Bassin’ Nevada’s Lake Mead

Las Vegas. The Land of Enchantment. The Eighth Wonder of the World. And about 17 miles from the city is 247 square miles of another wonder… Lake Mead.

Lake Mead includes more than 550 miles of shoreline, and can store within its five separate and very distinctive catch basins the equivalent of almost two years worth of water flow from the Colorado River. The lake, which serves as a focal point on one of the western United States’ largest and most popular recreation areas, was created by the construction of the mighty Hoover Dam on the Colorado, a marvel of modern engineering completed in 1936.

Mike Swartz holds up a Lake Mead striper.

One of the best places to start a search for a portion of Mead’s excellent largemouth bass population is with a seasoned fishing guide. Enter Mike Swartz. A resident of Boulder City, a small Las Vegas satellite town perched on the southwestern fringe of the big lake, Swartz, 55, has a long history of — or better yet, a passion for — hunting trophy largemouth bass.

The former Minnesotan counts among his angling resume’ a stint as a tournament bass fisherman. More recently he carries the title of full-time fishing guide, a role he’s immersed himself in since moving to Nevada from Colorado in 1995.

To date, Swartz has entertained both novice and veteran bass anglers from all over the United States and Canada, as well as a long list of international visitors from such places as England and Japan.

Largemouth/Striper Fishing By The Calendar
Lake Mead supports a fine assortment of freshwater gamefish including crappies, big bluegill, channel catfish, and, below Hoover Dam in the swift waters of the Colorado River, an excellent population of rainbow trout. However, it’s the big lake’s treasure-trove of both largemouth and striped bass that attracts the lion’s share of the angling attention.

“I would rank Lake Mead as a good largemouth bass fishery,” Swartz said. “A lot of professionals fishing tournaments are held here. And BASS (Bass Anglers Sportsman Society) has come out West again over the past couple of years and is holding tournaments on Lake Mead.

“As far as size goes, the tournament weigh-in for five fish probably varies from between 10 and 18 pounds,” Swartz continues. “The stripers have been in the lake for a little less than 30 years. There are a tremendous number of stripers in Mead. And actually, there are probably more stripers in the lake than we can use. They have a tendency to eat all the forage, which for them is threadfin shad. As for weights, the stripers probably average from three to four pounds — and growing. Our striper size is going up now.”

Swartz, who continued by saying that striper “days” may range from three to four fish a trip to as many as 30 or 40 of these hard-fighting battlers.

As is the case on many waters across much of the country, the Lake Mead opportunities for both largemouth bass and stripers can be referred to rather accurately as calendar-style fisheries. This simply means that the calendar, or the time of year, dictates not only the type or method of fishing employed, but more importantly, where that method is practiced.

According to Swartz, Lake Mead takes this month-by-month distinction one step further by including the variable — “largemouth” or “striper” — for as he says, the methods and locations for both species can and often are very different.

Fish Move With The Season
Winter largemouth, says Swartz, can be found holding in 20 feet to 40 feet of water off of the main and secondary points. These fish, the guide recommends, “need to be fished very, very slowly with plastic worms or grubs.” As December and January give way to the warming temperatures of early spring, Mead largemouth begin to migrate into the backs of the many coves, which pock the lake’s shoreline. This process, says Swartz, is done in stages as the bass leave the deeper water of the main lake, stopping at various secondary points, cuts, and channels until they eventually reach their shallow water spawning areas.

“This lake is so large,” says Swartz, “that spawning season can be spread out over a month or month-and-a-half, depending on which section of the lake you’re fishing.”

Following the spawn and as summer water temperatures increase, the bass will reverse their migration and will slowly fade back into the deeper sections of the lake. In September, water temperatures begin to fall, with, according to Swartz, a rapid decline in temperature during October. At this time, the guide and his clients are looking for fish “where the bait is,” and are often working these actively feeding fish both morning and evening using topwater plugs and jerkbaits. Still, and despite this annual increase in activity, Mead is a far cry from a given.

“Lake Mead can be a difficult lake to fish because of the shad movement. They can be in one place today and can be miles away the next,” said Swartz.

Targeting Deep-Water Structure
As is the case with largemouth, Swartz’ striper fishing during the months of December through early February focuses on targetting deep-water structure using a very slow presentation. At this page of the calendar, he encounters the bulk of his fish holding from 100 feet to 150 feet down, and takes the majority of his winter catch by vertical jigging cut-baits such as anchovies or sardines.

Come spring, meaning March and April, Swartz’ methods change little from those used during the winter; however, effective water depths have now risen to between 75 feet and 100 feet.

The summer months, June through August, see Swartz and his anglers moving from place to place as they attempt to keep pace with the enormous clouds of fingerling shad and, understandably, the clouds of ravenous stripers that follow these swarms of baitfish. Now and well into the early fall sees the guide enjoying some of the hottest topwater action of the year, not to mention some of the heaviest striper stringers that Lake Mead has to offer.

Tips And Tactics
Swartz’ methods for tackling Mead largemouths are quite similar in both gear and lures as those used across much of the United States. That’s not to say the fish are any less challenging, only that the same techniques and strategies, such as slow-rolling spinnerbaits, digging crankbaits, or walking the dog with a Zara Spook, used elsewhere can and will catch fish.

Nevada’s Lake Mead includes more than 550 miles of shoreline and besides a healthy population of largemouth bass, the stripers probably average from three pounds to four pounds.

What this translates into for anglers is the absence of any special schooling or “touch” so often necessary to be successful; however, this isn’t always the case with stripers.

Vertical jigging, particularly under both deep-water and cold temperature conditions, can prove very frustrating even for the experienced. The key to successful vertical jigging revolves around an almost karma-like feeling or meld between the angler and his or her fishing gear. Here, it’s very important to both feel and watch the line and the rod for any change, regardless of how slight or seemingly meaningless. As Swartz is certain to tell all his deep-water anglers: if it feels different, set the hook.

To contact Mike Swartz for additional information or details concerning a largemouth or striper fishing trip on Lake Mead, anglers can visit his website at www.fishvegas.com, or phone him direct at 702-293-6294. Fishing regulation information and details on other outdoor opportunities in southern Nevada can be obtained by calling the Nevada Department of Wildlife at 775-688-1500, or by visiting their website at www.state.nv.us.

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