edge to avoid strikes from smaller stripers. Slow-trolling with deep-going plugs or with downriggers around surfacing schools is productive for big fish, too.

Mead is extremely clear, making use of light-test lines important, which, of course, is great fun for the lake’s abundant mid-size stripers. Spinning tackle with lines testing 6 to 10 pounds and lightweight fly rod gear is tailor-made for Mead linesides. There is no mid-lake cover for stripers to foul lines in, so lightweight tackle is well suited.

Favorite Mead striper lures are flashy spoons like “Hopkins” and “Kastmasters,” with bucktail and grub jigs a close second choice. Top-water plugs such as small “Zara Spooks,” “Bangolures,” and “Jumpin’ Minnows” are deadly, too, especially at daybreak and dusk when summer striper feeding orgies are most voracious. Fly fishermen also have their innings with Mead linesides. Bucktail streamers with lots of “Flashabou” and/or mylar tied in are best. “Bullet Bugs” and small fly rod poppers work well, too, when fished fast and noisily across the surface.

By autumn, Mead stripers have waxed fat, with average fish heavier than summer ones. The same general areas where stripers are found in summer are good for autumn linesides. By November, however, the summer striper feeding binges have ended, and the bulk of the good fishing is deep, with bait. Stripers scatter into Mead’s 500-foot depths during winter and fishing for them can be very difficult.

Mead also offers great largemouth bass, catfish and bluegill fishing. These species usually are found tighter to shoreline structures than stripers. Good fishing is had for them March through autumn, with largemouth action peaking in April, May and June. Summer fishing for 2- to 5-pound largemouths usually is deep, at night, along well-defined structures off points and creek mouths.

Las Vegas Boat Harbor Marina is a prime spot for visiting anglers to work out of. While many anglers may frown on using pontoon boats, for family-style fishing they’re excellent, and available at the marina. Usually long runs to surfacing striper schools are unnecessary, and pontoon boats offer extremely comfortable, stable fishing. Motoring upwind of a school, and drifting toward it while anglers cast is a good way to fill limits of linesides.

Las Vegas Boat Harbor Marina also an excellent launching ramp, a sprawling boat dock, restaurant, convenient store, and bait and tackle shop. The marina is located near Lake Mead National Recreation Area, where outstanding camping facilities can be found. There are no overnight accommodations available at the marina, but there are motels in the nearby town of Henderson, and Las Vegas is but a few minutes drive away.

Although good anglers should have little trouble locating enough summer stripers, striper guides are plentiful on the lake.


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