Sometimes you catch fish, sometimes you just fish

“I guess I’m not holding my mouth just right!”

That is a phrase my siblings and I sometimes heard when things weren’t working out the way Dad had hoped. My earliest memory of him using that phrase was on a family fishing trip to a small lake high in a mountain canyon east of Salt Lake City. All around us anglers seemed to be filling their creels with scrappy rainbow trout, but the fish seemed to avoid our bait offerings altogether.

As the other anglers placed fish after fish in their wicker creels, one could feel Dad’s frustration level begin to rise. We carefully watched what the others were doing, what bait they used, how they put in on the hook and what they did with their fishing rod after throwing their bait into the water. We even paid attention to where they threw their bait and did our best to mimic their techniques.

At one point, though we wore nothing more than tennis shoes and blue jeans, we followed a wader-clad fisherman into the lake’s icy waters. I am here to testify that the blue hue and chattering teeth of a freezing fisherman won’t help his success rate. And that day neither did our best efforts to mimic the anglers who were actually catching fish rather than simply fishing.

Finally, just when I was sure my legs and feet would never be the same, Dad turned toward shore. “I guess I’m not holding my mouth just right!” he barked.

That memory came to mind earlier this week as Roger and I plied the waters of Lake Mohave in the hopes of catching largemouth and smallmouth bass. The water was glass smooth as we left Cottonwood Cove and the boat seemed to slide over its surface. What’s not to love about a morning like that?

Mohave’s bass bite had been good in the weeks prior, so we were excited to get started. We began by working the rocky structure near a small cove but found no takers. So we moved across the lake and began casting along a steep rock face where Roger caught a 5-pound largemouth a couple of weeks earlier. He cast an olive-colored grub in the dark water below some brush and a smallish smallie hammered it. Roger 1, Doug 0.

After several more casts turned up nothing, we moved again. This time to a brush-lined cove that narrows in the back. As we worked the north edge of the cove, I spotted a plump smallmouth bass guarding a well-manicured nest. That was a first for this converted trout angler. I pointed out the nest to Roger who had a better casting position and was amazed at the fish’s ability to pick up Roger’s bait and spit it out of the nest without being caught. She did this several times. Then Roger used a drop shot with a light-colored worm and she just couldn’t resist. Roger 2, Doug 0.

By the time we left the cove she was back on her nest. During our stay in the cove, we had the chance to sight-fish for a handful of other bass. Roger caught fish. I fished. Roger 3, Doug 0.

We moved again, this time to a line of trees where anglers had done well during a recent tournament but found mostly carp. Then Roger cast his grub into the spot where several trunks of a submerged tree come together. It was a blind cast, but as soon as the grub hit the water a very annoyed smallie smashed it. Roger 4, Doug 0.

So the day went. Roger caught fish. I fished and watched Roger catch fish. By the time we reached the launch ramp it was Roger 9, Doug 0. Visions of trout anglers putting plump rainbows in their wicker creel baskets came rushing back. The good thing is I wasn’t wading in icy-cold water wearing only sneakers and blue jeans.

Though it was a great day on the water, I couldn’t help but echo Dad’s words from so long ago. “I guess I’m not holding my mouth just right!”

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

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