With five fish weighing over 23 pounds, Ray Arbesu and team partner Don Iglinski had a great day. Their bag was heavy enough to win, though not by much, as another smallmouth showdown had just gone down, complete with loads of 4-pounders and a 19-pound stringer required to cash a check. We’d heard it before along the smallmouth corridor; that swath of the country stretching from Mille Lacs to Champlian, where bronzebacks keep getting bigger with no apparent end in sight. However, this was no Great Lakes bass tournament held in September. This was pre-spawn in the desert.

Lake Mohave may be the best smallmouth lake west of the Mississippi River, and it appears to be just warming up. Each year brings bigger bass to the scales at this southern Nevada reservoir, sandwiched between Lakes Mead and Havasu. This time of year, nearly all of them are brown.

“I’ve fished Mohave all my life,” Arbesu mentioned, “and, back in the '90s, there were no smallmouth. None.”

It’s true. From what I gathered in my research, the first brown bass showed up around 2008. Prior to this, Lake Mead had a growing population of smallmouth, as did Havasu. It was natural to assume that Mohave would be the next place for a population to pop up. It’s believed anglers played a role in transport.

The Nevada fishing regulations specifically outlaw transport of live fish away from a body of water. Yet, somehow, smallmouth bass have expanded their range. And while we’ll talk more about the downside, for now, bass anglers are happy to watch them grow.

“In 2016, catching 16 pounds of smallmouth was a big deal. There were no 20-pound bags,” Arbesu continued. Yet, just like in other parts of the country, the smallies just kept getting bigger.

We’ve seen this repeatedly across the north-central part of the country, where 4-pounders used to turn heads and now get culled out of five-fish limits. Just what’s causing the phenomena of ever-increasing size in smallmouth has yet to be determined, but warming water temperatures across the country are likely a variable.

At Mohave in March, however, temps are still chilly. Wintertime lows in the 50s were on a slight warming trend when Arbesu and Iglinski hit the lake for the Pat Donaho Memorial event. Water levels were good, with some cover in the water, and a day spent poking around likely spawning grounds turned into one to remember. Their first stop produced a big largemouth, followed by a 5-pound smallmouth. From there, it was off to the races.

Arbesu mentioned his wining pattern involved catching cruising and spawning bass. The water at Mohave is crystal clear, with sight-fishing possible at water depths approaching 20 feet.

I wondered, with such incredible fishing and conditions, do many bass anglers pick on the spawners?

“Mohave is chock-full of tournaments,” Arbesu confirmed. “Bass clubs form California come every weekend and local events are here all year.”

With no closed fishing season, clear waters enabling sight-fishing every day and a bass population known to be aggressive, this seems counterproductive to me. I wonder how long it will be before it appears that way to anglers in Nevada.

Conversely, Mohave seems to have a lot going for it.

“There’s a tremendous crawfish population” my expert added. “Mohave’s always had that. Some look like mini-lobsters. You can come down to the ramp in the morning and see them crawling around.”

Arbesu also noted a high gizzard shad population and big numbers of bluegills in the lake. Water levels tend to fluctuate, allowing shoreline brush and tules to flood and provide cover for bass of all ages. But perhaps the biggest X-factors are artificial habitats.

At many lakes in the west, managers have placed artificial habitats to protect juvenile fish and attract predators – with the goal of upping the odds for shoreline-bound anglers who otherwise have little chance to cast to a productive spot. It’s worked remarkably well at Havasu and appears to be helping out Mohave. Recruitment is key in these types of fisheries, where large numbers of adult fish are caught and carried around.

There seems to be a decent population structure at Mohave, according to anglers. “We catch smallmouths of all sizes, all the time” Arbesu said, adding that big schools of 1-pound fish can be voracious.

But like anglers in other locales with exceptional fishing, Arbesu worries about the impact of increasing pressure. “West Coast lakes don’t handle it well,” he confirmed. He partially blamed social media for the attention, but included himself as an example, stating that posting is important to remain visible for sponsors like Dobyns Rods, Costa sunglasses and Skeeter.

A quick glance of media shot on Mohave would make anyone want to go there. The lake is absolutely gorgeous, the bass cooperative and development nonexistent. It’s a desert paradise for bronzebacks.

But not everyone is drooling over smallmouth out West. Those same fish are public enemies at nearby Lake Powell, where brutally low water and warming surface temps are causing an increase in recruitment for smallies, to the dismay of area managers. There, they’re preparing for a “Grand Canyon Invasion” and declining populations of native fish as a result. And, while it’s easy for us to assume that more bass is always a good thing, it’s simply not the case everywhere.

But for now, it’s a good time to be a Lake Mohave smallmouth junkie. All year long, Arbesu counts himself as a member of the group. “When we go down there, we go for smallmouth. Period.”

Why wouldn’t you?

(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)