Many options to reel in spirited striped bass

Everyone who fishes the lower Colorado River seems to have an opinion on striped bass. Some call them everything but a quality sportfish, while others sing their praises as a fighter and a food source. And there seems to be little middle ground.

However, those who pass up the chance to fish for striped bass are missing out.

While some species have a subtle take, stripers are a hard-hitting fish that will wake you up if you dose off. They are a voracious predator that will take advantage of every opportunity to grab a bite to eat.

As such, stripers can be caught using a wide variety of techniques and bait options. On Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, successful techniques include still-fishing with bait, drift fishing, trolling, jigging and casting lures. Some guys even have been known to take them on a fly-rod. Though having access to a boat opens up a lot of water, shoreline anglers certainly catch their share of striped bass.

When it comes to natural baits, frozen anchovies are easy to find and long have been the go-to bait for most anglers fishing Lake Mead or Mohave. The guys I fish with generally cut the anchovy into two or three pieces and fish with those, but I also am aware of anglers who use the whole anchovy. It is a matter of personal preference. When fishing anchovies, I thread a half-ounce egg sinker on my main line, followed by a barrel swivel, 3 to 4 feet of leader and my hook.

Though anchovies have caught many striped bass, the most productive natural bait is live shad. Lake Mead and Lake Mohave have two species of shad, the threadfin and the gizzard. Both can be caught using a cast net, but the net’s radius can be no larger than 4 feet.

For decades, threadfin were the only shad option to be found in Lake Mead or Mohave, then in 2007 gizzards were found in the upper basin of Lake Mead. Now gizzards are available in both reservoirs and have proven more durable than threadfin. While the goal for most striper anglers is to fish their shad live, they also can be used as cut bait.

Through the years, my friends and I have caught striped bass with multiple techniques, but my favorite is casting lures when stripers are boiling on the surface. This happens when a school of hungry stripers literally traps hundreds and even thousands of shad against the surface and start feeding on them. The combination of shad trying to escape and stripers actively pursuing them creates a significant disturbance on the surface. Thus the term boil.

Boils vary in size and duration, but they provide excellent fishing opportunities. The key is to fish boils from the outside. This also means approaching the boil carefully and maintaining some distance. Some anglers, in haste to reach a boil before someone else, actually run their boat into the boil and only succeed in shutting it down rather than catching fish. This also creates a safety issue for other boaters.

Top-water baits such as the Zara Spook or Jumpin’ Minnow are good choices for fishing boils, but they are only two of many. I like both of these lures and prefer to fish the color known as bone. If you can, cast your lure to the far side of the boil and work the lure back through the feeding fish. If they are boiling, you will get hit.

If you are fishing a boil and the action suddenly shuts down, switch to a jigging spoon and go to work below the surface. You will often catch fish that are chasing down escaping shad.

There are few things as fun as catching fish on top-water baits, and right now is the best time of year for catching boiling stripers. Anglers are reporting good boils at Lake Mead in terms of size and duration. If you can squeeze in a trip, now is the time.

By the way, striped bass make an excellent fish taco.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com.

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