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Feature Article: Striper Derby Champion

Striper Derby champion adds 40 pounder to resume’

BY BRYAN SIMONS/Special to Western Outdoor News Published: Dec 20, 2018

BULLHEAD CITY, Ariz. — Ever since I moved to Las Vegas from San Diego, I have missed offshore fishing for yellowtail, yellowfin tuna, dorado, etc. I’ve fished my entire life, and no matter where I go, I will find a piece of water to fish. So when I moved, I found Lake Mead, then Willow Beach and Lake Mohave. I remember as a youth reading WON and seeing pictures of Allen Cole and others with giant stripers and knew that this would be my new ocean.

When the trout hatchery at Willow Beach took a dump five years ago and the trout stocking stopped, the fishery died along with it. The gizzard shad as well as banner spawns of threadfin have brought the action further south from my normal stomping grounds to Lake Mohave.

THIS TANKER LAKE MOHAVE striper enshrined Bryan Simons of Henderson, Nevada, into the exlusive “40-Pound Club.” Simons won the annual WON Lake Havasu Striper Derby back in May.

Many anglers treat striped bass as a trash fish that are easy to catch and stupid. They can be, sometimes. I compare them to bluefin tuna; some days they’re chewing the paint off the boat and you can load up and on the meter. Every week when I make my hour-plus drive to one my four launch ramps, I wonder if today’s the day I’ll break forty. It’s what drives you as a trophy angler, breaking that personal best, and it’s really what I truly love about fishing. 

This trip was no different, and my partner for the day overslept, but I actually prefer fishing alone. Sure a little gas money is nice, and some chitchat and friendly competition, but as any boat owner knows, when you have a back seat you have to fish differently. The way you approach a spot, how you position the boat, competing for who casts where. There’s a reason why a lot of top guys fish solo. 

As I made my drive down the 93 towards Cottonwood Cove, I was revising my game plan, wondering if I should just keep going south to Laughlin or Havasu – which has been on fire – but I told the wife I’d be home early, so the game plan was catch a couple fish for tacos do a little scouting for next time and head home.

I only brought three rods: two WMD Custom swimbait rods, and a Savage Gear Browser XH which I use for Lunker Punkers. All my rods are fitted with Okuma Komodo 364s, and I run P-Line copolymer. The bait lineup was a brand new Rafa Customs 8-inch Shad, a Hiroshima Customs 9-inch Shad and an 8-inch bone Lunker Punker. 

I slowly pulled out of Cottonwood listening to the purr of my Merc 150 looking east as the dark turned to gray and hit the gas. The lake had changed significantly since the previous week water was higher and there were not birds where I was hoping they’d be, and I was not finding shad schools where I had before. So I knew it was just going to be a searching type of day.

I was excited to get my new Rafa Swimbait wet so I alternated between it and the Punker and just worked Mohave’s many points in search of any sign of fish.

Back in 2009, I met a guy named Rick Rawley our on the water. Many people may know he and Allen Cole are old school big fish legends out of Mohave and Willow Beach. Rick was kind enough to show me “40-Pound point” that night, and he pulled a 25 pounder out right in front of me. 

Every time I go to Mohave, I make sure and stop and make a few casts at old 40-Pound Point. I’ve never caught anything there, but I always envision myself just making that cast and a giant striper coming up and smashing my swimbait or topwater. Today was the day.

I’ve made this same cast a thousand times and never caught a thing, but the ambush spot is ideal. I sent a long cast down the bank and started my cadence. As my Rafa glide walked its way back to me, I was admiring it’s action and thinking “if there’s a fish here, it’s gonna eat that for sure!” Just then a submarine shot from the depths and my shad disappeared! I set the hook and was stopped dead in my tracks. I have caught three other stripers north of 40 pounds, and I knew I had stuck another! The fight was on as she peeled off on a long run out toward the deep water. 

I made my way down to the back of the boat where I could more easily land her. I had the net ready, and when she surfaced she had both trebles in the top of the jaw which makes for an easy net job. I slid her into the net and let out a yell that nobody could hear because I was the only boat on the lake at that time.

I did not want this fish to die, so I quickly unhooked her grabbed my scale and watched as the numbers continued to climb up to 39.9 to 40.2, bouncing back and forth. I grabbed the spring scale and it to gave me a 40-pound reading. I snapped a couple quick pics ,and began the release process.

After a long hard fight big fish like that require a lot of time and effort to revive. She eventually started to kick, and I watched her swim away. I followed her for 50 yards or so until she was too deep to see, and I sat down in my chair looked at my hands and they were shaking.

I finally accomplished my goal fishing in Nevada: The 40-pound club. I didn’t make another cast for 30 minutes as I sat there reminiscing about what had just happened, all the days of not catching a thing, the heart breaks from fish I know were that big that didn’t go my way, the bent hooks, the snapped lines, the botched net jobs. They all brought me to today. A day I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Henderson, Nevada angler Bryan Simons won the 2018 WON Lake Havasu Striper Derby when he weighed at total of 117.47 pounds, 110 of which were caught on Day 2 of the two-day event. His haul was anchored by 24.35-pound kicker, and he will be the man to beat when the event returns in 2019.

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