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When fish aren’t biting, you still can go back to school

The morning sun had yet to light up the red-orange sand that lines the shoreline when Roger and I motored away from the launch ramp at Southern Utah’s Sand Hollow Reservoir. We had found quick action for small but scrappy largemouth bass the previous afternoon and looked forward to picking up where we left off when the setting sun forced us off the water.

With the new day we also hoped to hook into something a little larger than the 12- to 16-inch fish we had been catching, perhaps something in the 4- to 5-pound range. But, as often is the case with fishing, what we hoped for and what we found turned out to be two different things.

Our first stop was a place where the steep sandstone drops into the water and forms a narrow shelf just below the surface. We tried to fish this area the previous afternoon but were run out by the arrival of cliff-diving youngsters who didn’t seem to mind that we already were there. This time we had the area to ourselves. I threw a brown hula jig onto the shelf and then pulled it off so it dropped into the darkness of the deep water. The jig still was falling when I felt a tap and set the hook. It was the first bass of the day.

Thinking that if one fish was below that shelf there had to be two, I threw the brown jig one more time and soon had another bass in the boat. A few minutes later I fooled a third fish, and Roger hooked into another on a tube bait. It was a great start.

We worked the shoreline for another hour and caught a few more fish, but then suddenly the action shut down. It seemed as if someone somewhere threw a giant switch. No matter what we threw or where we threw it, the fish refused to take our baits. After flailing the water unsuccessfully for another hour or so, we decided to do something different and made our way to an area where vegetation was submerged in no more than 5 feet of water. In some places it was less than that.

Given the warm temperatures, the choice made little sense at first, but it soon turned out to be a good one.

In fact, for this converted trout angler, what followed that decision was something akin to an intense day of bass fishing school. Hiding in the shadows of nearly every submerged plant was at least one bass and in most cases two or three. Another place we found the fish was where light-colored grasses gave way to a darker variety. This setting provided the opportunity to observe bass behavior and how they react to and take a variety of baits.

One of the baits we had the most fun with was a weedless Senko rig. Rigging the Senko so there was a small bend in it gave the bait a swimming motion that seemed to capture the attention of hungry bass. At one point I watched as a bass spotted and then stalked my smoke-colored Senko before grabbing it and making a run for the nearest bush.

On another occasion, a fish shot out from the shadows just as the Senko passed the edge of his hiding place. He grabbed the bait and turned in one quick motion but soon found himself on the boat.

Though we never did find the large fish we had come for, Roger and I spent two or three hours hunting and then catching fish in the shallows. We used everything from Senkos to jerk baits and from tubes to swim baits and spinner baits. When the fish aren’t biting as you hoped they would, there still is fun to be had by going back to school.

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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