Striped Bass Hottest Spots in the West
Plus, Best Tactics
Stripers are not native to the West. They were first introduced to the Colorado River by the California Department of Fish and Game in 1959. During the 1960s, stripers were stocked into lakes Mead and Havasu by fishery agencies in California, Arizona, and Nevada. Utah’s Lake Powell received its first stocking in 1974.
Within a few years, popular sport fisheries developed on these Colorado River impoundments. While biologists thought natural reproduction would be limited and populations controlled through stocking, stripers successfully reproduced, resulting in populations with abundant smaller fish that grew more slowly due to limited resources. The good news for anglers is that this has created world-class harvest fisheries, matched with liberal daily bag limits so anglers can help thin the populations and keep them in balance with forage.
Lake Powell and Lake Mead contain vast numbers of striped bass from 3 to 6 pounds. If numbers are your game, consider these reservoirs, though Powell has produced a few stripers from 30 to almost 50 pounds.
Lake Mohave, which lies below Lake Mead and forms part of the border between Arizona and Nevada, has risen to the top spot for production of giant stripers out West including a 63-pounder taken in 2001. Stripers spawn successfully in Mohave but growth rate apparently hasn’t become depressed due to too many fish, as it has in upstream impoundments on the Colorado. Here, big stripers binge on high-calorie trout that are stocked into the lake.
Striper fisheries have also taken hold in other western waters. California’s O’Neill Forebay, associated with the San Luis Reservoir, gave up the former IGFA all-tackle record for landlocked stripers, a 67½ -pounder. Non-certified fish exceeding 70 pounds have been reported as well. Reports suggest that production of giants is down on this small body of water, due in part to fishing pressure stemming from publicity. But action is fast for smaller fish, and a giant is always possible. Lake Pleasant, Arizona, is another popular striper venue.
Some of the best fishing for stripers occurs in June through October. During this period on Lake Powell, for example, large groups of stripers corral shad schools at the surface and a feeding maelstrom ensues, giving the water a boiling appearance. Boils can appear instantaneously, but the best bet is to scan the surface, cruising the lake while looking for flocks of circling birds and surface activity. Boils can occur over deep open water but often happen where stripers can corner shad, such as along breaklines, bluffs, shorelines, and up on flats.
Once you spot a boil, position your boat outside the activity to avoid spooking the fish. Cast into and around the edges of the boil. Several lure options work well. For topwater excitement, it’s hard to beat walking baits, like the Heddon Zara Spook or Sebile Flat Belly Walker.
In the swimbait category, the A.C. Plug remains a popular option. Also try soft-plastic swimbaits rigged on jigheads in the 3/8- to 3/4-ounce range. Cast the swimbaits and experiment with retrieves, from steady retrieves to swim-pause-swim retrieves. Vary working depth as well. Other effective lures include spoons and bucktail jigs in shad colors such as white and silver.
During the heat of summer, stripers often move to deep cooler water near the thermocline during the day but may move shallower to feed at night. In summer, many anglers avoid the scorching desert heat and prefer to fish at night with lures or bait such as shad, sardines, or anchovies. Be sure to check regulations on bait rules, especially concerning shad and the use of livebait.
When Stripers Move Deeper
From winter until the spawn, which typically occurs in mid-April into May, stripers often can be found suspended in water from 25 to 50 foot deep, which calls for jigging and trolling presentations. These tactics also can work well in summer when stripers move to cooler, deeper water. Using electric sonar is key to locating promising areas. Cruise basin areas, particularly near structure like points, humps, breaklines, and submerged river channels. Look for schools of shad and larger marks that likely indicate stripers and mark those spots with waypoints.
Vertically jigging with spoons and jigs baited with shad, sardines, or anchovies is often the best way to get baits in front of deep stripers. Try bucktail jigs in the 3/8- to 3/4-ounce range tipped with baitfish, or bullethead jigs with a soft-plastic-fluke or swimbait. Experiment with bait depth from just at the level of the stripers to above them, working the jig with hops and pauses. Holding the bait still and letting it subtly rise and fall with wave action on the boat often triggers stripers, especially in colder water.
Trolling is effective in shallow to deep water and excels for narrowing striper locations and covering water quickly once they’re found. Several methods for trolling include control-drifting with downlines, flatlines, balloons, and downriggers.
Downlines consist of a sinker weighing about 3/4 ounce set on the line above a barrel swivel, a leader from 4 to 6 feet long, and a single hook (3/0 is a good size to start with). Slowly troll baitfish to locate groups of stripers and control speed with a trolling motor. Drifting with the wind, and controlling drift speed with a driftsock, also works well. Downlining provides excellent depth control and stealth when stripers are skittish.
Use flatlines or freelines to troll for stripers holding near the surface or to pull active stripers from the depths. Flatlines consist of no weight or a single lead shot set about a foot above a single hook with your baitfish of choice. Flatlines run within a few feet of the surface at about 2 mph, but can be dropped to fish holding deeper by slowing the boat.
Tying a partially inflated balloon on the line works like an oversized float, keeping baits away from the boat at a specific depth. They’re inexpensive, offer adjustable buoyancy and position on the line, and are easy to see. Rig balloons on baits trolled near the surface, otherwise hooks are hard to set.
Downriggers are unbeatable for stripers suspending deeper than 30 feet. Use cannonballs from 8 to 12 pounds, and set lures from 50 to over 100 feet behind the cannonball for wary stripers. Set downriggers at the depth stripers predominately seem to be holding. Adjust the depth of the weight when you see fish on your electronics.