Striped bass offer a unique angling challenge in Arizona lakes. They’re some of the hardest-fighting fish in fresh or saltwater, and they’re at the top of the food chain anywhere they swim.
Unlike largemouth and smallmouth bass—which are technically members of the sunfish family—stripers are ‘true’ bass, native to coastal areas all along the Eastern Seaboard.
Striped bass were introduced to the Colorado River and the various man-made reservoirs along its course in the 1950s and 60s.
Needless to say, they caught on in a big way. Striped bass have become so abundant that the Arizona Game & Fish Department has no daily limit on stripers under 20 inches in some of these lakes.
Striped bass are fairly easy to identify. They have silvery-white sides with six to eight dark horizontal stripes. The soft and spiny dorsal fins are distinctly separate, and the lower jaw protrudes out beyond the upper jaw.
And they get big.
Stripers are capable of growing well beyond 50 pounds in the right conditions, though fish under 10 pounds are more common in Arizona. Stripers in the 3- to 5-pound class are often so abundant that the fishing can be non-stop on a good day.
Striped Bass Fishing Tips and Techniques
Compared to most freshwater game fish, stripers are a bit more comfortable in deep, open water. They can be caught from shore at certain times of year, but typically prefer depths over 20 feet.
In just about every lake that supports stripers in Arizona, threadfin shad and gizzard shad are their main forage species. That’s important, not only when it comes to lure selection, but also because stripers’ movements are often based around where the shad are.
Stripers spend their winters in deep water, but start to head shallow to spawn when temperatures are between 60 and 68 degrees. In Arizona, that usually happens in late March or April. Shad, not-so-coincidentally, are usually in shallow water at around the same time.
From April through June, the best tactic is usually to target stripers with shad imitations in 20 to 30 feet of water. Focus on rock piles, reefs, points and drop-offs in that depth range.
A wide range of lures can be effective.
Topwater lures including Rapalas, Zara Spooks and Rat-L-Traps are popular, along with softbaits including Sassy Shad swimbaits and Zoom Fluke jerkbaits.
In deeper waters, spoons, bucktail jigs and diving crankbaits are all great options.
In summer, stripers head deep again as the shallows become too warm, but they will still chase schools of shad in open water. It’s not uncommon to see whole schools of striped bass feeding frenziedly on the surface.
Keep a sharp eye out for the telltale ‘boils’ on the surface that represent feeding stripers, especially in summer and fall. When you see surface action, have shad-imitating topwater lures at the ready.
That being said, anglers are often forced to find stripers at greater depths, sometimes as deep as 100 feet.
Trolling is the most efficient way to find schools of striped bass in deep open water, and it’s a good idea to employ downriggers at various depths as you search for fish.
Baitfish can also be highly effective at any depth, but especially on summer days when stripers hunker down in deep water.
Dead anchovies are very popular because they’re readily available, but the most dedicated striper anglers will hit the water before dawn and catch their own live shad to use as bait.
Regardless of your chosen bait, it pays to show up at the lake early. The best striper action is often right around sunrise. This is the time of day stripers feed most heavily and are most likely to be near shore.
Consider night fishing as well. Some anglers use lights after dark to attract plankton, which attract shad, which attract—you guessed it—stripers. The best night fishing is on cloudy nights or nights with no moon.
No matter where or when you fish, it’s also important to gear up with the right tackle.
Sturdy medium to medium-heavy rods and reels are a must, and it’s wise to spool up with at least 20-pound line. Many striper anglers favor fluorocarbon line for its strength, ability to sink and near-invisibility in the water.
Striped bass likely found their way into Lake Pleasant by mistake. Some speculate that striper eggs drifted into the lake via aqueducts. It’s hard to say for sure.
However it happened, populations have exploded, making Lake Pleasant the only major striper fishery in Arizona outside of the Colorado River System.
Arizona’s current inland state record striper, weighing 29 pound 13.76 ounces, was caught from Lake Pleasant in 2010.
A large reservoir on the Agua Fria River, Lake Pleasant spans around 10,000 acres at full pool, though water levels here are seldom that high. All the same, the lake supports healthy populations of striped bass, as well as the smaller closely related white bass.
The striper fishing gets into high gear around the beginning of April at Lake Pleasant. As in many lakes, this is the time you’re most likely to encounter schools of stripers boiling up on shad at the surface.
Warm summer temperatures here tend to keep stripers deeper though, sometimes as deep as 60 to 90 feet during the dog days of summer. Cooler fall temperatures bring about another transition toward shallower habitats.
The area just outside Paradise Harbor is a popular striper spot on Lake Pleasant, along with the mouths of Castle Creek and Humbug Creek.
The Agua Fria Arm of the lake also offers some of the best striper fishing, but be sure to check the current regulations. You’ll most likely have to work around annual closures of this section of the lake, which are in place to protect bald eagles during their nesting season.
Modified drop shot rigs baited with anchovies are a favorite technique on Lake Pleasant when stripers are deep.
Lake Pleasant’s proximity to Phoenix makes it one of Central Arizona’s most popular fishing lakes. Try to get there at the crack of dawn to beat the crowds, especially on weekends (luckily, those early hours are when some of the best striper action happens anyway).
Night fishing is also popular. Shad are the primary forage for stripers in Lake Pleasant, and these baitfish typically school in protected shallows overnight.
Try spoons and swimbaits in 20 to 30 feet at night, and then move out to 30 or 40 feet at first light.
More: Lake Pleasant Fishing
Of all the Colorado River reservoirs, Lake Mohave arguably offers your best shot at catching a giant striper. It’s perhaps not the first choice for anglers looking to load up on smaller fish, but for those big 20-plus pound monsters, this is the place to be.
The Colorado River system’s record striper was caught from the Willow Beach area of Lake Mohave in 1997. That 67-pound, 1-ounce fish remains unsurpassed, but this lake is still the most likely place in Arizona to give up a 50-pounder.
Long and narrow, Lake Mohave spans a little over 28,000 acres of water between the Hoover Dam to the north and Davis Dam to the south. Though 67 miles long, the lake is just 4 miles across at its widest point.
You have a great shot at catching stripers any time from April to November on Lake Mohave. The best time is arguably October, when the water temperatures start to cool off and invite stripers to feed more comfortably in shallow water.
Any of the many coves and inlets along the lakeshore are worth exploring when stripers are shallow. You’re most likely to find them there at daybreak on spring and fall mornings, and crankbaits like Rat-L-Traps and Pencil Poppers are effective.
Outflow from the Hoover Dam keeps the northern end of Lake Mohave cooler than the southern end. Consequently, the uppermost 20 miles of the lake offer the best striper fishing in summer, when bass go out of their way to find cooler waters.
During the cooler months, the lower part of the lake is often better.
Willow Beach is one of the most popular striper fishing spots on the lake, and not just because the record was caught in the vicinity. Willow Beach is where the Arizona Game & Fish stocks rainbow trout at various times throughout the year.
When they do, some of the biggest stripers in the lake show up to dine. So keep an eye on that stocking schedule, and have a trout-patterned swimbait ready to cast.
Sprawling across 158,000 acres, Lake Mead is a massive reservoir on the Colorado River that forms part of the border between Arizona and Nevada. Although trophy-sized stripers are not as common here as they are in Mohave, it’s an amazing lake for numbers.
Lake Mead is packed with stripers in the 3- to 6-pound range, so much so that 100-fish days are a very real possibility when the bite is on. As is the case in Mohave, there’s no limit on stripers under 20 inches, so if you’re fishing for the table, you can really load up here.
On a lake this size, good electronics can be very helpful when it comes to finding fish. The best way to locate stripers is generally to cover as much water as possible by trolling until you locate a school.
To put the odds in your favor, remember that stripers in Lake Mead follow patterns much like they do elsewhere in the Southwest. From winter up until the spring spawn—usually in April—depths around 50 feet tend to be most productive.
Try trolling anchovies over main lake points and reefs until you find a school.
Some of the most popular striper areas on Lake Mead, including Sandy Point and the Overton Arm, are on the Nevada side. But there are some great spots on the Arizona side of the state line as well, most notably Temple Basin.
Temple Basin is one of the least-populated areas of the lake, and offers a broad 20-mile stretch of water with unique rock formations along the shore and calm, wind-protected waters.
There’s actually some great shore fishing in the area, especially in springtime when stripers are most likely to be in shallow water.
April through June are great months to be on Lake Mead chasing schools of scrappy 5-pound stripers. Anchovies are very popular, and are easy to come by at local bait shops, but a wide variety of minnow imitating lures can also be effective.
When stripers are boiling at the surface, a soft plastic jerkbait like the Zoom Fluke is one of the best lures you can throw.
When the fish head deeper, as is often the case on hot summer days, jigs and jigging spoons become more effective, along with live bait on a drop shot rig.
The largest of the Colorado River reservoirs at 162,600 acres, Lake Powell is a major striper factory.
The majority of the lake lies within the state of Utah, but the relatively small portion that extends into Arizona offers some outstanding fishing opportunities.
Some of the best striper action on Lake Powell is in spring, when water temperatures hit the mid-60s and shad begin to spawn. This usually happens sometime in April, and it brings shad together in huge schools.
Stripers, naturally, won’t be far behind. In springtime, they’ll be feeding heavily and staging for their own spawn around main lake points, rock piles and reefs in less than 40 feet of water. This is a great time to toss a curlytail grub, jerkbait or other shad imitation.
There are also great striped bass opportunities throughout most of the year. Even though stripers are more likely to head deep when the water warms up in summer, they’ll often rise to the surface chasing schools of shad.
When stripers go into a feeding frenzy, it’s some of the most non-stop fishing action that can occur. Look for boils on the surface and circling birds—telltale signs of blitzing stripers—and be ready with a topwater shad imitation.
This can happen any time from summer into early fall. There’s no guarantee that you’ll spot striper boils on any given day, of course, but the odds are good on Lake Powell this time of year.
As the water continues to cool off in fall, look for stripers down as deep as 100 feet in schools, and try jigging spoons or bucktails. The bite won’t shut down as long as water temperatures are above 50 degrees.
Some of the best striper fishing areas in the Arizona portion of Lake Powell include Navajo Canyon, around the mouth of Antelope Creek, and Wahweap Bay.
Powell is mostly known for abundant stripers in the 5-pound class, but there are also much bigger fish lurking in the lake’s depths.
Lake Havasu is the southernmost major reservoir on the Colorado River, straddling the border between Arizona and California. It’s also the smallest at 19,300 acres, which can be an advantage for anglers.
Striped bass aren’t quite as explosively abundant here as they are in lakes Mead or Mohave, but there are still a lot of stripers in Lake Havasu, and the lake’s somewhat smaller size only makes the fish easier to find.
Pretty much any cove with deep water has potential.
As the water warms in March and April and stripers start to become more active, try fishing anchovies close to the bottom in the 40- to 60-foot range. Stripers begin the season a little lethargic, and a baitfish fluttering close to the bottom represents an easy meal.
Once things start to heat up a bit, you’ll start to see stripers venturing toward shallow water more and more during low light hours to chase spawning shad.
The hours between 5 and 8 a.m. are when you want to be on the water, and the topwater bite can be explosive. Sassy Shad swimbaits, Super Spooks and Rat-L-Traps are local favorites.
The area around the Lake Havasu Island is often productive, and the stretch of water between the north shore of the island and Windsor Beach often sees schools of stripers boiling on the surface during summer months.
Just north of Windsor Beach, there’s a series of lakeside cliffs that drop steeply into deep water, and this area is a perennial favorite among local anglers.
Spend your time trolling in search of schooling fish unless you spot surface action, in which case it’s best to kill your motor and approach quietly.
During the dog days of summer, the upper end of Lake Havasu tends to be cooler, and stripers will most likely head north. The area from the mouth of the river to Mohave Rock is often the best stretch until things cool back down in fall.
Havasu is also very well known for being among the best black bass fishing lakes in Arizona.
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