Mead is the largest man-made lake in the United States. It's a big body of water that endures throughout the year from the advent of spring snowmelt and rainfall to diminishing water levels in sweltering summer temperatures that rise to over 115 degrees. Professional anglers begrudgingly acknowledge, "if you can catch bass on this 120-mile-long lake, in that kind of heat, you can catch bass in any lake -in any season."
"While it's a big lake, fish don't hang on every foot of shoreline or hide out in every cove. You've got to move around until you find them," says Greg Hines, a professional bass angler from Arizona, with credentials to back up his comments. Twenty years ago, Hines challenged daily dehydration by spending six weeks pre-fishing the lake before taking home the $50,000 first prize money in a Western Bass/Del Webb Lake Mead Invitational tournament. Literally, Hines put in sweat equity to pry secrets of success out of the clear, deep waters that run 80 degrees or more in summer months. While his intent was to locate largemouth, his research methods and lure experimentation brought both bigmouth and striped bass to the boat. Most importantly, he discovered that bigger fish could be taken from desert lakes on topwater lures even in midday heat.
I also know this to be fact from personal experience. I was a media observer in a U.S. Bass/Professional Bass Anglers Association Open Tournament years ago, where many anglers doodled finesse baits in water 50 feet deep. I watched in amazement as Ron Adamo, a California Pro-Am participant, tied on a feathered topwater lure at 11:55 a.m. on a dog day in August, when ambient air temps were 116. "Bet you I can catch a fish on the surface by noon," he said. I took the bet and promptly lost when a chunky bass watched the lure sail through the air, raced to the drop spot, and inhaled it when it hit the water.
"Sun doesn't seem to bother these bass, be they largemouth or stripers," says Hines, who believes that because the sun shines literally all the time on desert lakes, fish get accustomed to the brightness and time of day becomes a
Earlier this month, a trio of intrepid amateur anglers set out to test that "midday shiny topwater lure thesis" on striped bass. Launching at Temple Bar, in the pre-dawn darkness, we loaded the 20' foot Ranger with a variety of baits that included Skitter Pops, Pop Rs, Twitchin' Minnows, Thundersticks, and buzzbaits.
With this extensive inventory loaded, I threw the hammer down and we ended up in Grand Wash where water temperatures were in the upper 70s. Coyote pups peered out of rocky shoreline dens and turkey buzzards spread their wings to the sun. God was in His Heaven and we were on the water when divine providence struck in the form of shad baitfish. No matter how prepared you are, it's nearly impossible to keep up with the action of a shad boil as silver teardrops go flying through the air during the brief, but intense flurry. Smaller stripers, the go-fast guys in the one- and two-pound range, were flexing their fins and stunning baitfish in waves. Larger stripers with less ambition and more smarts hung below the melee, waiting to reap the results of the smaller fishes' caloric expenditure. And largemouth bass prowled the perimeter to pick off straggling baitfish that managed to escape the immediate circle of fury.
We (fishing partners Larry Crim and Tom McManus) headed into the maelstrom. Larry, a club angler from Las Vegas, had on a silver tandem-blade spinnerbait. Tom was throwing a shad-pattern surface lure. I had on a chrome-colored Rat-L-Trap. The stripers weren't overly selective. If it moved in the water and flashed or wiggled, they attacked it. And we racked 'um and stacked 'um continuously as the first wave of plunderers decimated the school of shad. For half an hour after the feeding frenzy ended, we continued to pick up single fish. None of the stripers could be called large. The biggest ran about four pounds, and even the largest showed a bony body profile due to a limited forage base.
Our tally in this one nondescript cove was 31 stripers and 7 largemouth. If you count the ones that got away, those smart enough to tail walk and flip a lure, or fast enough to hit and flee before the hookset, the count for action encountered could easily be doubled.
"I've had days where I actually got tired of pulling fish in," said Crim, remembering one September day trip out of Temple Bar in an area called Hay Stack. The topwater bite was on, so I had a Twitch'N Minnow tied on one
pole, a Thunderstick on another, and Rapala surface and shallow lures at-the-ready on other rods when a striper boil erupted and blew up the entire cove. These were miniature submarines with stripes, firing at any moving target. My partner and I locked up with every cast and fished until our arms ached. When all was said and done, over 40 stripers that weighed between 8 and 10 pounds had crossed our gunwale. We were so dog tired we bottom fished with anchovies the rest of the day."
While it's true that "the best time to go fishing is whenever you have the chance," it's also true that you can catch actively feeding stripers with a variety of lures tied onto all kinds of rods. That axiom rings even more true, however, when the right tackle is at the ready for that unexpected but hoped-for striper boil.
Stickbaits, buzz baits, chuggers, poppers and propeller lures all attract fish feeding in a schooling boil. In general, little baits will catch all sizes of fish while larger baits tend to attract larger fish. If stripers are cruising quietly in small groups looking for supper, allow ripples from the initial cast to die down before moving your lure to prompt a reaction. Don't set the hook on the strike until you feel a fish on. Preferences vary, but a 5 ½-foot light-action casting rod accompanied by a standard baitcasting reel spooled with 12- to 12-pound test will do the job.
When the shad boil will occur is always the question. If anglers knew that, they could save hours of sweat and thousands of casts and just launch during the proper window of opportunity. That's the beauty of a shad boil...you never know when and you never know where, although stripers and/or largemouth do like to herd shad baitfish into a cove where they can attack the trapped prey at will.
I've won tournaments as a result of a two minute shad boil at high noon that helped fill the livewell with keepers. And I've also caught fish busting shad at first light, in the hottest part of the day, at dusk and after midnight under a full moon.
There is no apparent rhyme or reason to predict a shad boil, other than it will occur when shad spawn and that's strictly left up to the shad. Once the young fry are eating size for bass, the action starts hot and heavy. Shad can spawn at any time after early spring, and into summer or even fall. Just keep moving, keep your eyes open for signs of activity and don't stop casting when the melee occurs.
When the high desert sun brings the water closer to a boiling point, somewhere out on Lake Mead the striper will be boiling for a bite of shad. Suit up with sunscreen and watch for ripples on the surface that indicate schools of shad frantically darting about. Unless Super Striper comes along, snaps your line and leaves you with a nostalgic recollection of the one that got away, excellent action, followed by fine dining with pin stripes will be on the menu.
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