By the calendar, Jolly Old Saint Nick's annual visit is still several days away. But for Randy Hegg of Las Vegas, Christmas came early this year.
"I think the fishing gods shined down on me after taking a bunch of family and friends out fishing and letting them catch all the fish this summer," Hegg wrote in an email.
Hegg's early Christmas started Sunday morning before the sun peered over the mountains east of Echo Bay in the Overton Arm of Lake Mead. Despite weather forecasts calling for windy conditions, the morning was pleasant as Hegg launched his boat and motored to his favorite fishing hole, Eagle Cove. You won't find the cove on a map, not by that name anyway. Hegg calls the place Eagle Cove because bald eagles seem to like it, too. In fact, one of the large raptors was standing guard as Hegg pulled into the cove on Sunday.
It is no wonder Hegg likes Eagle Cove. It was here that he hooked a 30-pound striper in 2011 while trolling with his favorite Lucky Craft crankbait. If it happened once, could it happen again?
After reaching Eagle Cove, Hegg broke out his trusty Lucky Craft lure and started trolling in about 20 feet of water. Though his fish finder was marking fish, they seemed to ignore his lucky lure until he started to make the turn out of the cove. It was then that something large slammed the crankbait and began peeling line from Hegg's reel.
"I immediately knew I had a big fish," Hegg noted. "It started taking line like crazy. Luckily, I changed the line on my pole to 15-pound Berkley Big Game the day before."
Hegg battled the fish, but it wasn't about to give in. Instead, the fish continued to take line at a pace fast enough that Hegg thought it might empty the spool on his reel. So he put the boat in reverse and hoped to close the distance between him and his newfound foe. To top things off, Hegg was enjoying the moment all by himself. There was no one to help him net the fish, and he had to shift the boat's transmission with his foot.
At one point, Hegg managed to bring the fish within 15 yards or so from the boat. It was the first time he and the fish saw each other, but the fish still had some fight left and started another run. Hegg battled the fish for another 10 minutes or so before he was able to bring the big fish alongside the boat.
"I finally was able to get him up to the boat and he turned on his side. He just barely had his mouth open, but I was able to slip my hand in and grab on. He started thrashing back and forth, but I was able to get my other hand in and lift him into the boat," Hegg said. "I couldn't believe I caught another big striper in the same place with the same lure as just a year ago."
Hegg's catch measured 44 inches from nose to tail and tipped the scale at an equally impressive 44 pounds. At the time of the weigh-in, the fish had nothing in its stomach.
"This trip proves the big ones are still in the Overton Arm. You just have to find them. Man, my arms are tired after this trip," Hegg said.
I look forward to learning what Eagle Cove gives Hegg in 2013; perhaps the bald eagle does, too.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His "In the Outdoors" column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.