High-tech help not needed to catch trophy-worthy stripers near Willow Beach

Most outdoorsmen and women spend their time, and often their money, trying to outthink or outmaneuver their game of choice. Recognizing this tendency, the outdoor industry spends its time and money trying to outthink and outmaneuver outdoorsmen and women. The results of their efforts can be seen in stores, catalogs and wherever we stash our outdoor gear.

You even can find high-tech help in the form of an app that helps anglers select the best time to fish or choose and tie the correct knot for our bait or line of choice. I have both, but in the end it might be the simple approach that brings us the most satisfaction.

After 20 years of active duty in the Navy and Marine Corps, Dennis Heidt returned to Southern Nevada, the land of his upbringing. After finding a quiet corner of Boulder City in which to live, Heidt also found a quiet corner in which to work and to play. This he found at Willow Beach, a small marina located on a bend in the Colorado River about a dozen miles below Hoover Dam. Though he spends his work hours as the dock supervisor, Heidt spends his off hours fishing for the large striped bass known to inhabit this part of the river, technically the upper reaches of Lake Mohave.

While many of the anglers who fish the Willow Beach area do so in boats fitted with fish finders, trolling motors and other gadgets, Heidt prefers to fish from a simple kayak. This, he said, allows him to quietly sneak up on the fish rather than spooking them like a larger boat with a motor is prone to do. His kayak has a place for mounting a fish finder, but he doesn’t use one.

Last summer this stealth approach enabled Heidt to sneak up on and land one of the huge stripers for which Willow Beach is known, fish that tend to send anglers home more frustrated than satisfied.

“I was getting skunked all day. I had gone back and forth from Willow Beach down to around (mile marker) 51, back and forth, back and forth. And I didn’t even get a bite,” said Heidt, who prefers to troll slowly with AC Plugs in trout patterns.

But just when Heidt thought he was going home empty-handed, his luck suddenly changed.

After grabbing a snack, Heidt pointed his kayak upstream and paddled toward Willow Beach. Suddenly, his kayak came to an abrupt halt.

“I had just never felt anything hit quite that hard,” Heidt said, the excitement still apparent in his voice. “My kayak did a dead stop, and I just dropped my paddle, I have a leash on my paddle, and I just dropped paddle, grabbed my pole and turned around. And instantly, I was going in the opposite direction.”

Heidt said he generally likes to let his stripers run against the drag and tire themselves out, but this fish was having nothing to do with that approach. As soon as the fish felt the drag, he turned and headed straight for Heidt and his kayak.

“He came right at me,” Heidt said. “He came right underneath my kayak, and as soon as he saw me, he wasn’t very happy.”

The fish was so large that Heidt couldn’t get it into his net, so he had to do things the old-fashioned way and grab it by hand. When he weighed it in, the fish tipped the scales at 33.6 pounds and measured 38 inches from nose to tail.

“I knew I had a 20-something; I thought it was in the high 20s,” Heidt said. “The strange thing about it is he was 33.6 pounds, but he spit out at least a 4-pound catfish that was decomposing. He spit that out, so I got cheated from another 4 pounds.”

Heidt fishes from an 11-foot Prowler, a sit-on-top kayak designed for anglers. Kayaks can be rented from vendors all along the lower Colorado River, including Willow Beach, but Heidt recommends using sit-on-tops designed for fishing. They are more stable and include built-in rod holders.

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

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