Good Winter Fishing Without the Ice

Fishing Regulations Nevada Freshwater Fishing

Brandon Senger, Southern Region supervising fisheries biologist, holds up a Lake Mead striped bass found while conducting population surveys. Large stripers come up from the depths during the cool winter months, making them more accessible to anglers. (NDOW)


For much of the Silver State, winter fishing involves hard water, ice augers and layers of clothing to ward off the cold. And though that option is fun and exciting in its own right, there is a more comfortable alternative. All you have to do is load up your gear and pay a visit to Clark County.

In Southern Nevada, you’ll find relatively mild winter temperatures, especially when compared to those commonly experienced in the state’s more northern climes. More importantly, you also will find two of the country’s largest recreational waterways – Lake Mead and Lake Mohave.

In December and January, the average daytime temperature at Lake Mead is about 58 degrees with overnight lows hovering near 37. For Lake Mohave, you can add five degrees to those temperature readings.

Though Mead and Mohave have well-earned reputations for hosting summer boating crowds, during the winter months they are among the most underutilized waterways in the West. That means there is plenty of open water to go around with some peace and quiet to go with it.

Both reservoirs are home to three bass species – striped, largemouth and smallmouth – along with green sunfish, bluegill and catfish. Lake Mead also has a growing population of crappies that flies somewhat under the radar.

“Winter is a good time to target the bigger striped bass because they come up out of the depths and are more accessible to anglers. So, if they want to get trophy stripers winter is a good time to do it, and they’ll have a better to chance to find them at multiple spots throughout the lake,” said Brandon Senger, Southern Region supervising fisheries biologist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

When it comes to largemouth and smallmouth bass, “Anglers typically have better luck finding the fish in deeper water during the cooler months. 45 to 60 feet is what I hear from anglers. That’s where they catch them. So if you are targeting black bass, I would look for cliffs and work around that 45- to 60-foot range,” said Senger.

For smallies Senger recommends working your baits along rocky shore areas as well as cliff faces and steep drop-offs. “Don’t go back into coves with a lot of vegetation. With largemouth bass you might have some luck, but they are probably going to be a little deeper, looking for that warmer water.”

When it comes to the bass species, anglers looking for numbers of fish may want to focus their efforts on Lake Mead, but those looking for big fish may want to put their time in on Lake Mohave. Smallmouth bass topping the 4-pound mark are not uncommon and will give you a memorable fight.

Willow Beach, located on the Arizona shoreline at the north end of Lake Mohave is known for producing striped bass weighing 30-pounds or more. While that is not a daily occurrence, it is not surprising when a lucky angler reels in something that large. If you are just looking to catch something in the double-digit realm, this might well be the place. Just be ready to put in some time. With its ultra-clear water, Willow Beach can be a tough place to catch wary stripers and will put one’s angling skills to the test.

In addition to stripers, Willow Beach also is a good place to catch rainbow trout. The National Fish Hatchery, located just upstream from the marina, stocks trout every Friday. You can also find trout in the lower Colorado River below Davis Dam at Laughlin.

While many anglers who visit Southern Nevada concentrate their efforts on catching one or more of the bass species, there is growing interest in Lake Mead’s surging crappie population. Generally, the fish are found in the Overton Arm.

“Crappie fishing is typically good year round – cold water or hot water – so if people are looking for something new to do, winter would be a good time to try fishing for crappie,” Senger said.

“You can also find some bluegill action during the cold weather. They tend to be easier to catch once they start spawning and nesting, but you can still target them in the winter. At Lake Mohave you can find them around habitat structures. At Lake Mead you can look for blue gill in the Overton Arm while you are fishing for crappies.”

If you decide to make a southern swing part of your winter fishing regimen, you and your friends can rent a fishing boat at multiple locations on both reservoirs. While a boat is not an absolute necessity to fish Mead or Mohave, having one at your disposal does open the door to more fishing opportunity.

Lake Mohave holds a good and growing population of scrappy smallmouth bass. This smallie, caught and released by Roger Williams, is typical of the fish found in the reservoir.

(Doug Nielsen)

At Lakes Mead and Mohave, there is no limit for striped bass less than 20 inches total length. For stripers with a total length of 20 inches or longer, the limit is 20 fish. These generous limits help to make stripers a popular game fish.