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Northwestern Nevada

Northwestern Nevada

You won't find a Mead or a Mojave up here. But for fast action with 2-, 4- or even 8-pounders, check out these Silver State. (March 2008).

It's late in the afternoon on a Saturday in mid-May. It's the cusp of the short, hot, desert summer, and the dike along the northern edge of Hinkson Slough is deserted. The trout guys who flocked here in the early spring looking for trophy rainbows and browns have all moved on to higher, cooler waters.

The trout are still here, of course. They aren't very active in the summer. The thick aquatic growth makes it tough to present a fly. But in the late spring, the largemouth bass that share this shallow, gin-clear cattail marsh with the trout go on a binge.

It's too bad so few people fish for them. On second thought, maybe that's a good thing!

Leave your rig parked alone on the dike and push off in your tube. Start working a Carolina-rigged worm parallel to the edge of the cattails on the far side of the channel along the dike.

Don't forget to appreciate the beauty of this improbable little oasis in the high desert.

Be patient on your retrieve, and you'll release one 10- to 13-incher after another. Bass grow slowly here in western Nevada, with its long winters and relatively high elevation.


But in this slough, there are also plenty of 3- to 5-pounders. And what better way to pass the time while waiting for one to turn up?

This is bass fishing western Nevada-style. I wish I could say it rivaled the world-class bassin' at Lake Mead and Lake Mohave in southern Nevada, but I can't.

I can say that even up here in trout country, there are a few reliable spots within 90 minutes of Reno where bass addicts can get their fix.

Double-digit fish are rarer than royal flushes. But there are enough of them weighing more than 3 pounds to keep things interesting.

Mason Valley Wildlife Management Area, where Hinkson Slough is located, is one of those reliable spots.


Float-Tube Country

About 65 driving miles southeast of Reno, Mason Valley WMA comprises roughly 14,000 acres of fields, wetlands and ponds. Bass Pond, Crappie Pond and North Pond, like Hinkson, hold bass.

The biggest largemouth recorded from Mason Valley WMA weighed 8 pounds, 4 ounces.

Bass fishing at the WMA is best in the spring and fall, said Nevada Department of Wildlife's Chris Healy. "In mid- to late March, depending on the weather pattern, the ponds start to warm up," he said. "The bass action starts kicking in."

But in the summertime, it gets really hot down there, Healy said, and there's just not that much cover. But in early September, as daytime highs start to drop, the fishing picks up again.

It's certainly possible to catch bass from shore in Mason Valley WMA, but fishing from a float tube, canoe or kayak is far more productive. Powerboats are legal, but impractical.

The ponds are relatively small. North Pond, at around 200 acres, is the biggest and the only one with a launch ramp. They all average just three to five feet deep.

That shallow water, combined with lots of aquatic vegetation, also influences fishing tactics. Weedless baits are a must; think smaller Texas- or Carolina-rigged worms and grubs, Senkos, small spinnerbaits, 1/4- to 1/2-ounce jigs with twin-tail trailers and -- during low-light hours -- weedless topwaters, like frog baits.

In Hinkson Slough with its crystal-clear water, finesse is key. Stick with 6- or 8-pound line and smaller baits in natural colors and patterns. Paddle or kick quietly and make long, careful casts parallel to the cattails. North, Bass and Crappie ponds aren't as clear as Hinkson, but they're still clear enough to demand delicacy.

In Hinkson, only artificial lures are allowed, and the bass limit is two fish with a minimum size of 14 inches.

Bait is allowed at the other three Mason Valley ponds, but the limit is the same. The season is open from the second Saturday in February through the end of September.

From Reno, head east on Interstate 80 to Fernley and then south on U.S. 95 Alt. toward Yerington.

Turn east onto Sierra Way just south of Wabuska, then south onto dirt Lux Lane and follow it to the WMA headquarters, where signs point the way to the ponds.



Hot When It's Cold

Immediately north of the WMA, the Fort Churchill Cooling Pond also opens on the second Saturday in February. Bass fishing can be red-hot right from the beginning, said Healy.

Warm water from the nearby power plant enters the pond near its northeast corner and circulates slowly clockwise. During the early season, use a handheld thermometer -- or just your hand -- to find water warmer than 50 degrees.

This unique little fishery is limited to bank-fishing only, but virtually the entire shoreline is easily fishable. The banks drop steeply to a flat bottom, so most of the bass will hold within a few feet of shore. One trick to catching them is to fish parallel to the bank, keeping your bait in fish-holding water throughout the retrieve.

Stealth is important, for the same reason. Always fish ahead of you, rather than casting to water you've just walked past.

The same offerings that work at the WMA ponds will work here, too. But along the banks, the bottom is primarily chunks of rock with little aquatic growth, so traditional and lipless crankbaits become an option -- and quite an effective one.

Try retrieving perch- or sunfish-patterned crankbaits in mid-water to mimic the juvenile bluegill and redear sunfish that make up much of the bass's diet. Or bang small crawfish-colored cranks along the rocks.

In the evening, toss small topwaters along the cattail-lined bank.

Regulations for bass are the same as at the WMA ponds -- two fish, with a 14-inch minimum. Except for live minnows, bait is legal.

Continue straight on Sierra Way past Lux Lane to a parking area near the power plant.


Classic Boat-Based Bassin'

For boat-based bass fishing in west

ern Nevada, head to Lahontan Reservoir. This sprawling, 10,000-acre impoundment of the Carson River, with some 65 miles of shoreline, is the premier warmwater fishery in western Nevada.

And it gets better every year! That's partly because most of the species found here were introduced fairly recently. White bass were planted in 1964, walleyes in 1980 and wipers in the early 1990s. Black bass have been present only since the mid-1990s, when the NDOW, the California Department of Fish and Game and the Great Basin Bassers club began cooperating to relocate largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass from Lake Shasta to Lahontan.

Today, the spots outnumber the largemouths and smallmouths, and the walleyes and wipers outnumber them all. But an unusually wet 2005-06 winter flooded shoreline willows, creating ideal spawning conditions for largemouths.

The benefits of that spawn should be felt for the next 10 years, according to Andy Scholz, owner of The Gilly Fishing Store in Sparks. Of course, Lahontan's big walleye and giant wipers (a near-world-record 25.4-pounder was caught in 2007) aren't exactly disappointing incidental catches.

Lahontan's water is stained a near-opaque desert tan. But white and chrome lures, rather than the dark colors traditionally used in stained water, are the go-to colors here. All of the reservoir's black bass species feed heavily on juvenile white bass.

Among the top producers are white Zoom Super Flukes, Carolina-rigged, drop-shotted or fished weightless.

Lahontan can also be reached from Reno via I-80 and U.S. 95 Alt. To get to the Silver Springs boat launch, turn east on Fir Avenue a few miles south of Silver Springs.

To get to the Northshore launch, turn east on U.S. 50 in Silver Springs and watch for the signed right turn.

The season is open year 'round.

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