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JUST OUT CATCHING LAS VEGAS LUNKERS.
An Angler’s Guide to Vegas   

By Steve Falconi

 

I was standing in front of the floor-to-ceiling window of my hotel room in The Paris Las Vegas at dawn. The gigantic replica of the Eiffel Tower was before me, and a deep orange glow reflected off The Bellagio’s thousands of windows. A few pedestrians scattered the walkway of the Vegas Strip, but my gaze fell upon the unobstructed portion of Lake Bellagio in the distance. I thought I was still buzzed from the night before when I first saw what appeared to be a person lounging in a yellow pool-floatie on the water. “Only in Vegas,” I thought. Some drunk idiot ends up using Lake Bellagio as his personal swimming pool. But looking closer, I could see that the person was a man moving his arm back and forth a few times before bringing it to rest. “Is he casting?”

I wondered if someone had slipped me a hallucinogen early that morning, and what I was actually seeing was nothing more than my intoxicated mind trying to make sense of a glinting reflection on the water. But I looked again, and the image became clear: Indeed, the person in the middle of Lake Bellagio was flyfishing from a belly boat. This was too bizarre, even for Vegas. I had to be certain.

Racing out of my room and through the maze of hotel corridors, I stumbled onto the Strip and made my way across Las Vegas Boulevard, certain that when I reached the railed perimeter of the lake I would see nothing but my own drunken reflection in the water.

But sure enough, there he was near the southeast corner of the lake: A man perched in a float-tube waving a fly rod. “Are they biting?” I called out to him, more as a joke than anything else. But a few moments later his rod rocketed forward, bent to the handle and throbbing from whatever was on the other end.

I was stunned. Certainly he’d snagged one of those gigantic koi, or perhaps what we Texans refer to as a “golden bonefish”—otherwise known as the common carp. Regardless, I ran down the sidewalk to get a closer look. The drag of his reel squealed several times as the mystery fish burst toward the center of the lake, even leaping out of the water and thrashing its head. The man was fighting a largemouth that would make any bass angler proud.

I looked around to see if anyone but me had noticed this insanity, but the few people who were on the Strip at that hour were too tired or too drunk to observe anything. The man landed the bass, a beautiful specimen with a deep green back and ivory belly. He held it up for me to see before returning it to the water. Bass fishing on the Vegas Strip—well, I’ll be damned.

Trophy bass no less—as that fish had to go four pounds. And this wasn’t some one-off. I watched him fish for a half-hour, during which time he got two more largemouth of similar size.

I caught up with the mysterious Bellagio belly-boater outside of Caesar’s Palace later that morning. He’s an older guy named Hank who lives in one of those retirement complexes outside of town. I mentioned how surprised I was to see him catch anything out of Lake Bellagio, much less a well-fed largemouth.

“Oh, I’ve pulled bigger than that out of there,” he said. “And at dusk, smallies school up around the fountains and bust shad.”

“What?” I replied. “No way that happens.”

“Oh, yeah—the Bellagio is the best-kept secret in Nevada.”

I sat down with Hank for over an hour, and I discovered that there are a slew of flyfishing opportunities all along S. Las Vegas Boulevard that nobody would expect.

 

Lake Bellagio

With the intense heat and direct sunlight of the daytime, the key to success on Bellagio is hitting it during low light. Dawn is prime time for quality largemouth along the wall next to the boulevard. Popping bugs are a favorite for surface action, but don’t shy away from Clousers stripped quickly. If smallmouth are more your thing, paddle over to the west side of the lake and fish crayfish patterns along the riprap at the base of the Bellagio shops, particularly outside of the Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant & Lounge. (Great sushi after fishing. No wet boots.)

Dusk is certainly the most exciting and time-sensitive period on the lake. For about an hour before sundown, the smallmouth frequently push shad against the intricate structure of the underwater fountains, busting on the surface. The fountains make for a challenging obstacle, but the risk of a few lost flies
is worth the reward.

One word of caution: Know and remember the schedule of the renowned Belagio Fountain Show. I didn’t, and my float-tube had drifted directly over the top of one of the water cannons when the show began. My rectum has certainly never been cleaner.

 

Buccaneer Bay

Yes, what was once the site of nightly pirate shows outside Treasure Island Hotel also offers the only landlocked redfish fishery in the world. While it hasn’t been called “Buccaneer Bay” since 2003, Hank refuses to use its new name—“Sirens’ Cove”—for reasons he’d prefer I not share. The artificially colored water of Buccaneer Bay is saltwater, of course. What shocked me was that Steve Wynn, original director of the Treasure Island concept, is in fact an avid flyfisher and insisted that they stock the man-made lagoon with redfish.

Now, I’ve sight-fished for tailing reds on the saltwater flats of Port Aransas, Texas, but it simply pales in comparison to the experience at Buccaneer Bay. While the scorching summer months can be challenging with the heat and the foot-traffic, spring and fall seasons make a trip to the Strip a jackpot for reds. In spring they’ll sit in the shadows of the bridge and alongside the pirate ship, feeding on shrimp and crabs frequently tossed by overweight passers-by from their greasy, second-helping seafood platter. Come fall, they tail in the open shallows. Rather than trying to match the hatch with shrimp or crab patterns, Hank fishes with a muskie fly-inspired streamer he calls a “Vegas Peeler.” It looks like a dead lab rat crossed with a gamecock, but when stripped quickly across the cobalt-colored lagoon, those reds lose their pea-sized minds.

 

The Volcano Fountain

Drake Magazine 2020 Winter

JUST LOOK AT ALL THOSE SEXY, BROWN TROUT-FILLED RIFFLES.

I’ve always had a soft spot for fishing to aggressive browns in pocket water. If you share this sentiment, then hop up the Strip to the Mirage’s Volcano Fountain.

The seemingly endless cascades of riffles surrounding the Volcano create some of the sexiest trout water I’ve ever fished, and it’s one of the few places in Vegas that fishes well during the heat of the day. I prefer a tandem set-up with an attractor pattern as my indicator and a nymph as my dropper—a humpy-n-beadhead combo just kills it.

In the fall, big browns congregate at the base of the fountain to spawn. Use large nymphs or big articulated streamers to evoke aggressive strikes, particularly from the males. After all, who among us doesn’t get pissed when a gigantic prince nymph interrupts our love-making?

 

Grand Canal

Of all the Vegas angling surprises, trout fishing the Grand Canal at the Venetian takes the cake. On several occasions I’ve stared wistfully at that lazy river with the hope of seeing something rise, but it’s never happened. The secret, I discovered, is to fish the Canal at night.

Those of you who know Vegas know that the Grand Canal is always illuminated. But later in the evenings the skylights are dimmed to help unattractive lovers simulate a romantic atmosphere, thus creating ideal conditions for surface-feeding trout. The stream boils with good-sized rainbows rising on a wide array of midges and mayflies.

Presentation is essential, however. Even with the low light, these trout are well educated and can spot 6X from a mile away. I use 9X just to be safe. Long leaders and delicate casts are also key. I suggest sight-fishing directly upstream along either of the stone walls, but watch your backcast for lamp posts and gelato-eating spectators.

 

Conveniently, the Venetian does offer guided float trips of the Grand Canal. It’s about forty bucks for fifteen minutes. Granted, this may seem pretty steep, but a four-hour float on the Grand Canal will cost the same as four hours on the Madison or Snake, and a gondolier from the Venetian will get you into way more fish without criticizing your cast. One warning though: The Canal guides can be really talkative.

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