Mohave Bassin'

While Lake Mead is highly touted as Nevada's premier destination for largemouth bass, oft overlooked is Lake Mohave, which may actually provide anglers with better chances for bigger fish with less fishing pressure.

Boulder City resident Tim Klinger works one of hundreds of rocky points that line Lake Mohave. Photo by C. Douglas Nielsen

By C. Douglas Nielsen

The minute I stepped into Don Sollberger's garage, I knew I had come to the right place. My dad always told me that a smart man learns by experience, but a wise man learns by the experience of others. I don't know that I fit into either of those categories, but at least this one time I had made the right decision.

I had come seeking knowledge about largemouth bass fishing on Lake Mohave from a man other anglers simply describe as "the Master." "If there's anybody who knows bass fishing on Mohave it is Don Sollberger," said Ted Felix, a fellow member of Silver State Bass Anglers, a Las Vegas-based fishing club. "When Don comes to a tournament, the question is who will take second place."

Now I was in the master's lair. As its centerpiece, a well-used bass boat loaded with more rods than I had time to count. Displayed along the walls were literally hundreds of bass plugs, crankbaits and other lures - many of them older than I am. Around the boat were several boxes of reels, lures and other fishing paraphernalia that had been collected through the years. Suddenly, Sollberger turned from his workbench and held out a baitcasting reel he had just finished repairing. He gave its handle a quick turn, and the reel spun effortlessly in his hand. "That's a $130 reel and the guy told me if I fixed it I could have it," he exclaimed in his distinctive New Orleans drawl. The smile on his face was reminiscent of a child opening gifts on Christmas morning.

Following quick introductions, Sollberger gave me a brief tour of his collection and then led me inside the house where he showed me his "fishing room." On the walls were numerous awards from tournaments accompanied by photographs documenting his nearly 36 years of fishing on southern Nevada's bass waters. Next to them was a long line of neatly spaced rods and matched reels leaning against the west wall. He spoke briefly about his Top 5 finish at the 1984 US Open at Lake Mead. If only that last fish hadn't spit out the hook . . .

It soon became apparent that I would not be disappointed in my quest.

GETTING ON LAKE MOHAVE


While vehicle travel limitations within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area limit shore anglers at Mohave, three marinas offer a variety of services to boaters. From north to south, here are the three marinas.

 

WILLOW BEACH
On the Arizona side about 21 miles south of Hoover Dam, Willow Beach offers adequate services, including a small store, boat fuel and a boat ramp. For anglers looking to hook one of Lake Mohave's large striped bass or a feisty rainbow trout, this is a convenient jumping off spot. Check online with the National Park Service at www.nps.gov/lame/index.htm for travel restrictions. You can write or call Willow Beach at HC-7, Box 12, Willow Beach, AZ 86445; (520) 767-4747.

 

COTTONWOOD CAVE
Cottonwood Cove is accessible from Las Vegas or southern California. This Forever Resorts marina offers a boat ramp, 24-room motel, campground, swimming beach, general store, cafÂŽ and boat rental. Sixteen-foot fishing boats rent for $25 an hour, $125 per day. Houseboat rentals start at $995 and climb to $6,095 depending on season and rental package. Go online to www.cottonwoodcoveresort.com or www.ForeverResorts.com or call (800) 255-5561.

 

KATHERINE LANDING
Katherine Landing is at Mohave's southern end on the Arizona side just north of Bullhead City, Ariz., and Laughlin, Nev. Seven Crown Resorts operates this full-service marina, which includes a 51-room motel, RV park, restaurant, bait and tackle shop, general store, boat rentals, fuel dock and a complete repair shop. Fishing boat rentals start at $50 for a half-day, $90 for a full day. Houseboats go from $750 to more than $3,000, depending on season and rental package. Go online, www.sevencrown.com, or call (800) 752-9669. -- C. Douglas Nielsen

 

Lake Mohave has long been in the shadow - both literally and figuratively - of Lake Mead, its much bigger sister located just to the north. Separating the lakes are two things. The first is Hoover Dam, a 700-foot high cement wall that holds back the Colorado River and forms Mohave's northern-most boundary. The second is Lake Mead's reputation as southern Nevada's premier destination for largemouth bass. Someone forgot to tell that to Sollberger.

"Mohave makes Mead look sick! Now that's a fact!" Sollberger said, and rather emphatically. "There's more bigger fish - nicer, healthier fish - on Mohave than Mead has seen in years. You can go down there in the springtime and you can catch 5-pound, 6-pound, 7-pound fish. You can't do that in Mead hardly anywhere."

Bill Jones, a 25-year veteran bass angler and friend of Sollberger agrees. "They have bigger fish down here. You have 10-pound fish up on Mead, but they're hard to come by. You see one about every seven or eight or 10 years, maybe, but down here you can find 7-, 8-pound fish all year. But you got to work for 'em."

Stretching nearly 70 miles from Hoover Dam south toward the towns of Laughlin, Nev., and Bullhead City, Ariz., Lake Mohave is a long and comparatively narrow body of water lined by hundreds of fish-holding coves, points and walls. These were created when the Colorado River backed up behind Davis Dam following its completion in 1953. As the water rose, it inundated patches of Mesquite trees and other desert vegetation along with innumerable rock outcroppings, creating perfect pockets of bucketmouth habitat.

This seemingly never-ending structure is what keeps anglers like Jones and Sollberger coming back for more year after year. "I love it because of the structure. I was born and raised in Oklahoma, and I always fished brush, trees, whate

ver - rocks. This lake offers everything to you," Jones said.

While this structure provides quality habitat for Mohave's largemouth, it is also home to large numbers of bluegill and green sunfish, primary forage for big bass. But the large population of these smaller fish is a two-edged sword, according to Mike Burrell, the Nevada Department of Wildlife fisheries biologist assigned to Lake Mohave for the past 20 years.

On one hand, explained Burrell, the bluegill and sunfish are detrimental to the bass population because they prey heavily on fry and severely reduce the number of fish that reach maturity. On the other hand, however, the bass that survive grow large enough to turn the tables and begin eating the bluegill and sunfish. "I think the bass on Mohave tend to be bigger than (those in) Mead because of that, and that's also what makes them harder to catch. They have plenty of food to eat," he said.

So why does Lake Mead receive so much attention from bass anglers if Lake Mohave offers up larger fish? Burrell thinks it may be because the fishing is easier on Mead. Sollberger thinks it is because Mead is more accessible than Mohave and closer to the bigger hotels that are important for large tournaments, but he does not mind that Mead gets the attention. To him it simply means Mohave has better fishing.

THE SPRING BITE

Sollberger, Jones and Burrell all agree that spring is the prime time for reeling in Lake Mohave bucketmouths, with the best action coming during the spawn. Mohave's spring bass season generally runs for five full months from February through June, depending on water temperatures. The spawn usually gets under way in mid to late March and runs through April and into May. Once the water temperature warms into the low 60s, the bass become more active. According to Sollberger, the magic number is about 65 degrees. It is then that the fish begin moving into the warmer water at the backs of the coves where there is brush and structure. Some years the fish begin moving up into the coves as early as February.

"The water is going to be higher in the spring so the water is up in the brush. You can go in the brush back in there and find them big ol' hogs. There's just big fish all over up in there," explained Sollberger. The key, he says, is the water temperature. When working the coves, look for those areas where the water is the warmest. That is where the fish will be. "If you have 69 degrees on one side of the cove and 72 degrees on the other," said Sollberger, "they'll be on the warmer side." He also warns, however, that the fish will move back out into deeper water toward nightfall when the water temperatures drop.

Places like Two Dollar Cove and Arizona Bay are attractive to spawning bass because they are home to a lot of trees and brush that provide protection from spring winds. This prevents the wind from cooling the water temperatures and running the bass into deeper water.

During the spawn, Sollberger recommends working in and out of the coves slowly with a trolling motor looking for nests. They will usually be in a gravelly or rocky area. Sollberger described a bass nest as resembling home plate after an umpire brushes the dirt off. "That's what it looks like down there. It looks like somebody swept it off. Nine times out of 10, there'll be a stick laying in that nest. The reason that stick is in there is for the females to belly rub and knock the eggs out of 'em."

Burrell was quick to point out, however, that nests aren't always easy to see. Sometimes the only clue you have is a fish that won't spook off or that appears to take a protective position over a particular spot.

FISHING OVER NESTS
For fishing over nests or in the brush, Sollberger heartily endorses the Gitzit in colors resembling bluegill and sunfish. He goes light on the lead and rigs them weedless most of the time. His favorite technique is to "throw it on the nest and just sit there and shake it." Sooner or later the fish will get mad enough to go after the bait, but he said you have to pay close attention to what the fish is doing. Sometimes the fish will pick up the tube bait and simply spit it out of the nest without ever letting you feel the movement. Productive colors are pumpkin-green and chartreuse, both with blue, red, green and orange glitter.

Another approach Sollberger recommends is recently revived "drop-shotting" or "down-shotting," a technique that some tournament anglers have been using more often in recent years to entice bites from finicky bass. Simply put, with this technique place your lead at the end of your line and tie your hook into the line about one to three feet above the lead. Sollberger uses a Palomar knot. Nose-hook a soft plastic bait and drop the rig in on the fish.

"You can put a worm there and let your lead lay in the nest and just shake the worm. They'll come over and suck it in when they get mad enough. Sometimes as soon as it hits the water they grab it. Sometimes you got to sit there for an hour and play with 'em until they get mad enough to go over and eat it," said Sollberger who also likes to entice bass with leeches, double-tail jigs and purple lizards.

Jones prefers to use a 7-inch, grape plastic worm and likes to throw jigs in various colors (black/brown, orange/pork, or smoke) while working points.

HOME OF THE 40-POUND STRIPER


Though Lake Mohave offers anglers an opportunity for largemouth bass, the lake is better known for trophy striped bass. In 2001, Allan Cole pulled a 49-inch, 63-pound striper from Mohave that became the Nevada record. Guide John Wood of Angler's Edge says Mohave produces several stripers weighing more than 40 pounds each year.

 

The best fishing occurs in October and November. As water temperatures drop, stripers start looking for easy meals, such as the rainbow trout planted by the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

 

Trout attract large stripers, and anglers often catch fish from 15 to 40 pounds when fishing lures resembling planter-sized rainbows. Popular choices include various Rapalas, AC Plugs and Red Fins.

 

It is illegal to use trout as bait. -- C. Douglas Nielsen

 

HOTSPOTS
There are three marinas on Lake Mohave: Willow Beach to the north, Cottonwood Cove about in the middle, and Katherine Landing in the south just above Davis Dam. The favored among bass angler

s seems to be Cottonwood Cove, probably because of its proximity to the bulk of the largemouth fishing opportunities, its full complement of amenities and a lack of heavy boat traffic. Sollberger and Jones recommend the coves, points and walls from just outside of the marina north to about Nelson's Landing. Much farther north of Nelson's Landing, the water temperature is too cold to hold many bucketmouths and neither fisherman likes the traffic often found at Katherine Landing.

One of Sollberger's favorite fishing spots is the canyon just north of Cottonwood Cove because it offers several brush-lined coves and steep drop-offs tucked behind fish-holding points. Jones said he never fishes any farther than two miles north or south of the marina. Other anglers like to work the waters of Nevada Bay, Arizona Bay and the Arizona side of the upper Cottonwood Basin. Some opt to go as far south as Katherine Landing. On windy days, however, the Cottonwood Basin is not the place to be. The winds on the basin can come up fast, and create large swells that easily and quickly swamp lower profile vessels like bass boats. Late spring days can be very hot; 100-degree temperatures are quite common, so bring plenty of water or sports drinks. Alcoholic beverages are not recommended on the lake because they actually increase the speed at which you will experience dehydration in the desert heat.



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