An ex-resident's idiosyncratic overview of flyrodding options within a few hours' drive of Silicone Valley
Fishy doings in and around Vegas PICTURE: the famous, cheesy sign at the south end of the Strip reads:'Welcome to fabulous LAS VEGAS, Nevada.'
Rural southern Nevada
Southern Utah streams
Northern Arizona:
Lees Ferry
Flagstaff area
Further afield --
Southern California, salt and fresh
Premium tailwaters: Green, San Juan
Some general Las Vegas links Highlights-only version             Easier-printing (76K) version

Yes, you can actually avoid the glittering, tawdry superficiality that surrounds the Las Vegas's bleak, tawdry core. Yes, you can indulge your taste for various sorts of outdoor recreation within a few miles of its monotonous suburban stucco-sprawl.   But no, there is not much fly fishing in metropolitan Las Vegas.

Some non-outdoors Vegas sites
"Hack Attack" -- the cabdrivers' view of the area's alleged attractions, including the earthier ones.
LV Convention and Visitors Authority's official, slick view. Includes interesting stats about fools and their money.
"Vegas.Com" is a conventional, tourist-oriented gateway to the region, sponsored by the town's second newspaper, the Sun and its affiliated publications (notably the "alternative" Las Vegas Weekly), all controlled by a regional real estate dynasty.
"LasVegas.com" more diverse gateway sponsored by the larger, more conservative (actually, libertarian) Review-Journal newspaper, which has its own "alternative" sister, CityLife.
"Las Vegas Online" guide  -- pretty standard compendium, arranged by subjects.

Aa couple Orvis-affiliated stores and two independent fly shops come and went between the time I moved there in 1989 and left in 2001. Now there's a big-box outfitter with a mermaid show by the door. The three-decade-old local fly club won the Federation of Fly Fishers McKenzie Cup in the early 1990s and has effectively merged with a much younger Trout Unlimited chapter, reportedly doing well and doing good.

And sometimes there's even a fair amount of water near at hand in the summer. But if, like me, you don't gamble, don't drive to drink, and don't have any use for upscale shopping malls, the then best thing to be said for Vegas is that it's a relatively convenient place to be from -- a few hours' drive to the beach in California, a few to trout-filled mountain streams in Utah, a few to trophy trouting in the Colorado River in Arizona.

I've put together this guide primarily for fly fishers who are passing through the Vegas Valley for some other reason than to go fishing in the Mojave Desert, but I hope it may prove useful to folks contemplating moving into region (along with 4,999 others every month).

Most of the places I discuss are within day-trip distance (i.e., five hours' legal one-way drive) of metropolitan Vegas, though I've added a few spots further down the road east at the end. There are lots of places I don't discuss, but the places I do, I mention because I have fished there. And maybe even caught a fish or two.



BUTTON: Return to table of contents at top of file

FISHING AROUND VEGAS (IM)PROPER

Wetting your fly in the metropolitan area

There are some park ponds in the metro area (the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, and Boulder City, and the unincorporated urban areas of Clark County) that are planted with trout during the winter and catfish in the summer. Predictably, for the serious flyfisher these ponds can smack too much of casting practice mixed with combat fishing. though there can be real bruiser carp in many of those ponds and good panfishing in the lowermost lake at Floyd Lamb State Park (aka Tule Springs) [review] off US 95 on the northwest side of town.


PICTURE: Typical Lake Las Vegas carp, taken on a terrestrial beneath Ritz-Carlton Hotel, June 2003. Lake Las Vegas Resort, a $4.4 billion enclave of upscale hotels, golf courses, and plush homes, offers big bass, seasonal trout, and "Great Basin bonefish" to hotel guests and clients of its resident fishing pro, John Campbell. As an instructor working for John, I have been fortunate to fish there now and again for several years.

Nearby are Lakes Mead and Mohave, big, federal impoundments of the Colorado River above and below Hoover Dam,  respectively. They are managed as part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area [National Park service site or National Park Fishing Guide site (sometimes buggy)]. The Park Service initiated access fees in 2000. Nevada and Arizona have reciprocal licensing for the border waters, but you need to buy a stamp from the opposite state.

Lake Mohave is a bit of a pain to reach from Vegas these days, owing to construction of the Hoover Dam bypass on US 93 (toward Kingman) and truck traffic diverted to US 95 (toward Laughlin/Bullhead City) as an anti-terrorism measure.

Formerly world-class trout fisheries, they are now primarily striped-bass holes, with a rebounding population of largemouth in the upper reaches of Mead (and reports of stray smallmouth and tilapia, and the occasional small alligator). The latest exotic species in Mead,and spreading downstream and outward from there, is the quagga mussel, described by biologists as a "zebra mussel on steroids,"

Trout are managed as put-and-take fare in both: right from the hatchery truck to the cooler or the bellies of the stripers, which have learned how to herd the planters. Both lakes have lots of big carp, which amuse bread-tossing tourists and irritate some species-snob anglers.

There have been some holdover rainbows in Mohave that try to return to the Willow Beach federal hatchery to spawn in the winter months; the best population seems to be closer to the dam. Willow Beach is a semi-developed Park Service recreation area about a dozen miles downstream from the dam on highway 93; roughly an hour from McCarran airport, construction and traffic permitting. I'd usually park by the hatchery and fish around the perimeter and upstream from my tube, though there is some interesting waterand better scenery -- depending on the flow through the dam -- below the little marina. While sometimes you can do well wading (and I used to take a stepladder as a casting platform to extend my options), a float tube or the like will improve your odds.

Befitting tailwater dwellers, the returning spawner wannababes used to get pretty big -- record-sized. Their population had collapsed by the early 1990s, and I simply stopped trying for them for several years. But since 2000, I'd been hearing reports of big rainbows upstream from Willow, and I caught a fat but sluggish 25-incher just outside the hatchery on a club fishout in January 2001. How many of these big fish are merely released brood stock and how many grew large in the wild, neither I nor hatchery officials can say. The hatchery was refurbished to produce endangered native species as well as some trout.

The conventional explanation of the decade-long trout shortage is that the stripers came over the Hoover Dam spillways in the 1983 "El Nino" floods and literally ate up the trout fishery. I expect there were other factors as well, perhaps tied to forage, nutrients, and, especially, fluctuating water levels. Meanwhile, the federal hatchery has been shifting its mission more toward supporting populations of indigenous endangered species, which can be viewed in the raceways.

Whether the trout there are state or federal products, newly planted or naturalized, try when midges are most active: before the sun hits the water in the morning or after it has set below the canyon rim in the later afternoon. In the winter, start with a midge nymph a couple feet below a midge dry (I'm partial to a Usual, size 18 or 20), then replace the dry with an olive beadhead woolly bugger as the sun gets higher; later, reverse this sequence. January through March, I've seen trout working within easy casting range of the bank, often behind the wading anglers and their PowerBait picket lines.

The trout cruise in pods in the ultra-clear flat water, so it's better to cast ahead of the pack and wait for it to come to the fly than to cast right to a fish. Carry some white streamers and heavier tippet in case there are stripers present.

(Of course, now the problem is a record drought that began in the late 1990s, prompting ever-more severe restrictions on water use throughout the Colorado basin.)

The Mead striped bass range from about a pound on up. The biggest striper I've seen caught on a fly went almost 25 pounds, just outside the Willow Beach trout hatchery on Mohave, in April 1993. PICTURE: Historical postcard of Hoover Dam releasing into Lake Mohave. Click image for more of the photo gallery from the Bureau of Reclamation. In the second quarter of 1995, at least three 50+ pounders were caught in the upper end of Lake Mohave by bait and hardware users. Another that size was landed in late February 2003, rather early for the spawning run in the closed waters immediately below Hoover Dam. With the shortage of forage fish (including trout., striper sizes in both lakes reportedly dropped back to low single-digit average. weights.

Both lakes have lots of big carp, which amuse bread-tossing tourists and irritate some species-snob anglers. For the wily carp, pack some wooly buggers (weighted and slow sinkers) and nymphs. Where the tourists set up chum lines, try patterns that imitate such exotic lifeforms as cheese puffs and popcorn -- like my "Improved Celine."

Access to the Mead shoreline is getting tight as the National Park Service works out new policies to recover operating costs and balance user needs. There is a lot of conflict among boaters, jet-skiers, divers, shore-based anglers, and even float-tubers. Enforcement is reportedly very uneven, and rangers report that their job can be more akin to urban policing than to conservation and education.

When I still bothered to deal with Lake Mead, the standard fly fishing technique was to use a float tube and a 9-wt rig, usually with a sinking line, and green/white, brown/white, blue/white (and maybe red/white) streamers about 3-4 inches long. The topic is rarely written up.

Hemenway Harbor on Mead was historically popular, but crowded with litter-spewers and too near the jet-ski (sorry, that's "personal watercraft" and other lower lifeforms) area. While the brush along the shore there is good cover for largemouths during the spawn, I gave up trying to put my tube in there because of the locals' boorishness. Because of conflicts between shore-based and waterborne anglers, it is now regulated as shore-fishing only; wading is OK, but not tubes nor boats.

I've kept meaning to try to fish the cove at Kingman Wash, on the Arizona side just upstream from the dam (though approached from below it), but so far I've only taken pictures. I'm told it can be very good for stripers -- it's a great looking location for "boils" -- and for largemouth on the fringes. There's a sign off the east side of the highway a few miles south of the dam, then several miles of casually graded dirt road, scenery, and feral burros.

The local striper authorities recommend April and October, with a nod toward the spring spawning run, for action in fly-fishable depths, particularly into the evening if you're willing to risk it. Jim Goff, of the Fish, Inc., guide service in boulder City (702/ 565-8396 ph) has had good things to say about fishing out in the lake in June, when shad can be plentiful on top. Stripers will "boil" on the surface for shad in the summer, but the heat, brightness, and idiocy of boaters and jet-skiers can conspire to make chasing those fish unpleasant.

Dry-land fly fishing resources in Vegas

There are two daily newspapers in Las Vegas, along with several free weeklies, and spotty broadcast coverage of outdoor recreation. Both dailies try to run midweek reports on the waters I've mentioned, from the Nevada Division of Wildlife, but they seem to regard those reports as filler.

The Sun, the smaller, crankier daily, ran Barb Henderson's column on shooting sports, hunting and fishing on some Fridays; it's pretty easy to view archives of her Sun and other writings on her website.

There was no regular outdoors columnist for most of 2004 in the major paper, until the Review-Journal started running Thursday pieces by Doug Nielsen, a Nevada game warden and freelance writer. I haven't read enough of his work to form an impression of his orientation toward wild fish. He appears to be an avid fly angler, but not terribly experienced yet. Some columns by his predecessor, John Kimak, are still in the R-J's archives for 2002-03. Kimak didn't show much interest in fishing unless it was chucking bait or plugs at stripers; for him, trout seemed most interesting as fresh striper feed or an opportunity to muse about Power Bait.

PICTURE: Mountain sheep flocking near Hoover Dam, within a couple dozen miles of the Las Vegas Strip.

The Las Vegas Fly Fishing Club meets the third Tuesday of the month. Anyone can come to the meetings, which are now at the new Bass Pro Shop megastore at the Silverton casino, just off I-15 and Blue Diamond Rd., on the southern edge of the Las Vegas Valley.

LVFFC meetings start about 7 p.m., after half an our or so of informal "wet fly" socializing. Featured programs begin around 7:30, following club business and the always well-stocked raffle; odds are considerably friendlier than you'll find elsewhere in town.

The club sponsors monthly "fishouts" in Nevada and adjoining states during the warmer months, sometimes in conjunction with stream restoration projects. There's also a Junior Club, the Skunkbuggers, that sometimes seems to be be more active than the grown-up group.

Contact the club at 702/ 451-9296 or PO Box 27958, Las Vegas, NV 89121 -- or just show up.

It seems that a metropolitan area with nearly two million residents can support only one fly shop at a time. Clearwater Flyfishing, the first real shop, lasted most of a decade then closed, suddenly, mysteriously, and with a lien notice on the door, in 2002. A couple of Orvis shoppes came and went pretty quickly in the early 1990s. The most recent independent shop, Las Vegas Flyfishing, had a longer run than most. I had mixed feelings about the people who ran the place -- and some buddies were frankly hostile to them -- but I suspect that the shop couldn't compete with the big-box Bass Pro for convenience, prices, and its hosting of FF-related events.

In further proof of the transformation of Vegas into a destination for outdoor recreation, REI is also in town, next to the Green Valley Ranch resort in Henderson, but the store opened after the co-op had quit the fly gear business.

Click for current temperature and weather forecast for Las Vegas, Nevada

One or another aspect of fly fishing is offered pretty regularly through the continuing education programs of both the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the Community College of Southern Nevada. Clark County Parks and Community Services and its counterpart in the City of Henderson regularly offer inexpensive workshops. Ivy Santee of the Nevada Division of Wildlife (702/ 486-5127, ext 3503) does free sessions on casting and tying, with an emphasis of children, throughout the year; she was also the founding mother of the LV Fly Club's Junior Club.

I have helped teach fly stuff at most of these places at one time or another, usually working with John and Carolyn Campbell (702/ 499-8921) of The Outdoor Source, a family firm that specializes in teaching fly fishing to groups, from families to corporate retreats, with as much levity or seriousness as the clients request -- an interesting addition to the repertoire of destination management. The Campbells and their sessions are great fun. They also do their clinics and corporate training programs in Park City and southern Utah.

Out of nearly two million local residents, only a couple are FFF-certified flycasting instructors. I highly recommend Steve White, both as a caster and as a person. (702/ 647-2812 ph; 702/ 647-1385 fax; email). Steve is a fine and gentle man who is organizing a foundation to introduce local children to the joys of fishing.

Nonetheless, with a couple hundred members in several clubs, Nevada TU has worked with FFF's Southwest and Northern California Council clubs to win beneficial changes in "Silver State" angling regulations. It has also sponsored "one-fly" contests and other social events to raise the profile of conservation-oriented angling.


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