All posts by calstaff

Ducking into the Winter: A Waterfowl Season Primer

And another duck season is here. Seems like just a month ago we picked up, cleaned off and stored about 500 dekes.

Putting them back out after retying the weights is much easier since the ground is dry; so we just pull an overfilled plastic boat into our field and set ‘em up.

Then there’s the prep of the blind– making sure the stools still spin, strategically placing above ground and blind cover, and buying hay for the levee. We’ll cover the levee from the blind to the walk-in point, as it’s much easier to traverse after the mud gathers, assuming it will rain this winter. Speaking of which: we’ll most likely get a smattering of water initially– for a fee – and then what? Viscuine, that’s what. Rolls have already been purchased in order to make fake water, if need be. That may not be the best decision, but it works.

Preparing For Your Duck Hunt

Preparing For Your Duck Hunt

WATERFOWL 101

The use of battery-operated spinners is limited; however, wind-powered dekes are good throughout the season. The hot ticket for us for about the past five years is the wind-powered, two-bladed WindWhackers; they can be seen for over a mile. The ever-popular steel shot is the choice of many, but don’t overlook the fancier legal shells, bismuth and Hevi-Shot, which cost up to about four bucks each.

Black golden retriever in camo neoprene vest waiting for ducks to fall.

If you have a retriever, like Steve Adelman’s Stella,
a camo neoprene vest is recommended, and always
have cover for it while the dog waits for ducks to
fall. (STEVE ADELMAN)

If you bring your dog on a hunt, he/she really needs to be well trained. A quality camo neoprene vest is highly recommended, as well as cover for the animal while he/she watches the ducks approach, then looks at youand your partner(s) with disdain when

five or six shots are fired and there’s not a single splash on the water. Keep your retriever hydrated and be sure to work with it well in advance of the season. Be able to determine their fatigue level. Hopefully you also kept a wing from last year to tie on the practice dummy. Perfect blind cover is essential. Swing covers are available and the fronts should be kept in great shape, leaving small vision windows so that your much younger son can see the approaching birds and warn you from whence they are arriving. He’ll also tell you to be quiet when your mallard call sounds like a wounded turkey. It’s a good plan to practice well in advance, especially when the significant other isn’t home and can’t hear you!

Author Bill Adelman is comfortable in his duck blind in the late fall and winter.

Author Bill Adelman is comfortable in his duck blind in the late fall and winter.

Having your shotgun patterned with the shells you’ll be using is essential. Even though you don’t swing through a fixed target, you will have to lead a duck. Fit is critical and will change depending on the clothing you’re wearing on any particular day. Practice with all options. Learn to identify different species, as some have but a two-bird limit within the daily limit of seven. If your son says,“Don’t shoot” just as you are pulling up, it’s most likely because the passing birds are spoonies or you already have your other two.

When deeply buried in your blind, try to pick up the gun with your shooting hand, with the call in the other hand.

Key Waterfowl Dates to Remember

Key Waterfowl Dates to Remember

SAFETY FIRST

Having mentioned all of this, as you prepare for the waterfowl openers this month and next, the primary focus is to practice gun safety. If your shotgun falls, slides or gets run over by the dog, will anyone get hit if it goes off? Be smart, understanding that sometimes stuff happens.

There are two major advocates for duckers: the California Waterfowl Association (calwaterfowl.org) and Ducks Unlimited (ducks.org). Many choose to belong to both, while others stick with just CWA, considering all of its programs are within our state. They work at promoting junior hunts at every opportunity. The fundraising dinners are great fun; however, bring your checkbook and credit cards.

Add Motion To Your Spread

Add Motion To Your Spread

There are so many regulations with duck hunting that you just might want to go online to determine which ones apply to you, as well as limits, season dates and who knows what else?

Having your Shotgun patterned with the shells you'll be using is essential for bringing home a limit of birds.

Having your Shotgun patterned with the shells you’ll be using is essential for bringing home a limit of birds.

Good luck this season, water or not.

Author with Fish

QUIETOLOGY 101

BREAKING RADIO SILENCE ON STEALTH-MODE BASS TACTICS
By Jason Haley

Pardon the pun, but not wanting to give up any competitive advantage on the lake, this is something I’m normally quiet about.
Have you ever heard a conversation from halfway across the lake because every angler in a boat seems to be yelling? Me too! It often involves beer, but not always. Then there are the bassers – including some of the most experienced ones I know – who bang the sides of the boat, slam lids, throw the trolling motor down or rattle through tackle at precisely the wrong times.
But does any of this really matter when it comes to improving your catch? You’re darn right it does!

BOAT-SHY BASS
Bass are dumb, right? Well, yes and no. In a private pond that gets fished once per year, perhaps you’ll get the best of a gullible opponent. But there’s a reason why long casts often work best, particularly in clear, pressured water. Bass – especially the big ones angler on boat– usually feed best when everything around is totally natural. They’re accustomed to human presence followed by artificial food sources plopping down and rattling by. The bigs are usually caught when all is just right and a choice cast is made.

STEALTH MODE
This is what I call my approach. It’s acting on the hunch that the attractive spot I’m coming up on holds quality, active bass. I cut the big motor well in advance of the shoreline to avoid waves, lower (not drop) the trolling motor slowly and quietly, then close the distance. I start on high speed before switching to low speed to avoid alerting any fish.
I want my first cast to slide in rather than plop. Hooking a fish on the outside of the school might require touching the trolling motor a few times during the fight to avoid drifting directly over the sweet spot.
As I work my way in and around, I’m careful to speak in normal or even quiet tones. One partner started taking my cue and whispering. I could barely hear him, and that may have been a little much. The key is to just avoid yelling, even if you’re all jacked up on morning coffee.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Quiet is not as critical in deep or even dirty water, as noise can actually help bass find your lures. But it’s essential when sitting on top of fish in shallow, clear water. If you’re fishing the back of the boat, never rummage through your tackle bag and change baits while your boater is slipping up on their A-spot. You may catch a few smaller fish, but it’ll generally be game over for the big one your partner was stalking. I’ve even noticed small waves lapping against the side of the boat can adversely affect bites. There’s not much you can do about boat traffic or breezes, but watch the fish turn on as soon as that noise dissipates.
Of course, mistakes do happen. You’re going to kick something, drop the pliers or rattle the Pringles can. But while ringing the dinner bell can get you in a biting mood, it just never seems to work on bass. CS

A packtrain transports horse riders and their gear into the spectacular, lake-rich high country of the Eastern Sierras. (FRONTIER PACK STATION)

Horsin’ Around In the Sierras

TRAVEL BY PACKTRAIN TO THE STATE’S MOST STUNNING WILDERNESS TROUT FISHERIES

By Chris Cocoles 

Getting to the Eastern Sierra backcountry can be a challenge, unless you have experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or just happen to have horses that can get you (and your fishing gear) from point A to point B.
One Bishop-based out?tter has all your concerns covered.
“When you get up to the mountain, you want to hike or fly fish. There are only two ways to get up there: you either hike or you go on horseback,” says Rhett Harty of Frontier Pack Station (888-437-MULE, 6853; frontierpacktrain.com). “So we’ll pack all their stuff, get them up the mountain and set up camp. That’s kind of the core business we do.”

Wild mustangs in a Sierra meadow

One of Frontier’s signature excursions is riding out to the Truman Meadow Area in Inyo National Forest to watch wild mustangs frolic in freedom. (FRONTIER PACK STATION)

The company, which was established by brothers Kent and Dave Dohnel, carries the motto, “You are the boss!” Guests can customize their trip to their specific itinerary. It could mean fishing for native golden trout in a remote lake or stream. It could be checking out wild mustangs that roam free in Truman Meadow Area in the Inyo National Forest. It could be hiking or simply taking in the beauty of the Yosemite National Park and Ansel Adams/Minaret Wilderness. It could even be the popular yoga trip for those who want to mix horseback rides in the wilderness with a spiritual twist. There is a lot of ground packtrains can cover in a widespread area.
One of the special trips Frontier Pack Station offers is a five-day golden trout trip that begins at June Lake in the Eastern Sierra to the Ansel Adams Wilderness.
Fishing stops along the way include Thousand Island Lake and the headwaters of the iconic San Joaquin River for golden/ rainbow trout hybrids, brookies and rainbows of Rush Creek, and the signature stop, Alger Lakes for wild golden trout that can measure out between 12 and 16 inches.
“The golden trout trips are kind of the core of the business. You can only catch golden trout (high) up in the mountains to specific places. You’re talking 10,600 feet (at Alger Lakes),” Harty says.
“It’s a unique experience to catch these fish. And it’s not like they’re little either; these aren’t 6-inchers. You’re catching trout that are a different color from anything else that you catch. And you really can’t catch them anywhere else. These fish aren’t really pressured, but you have to work for it.”
Watching wild mustangs roaming free is another memorable excursion.

Anglers at Alger Lakes

Anglers can cast flies for various species in lakes and creeks at or around 10,000 feet, including a rare chance to catch native golden trout at Alger Lakes. (FRONTIER PACK STATION)

“Our first trip of the season (in early June) it had rained on us and hailed on us. Then it was beautifully sunny. It was cold and then it was warm. And all the while we’re observing these mustangs,” Harty says.
“We saw two stallions fighting; we saw an older stallion racing a younger stallion around the group. You talk about a horse race; we watched these horses run for probably 4,000 yards in a dead sprint, and they went by us while still sprinting. You saw (American Pharoah win) the Triple Crown (this year). We saw a real horse race.”
Do-it-yourself trips are popular with many outdoorsmen and -women, but there’s also something to be said about an outfitter who will adhere to your specific needs, set you and get you into some California’s most spectacular country.

A group of friends in an Eastern Sierra pond

The good life in the backcountry of the Eastern Sierra means partying with friends on a custom horse-pack trip with all your meals taken care of. (FRONTIER PACK STATION)

“It’s stunning. There are only a few places where you can get some of (the scenery) and you have to work for it,” Harty says. “You think you’re in the trees and all of a sudden you get to clearing and then you’re in the mountains. I’ve been doing this for eight or nine years and I’m still blown away when I get into the mountains.” CS

Go Heavy On The Salt

Tired of eating trout the same old way? Here’s a fun, innovative way to bake them, and not only is this method easy, it produces a deliciously steamed, moist flavorful fish. Salt crusting will work with any whole fish; try it with a fresh-caught cutthroat, kokanee or small steelhead, or get into the freezer and use up what you caught over the winter. For best results, use kosher salt. The amount of salt will vary for the size of the fish. The key with the salt crust is getting the salt moist enough with egg white and water to form around the fish without falling apart. Additional flavorings are endless, as the cavity of the fish can be stuffed with any herbs, citrus slices, garlic and/or ginger.

Salt-crusted trout

Two to four trout

5 cups kosher salt

Three egg whites

1 to 3 tablespoons water

GO HEAVY ON THE SALT

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup fresh herbs (parsley, rosemary,

dill, thyme, cilantro, basil and/or sage)

One orange, lemon or lime, sliced

Additional herbs (optional)

In a large bowl, mix salt and egg whites until moistened. Add enough water for the salt mixture to stick together. Rinse and pat cleaned fish dry, inside and out. Divide herbs and citrus slices evenly among fish. Brush both sides of fish with a light coating of olive oil.

On a large baking sheet, spread a layer of the salt mixture about .-inch thick for the fish to lay on. If you have additional herbs, put a single layer of leaves on the salt, right where the fish will sit. Lay stuffed fish on top of the salt or herb layer on the baking sheet.

Mound the rest of the salt mixture on the fish and cover completely. Pack the salt down evenly and try to keep the shape of the fish intact. If there isn’t enough salt to completely cover the fish, it is fine to leave the head and/or tail exposed.

Bake fish in a preheated, 400-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until fish reaches an internal temperature of 135 to 140 degrees. If using an oven-safe thermometer, insert probe before baking so the salt crust doesn’t crack when checking the temperature.

Let fish sit five to 10 minutes before cracking the crust and removing. Skin should lift easily off the fish. Remove fish fillets from the salt crust prior to serving.

 

Get Your Dog’s Days In This Summer

With summer upon us, now is the time to get in shape for hunting season. As hunters, we strive to have our body and mind tuned in so that we can fully appreciate and enjoy all our hunting experiences have to offer and get to where we need to be to fill tags and bag game. For bird hunters, now is also the time to get your dog in shape. 

“One of the biggest mistakes people make is not getting their dog in good hunting shape before the season starts,” notes breeder and trainer Steve Waller (talltimberpudelpointers.com). “This is the time of year dogs need to be working – not just a few weeks before the season.” Waller has been training canines for over 40 years. When it comes to doing so during the sizzling days of summer, there are different points to consider than when exercising them during cooler times of the year.

When it comes to getting a dog’s feet into hunting shape, train them on gravel. Doing so will toughen their pads, strengthen their toes, feet and legs and naturally wear down their toenails. (

When it comes to getting a dog’s feet into hunting
shape, train them on gravel. Doing so will toughen
their pads, strengthen their toes, feet and legs and
naturally wear down their toenails. (

“It may not look great, but one of the first things I do when training dogs in the heat is clip their hair,” Waller shares. “Clipping that coat short is one of the best things
you can do to keep a dog cool and comfortable. It’s also great for cutting down on grass seed problems; and don’t worry, it’ll grow back.” As far as actual training, Waller
points out the obvious. “Train early in the morning and don’t push it. Get up half an hour
early and get it done before heading to work, if you have to. Just don’t put yourself in a position where mid-day training is the only option. Cool, breezy evenings can also be
good times to train, but again, don’t overdo it.” Waller advocates training near water so you can let dogs swim every 15 minutes or so. Letting dogs play in the water will greatly
help cool them off and keep them more comfortable and focused
during sessions.

“If you can’t train near a body of water, be sure and take plenty of drinking water into the field and give it to your dog regularly,” Waller insists. “Dogs with a lot of drive
won’t tell you they’re getting hot or thirsty; they’ll just keep going until they fall over from heat exhaustion, so be sure to keep them hydrated. That goes for trainers too. If a dog does go down, cover them with water to drop that body temperature as fast as you can.” Even in water training, don’t push the dogs to the point of exhaustion.

Just because they’re in the water doesn’t mean they’re staying cool all the time, as their bodies can still overheat. Just take it slow and keep it fun for the dogs. Once they
start losing interest, stop. “When water training with bumpers, I’ll only toss it in five or six times, that’s it,” offers noted trainer, breeder and former Oregon State University professor of animal breeding and genetics, Howard Meyer. “I want them to stay interested
in retrieving that bumper their whole life, bringing it to me every time.”

When conditioning dogs in the heat, Meyer (chippewa-gsp.com) uses a canoe and has his dogs swim next to him as he paddles. “Tossing a bumper five or six times isn’t going to get them in shape, but swimming will. Just give them plenty of time to warm up along the shore
as the water can be cold, even on hot days.” A dog’s feet must also get conditioned.
For this, train on gravel, pavement or concrete. Again, do this training early in the day, near water, where dogs can be quickly cooled off.

If training on asphalt, make sure it’s not too hot for the dog to comfortably set foot on. Training in the field is obviously a great place to get a dog’s feet in shape, but this time of year, watch out for snakes. If your dog’s not snake-broken, there are classes and trainers who specialize in teaching this. As you begin conditioning for the upcoming hunting season, don’t forget about man’s best friend. Dogs require proper attention and direction to get in shape, and working
with them on a daily basis will also strengthen that bond that makes hunting with dogs so special. CS

By Scott Haugen

Thaw Out This Summer

With summer arriving this month, now is a great time to clean the freezer and make room for this coming fall’s influx of fresh meat. Don’t be guilty of shoving last season’s birds to the back of the freezer and then forgetting about them.
There are many ways to prepare game birds, and specialized approaches can be tailored for each species. However, in an effort to keep things simple yet tasty, the following recipe was created with all game birds in mind. These bite-sized tidbits – or bigger finger foods – are a delicious way to introduce people to game birds. To double the batch, add 2 cups cooked brown rice to the meat mixture, doubling the amounts of oyster or soy sauce as well.

1 pound upland game bird meat, ground or finely chopped 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 cloves garlic, minced One 3-ounce can water chestnuts, diced 2 tablespoons oyster or soy sauce 1 teaspoon sugar 5 green onions, finely sliced 2 tablespoons sesame seeds Four to eight whole lettuce leaves

Heat oil in a large skillet and brown meat on medium heat. Add garlic, water chestnuts, sauces and sugar and sauté an additional two to three minutes. Remove from heat and mix in green onions and sesame seeds. Separate lettuce leaves (butter, Boston, iceberg or leaf lettuce all work well). Divide meat mixture evenly among lettuce leaves. Or serve a portion of bird mixture with leaves on the side, allowing people to make their own bite-sized wraps. Serve with soy sauce for dipping.

Editor’s note: For signed copies of Tiffany Haugen’s popular cookbook, Cooking Game Birds, send a check for $20 (freeS&H) to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489 or order online at www.scotthaugen.com. Follow Tiffany on Instagram (@tiffanyhaugen), Facebook (facebook.com/thehaugens) and Twitter

Tuna Collar Sushi

FINALLY, AN EASYTO-SWALLOW RULE

TUNA FILLETERS NOW REQUIRED TO KEEP COLLAR COVETED BY SUSHI CHEFS; GEAR UP FOR LONG TRIPS
By Steve Carson 

What the heck is “tuna kama?”  New filleting regulations for all tuna species caught in California waters require that the fillets must have the skin left on, and the fish’s “collar,” which includes the pectoral fin, be included in the bag together in order to allow enforcement personnel to easily determine species.

For decades before this, deckhands have simply been discarding these collars as waste, often just tossing them overboard and saving only the prime fillet. As it turns out, we should have been saving them all along, as the collar section, or kama, is highly desired by chefs around the world.

At least in California’s high-end sushi bars, it is most often seen as hamachi kama, which comes from yellowtail (hamachi). However, the kama from bluefin tuna (maguro) is usually quite expensive, and so is not often seen stateside. A popular Los Angeles-based foodie site, Chowhound, explained it thusly:

“It would be highly unlikely to find a true, bona fide maguro collar, unless you’ve got some serious fish market connections. The maguro collar is one of the most highly prized, selected cuts from an increasingly rare and highly valuable fish, the bluefin tuna. Its appearance, texture and flavor, surprisingly, approximate that of wagyu beef. Demand far exceeds supply, especially among upper-echelon sushi bars and restaurants, particularly in Japan.”

“If you have enjoyed a meal that included genuine maguro collar, do consider it one of those meals of a lifetime. For home preparation, fresh yellowtail collar may well have to suffice. If not, the search is on, and do expect to dearly reward the purveyor if and when found.”

Another popular foodie site, the Japanese Food Report, had this to say about roasted tuna (maguro) collars:
“Here’s why you need to befriend your local fishmonger, and fast: tuna collar. While here in America we typically eat fish as boneless filets, I’ve learned that in Japan it’s more often enjoyed on the bone, and for good reason. Like a T-bone in a steak, bones in fish impart incredible flavor to the flesh.”

Author with large pacific tuna“And there’s another reason fish on the bone is popular in Japan: chopsticks. Chopsticks are extremely precise instruments that can pick out morsels of food a clunky fork could never reach, such as around bones! With chopsticks, eating fish on the bone is a joy. This is one piece of fish you can never find at the fish store, unfortunately. I urge you to try baking tuna collar if you can get your hands on one. Yellowtail collar and salmon collar work wonderfully too.”

If these bloggers are correct, a lot of folks are going to be experiencing the meal of a lifetime this year!
LONG-RANGE GEAR CHECK Numerous articles have been written
extolling the virtues of specialized extra-heavy tackle for chasing “cow” grade yellowfin tuna – those over 200 pounds – aboard San Diego-based long-range boats. The reality is that cow-size tuna are virtually never caught on trips shorter than 10 days’ duration. From now until the end of October, most long-range boats will be running trips between three and eight days in length.

The outline below lists the most commonly recommended rod/reel combos for eight-day trips. Good loaner/rental packages are available from the boat or sportfish landings for first-timers, and new long-rangers can ease slowly into the obsessive tackle collecting that grips a large number of practitioners. For trips of five days’ duration or less, the heaviest combo (No. 5 below) will most likely not be needed, though you can never tell for certain. On most boats, trolling tackle and “kite” tackle can be borrowed from the boat when it’s your turn.

  1. 25- to 30-pound live bait combo reel: PENN Fathom FTH15LD2, PENN Fathom FTH15 Rod: Conventional 7- to 8-footer, rated for 15- to 40-pound lines Applications: Albacore, dorado, wahoo live bait, school-size bluefin and yellowfin tuna live bait
  2.  40-pound live bait combo Reel: PENN Fathom FTH25NLD2, PENN Fathom FTH30 Rod: As above, but rated 20-50-pound Applications: All-around live bait use for tuna to 50 pounds (single speeds), 100 pounds (two speeds)
  3. 50-pound jigging combo Reel: PENN U.S. Senator 113N, PENN Fathom FTH40NLD2 Rod: As above, but rated 30-60-pound Applications: Yo-yo jigging for yellowtail and tuna, wahoo bombs/jigs
  4.  50- to 60-pound live bait combo Reel: PENN Torque 2-speed TRQ40NLD2, PENN International 2-speed 12VSX Rod: Conventional 6- to 7-footers, rated for 30- to 80-pound lines Applications: Larger tuna to 150 pounds with live bait, medium-duty dropper looping
  5.  80- to 100-pound live bait combo Reel: PENN International 2-speed 16VSX, or 30VSX Rod: Conventional 5½- to 7 footers, such as PENN CARBW760H, rated for 50- to 130-pound lines Applications: Larger-grade tuna to 200 pounds or more; heavy-duty dropper looping CSEditor’s note: The author loves hearing from California Sportsman readers and can be reached at scarson@sunset.net.
California’s drought has wreaked havoc on the surface area of popular San Diego bass ?shery Lake Barrett, which is about one-third of its normal capacity. But a lot of bass are still swimming in the lake, so for the next month ?shing could be strong. (BILL SCHAEFER)

DROUGHT SUCKING WATER, BUT BASS PLENTIFUL

SAN DIEGO-AREA LAKES LIKE BARRETT ARE PRODUCING FISH, DESPITE SHRINKING SURFACE AREA
By Capt. Bill Schaefer

SAN DIEGO—Lake Barrett, the payto-play lake in San Diego’s East County area, is really feeling the pressure of the California drought. In surface acres, the lake is about one-third of its normal size. All of the Pine Creek and Houser Arm spots are gone or too shallow to fish. Yet all those bass now pushed into a lake with far less of its usual water capacity will mean great fishing for a while. Opening day here saw fishermen catching anywhere from 15 to 50 fish, and some landing even more. Some float tube anglers were not checked to see

Joel King with Lake Barrett Bass

Joel King scored this Lake Barrett bass on a white spinnerbait tossed towards fish breaking in open water. (BILL SCHAEFER)

how many bass they caught.

Barrett is now more of an open lake, with rock piles and smaller coves sprinkled around. The northern bass have come off their spawn and are already in packs chasing shad around the lake. You can fish almost any area of the lake and the fish will come by eventually. Open water will also reveal tuna-type boils as the bass corral the shad and attack them.

There is no brush in the water and the shore is checkered with large cracks from the drying mud. Please be careful if you get out and walk the banks. Use rocks to walk on any chance you get, and be wary of rattlesnakes – it’s time for them to show.

The hot bait has been a white or white-and-chartreuse spinnerbait. You can throw it along the shore or in open water. I sampled the lake on a press trip a week before the opening and the spinnerbait was truly the best bait because of the bass keying on the shad. The old reliable Yamamoto Senko and Ika also scored well.

I also threw a Matt Lures bluegill and scored a little better quality of bass up to 4 pounds. The thing about this lake is that you can throw almost any lure and do well. Even fly fishermen can really enjoy a great day of bass fishing here.

Lake Barrett is limited to 25 boats with a maximum of four anglers each, but most anglers keep it to two in the boat. New this year are float tube and shore entries, which are limited to 25 fishermen. Anyone fishing must get tickets from TicketMaster (800-745-3000). They go on sale the second Tuesday of the month for the following month’s fishing. Tickets go on sale at 7 p.m. and remain on sale until all the month’s fishing days are sold out, even if it takes a few days. CS

A snake hunt

SNAKE HUNTING 101

THE ROUNDUPS OF YORE ARE MOSTLY GONE, BUT ‘SNAKE RUNS’ ARE ANOTHER WAY TO EXPERIENCE CALIFORNIA’S SLITHERERS
By Tim E. Hovey

I’ve always been fascinated with snakes.

I will admit that as a youth they absolutely terrified me. While I ran around catching lots of lizards and frogs, whenever I bumped into a snake, I did less catching and more running.

A rattlesnake

A western diamondback rattlesnake shakes its tail. Despite their dubious reputation and potentially fatal venom, most rattlers want no part of interacting with humans. Still, it’s important to be aware of their presence when out in the field. (GARY STOTZ/U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE)

As I got older and learned more about them, I began actually seeking snakes out in the hopes of seeing them up close and capturing them. I’d carefully handle the nonvenomous ones, take a few photos and then release them. I did get bit a handful of times, but for the most part the encounters were interesting and educational.

Every spring, as soon as it starts to warm up, I begin to see many of Southern California’s snake species out and about again. And as temperatures start to rise, usually during late April to early May, I start slowly searching the backroads for snakes.
Southern California has almost 20 different species of snakes, some of which are very comfortable living near suburban areas. Gopher snakes and king snakes are common species in many residential areas, where they find plenty of prey in the form of mice and other rodents. Those living in more rural areas will see coach whips, patch nose and rattlesnakes, all of which find their required habitat and forage near these less-developed areas.

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to find almost all the species indigenous to the Southland. It may seem a little odd, but my favorite snakes to encounter are rattlers. Their diamond-shaped heads, thick bodies and telltale rattles seem to signify authority and an animal that means business. Whenever I come
across a rattlesnake, the first thing I grab is my camera. And I never get tired of seeing any of the species of rattlesnake that occur in Southern California.
SOUTHERN PACIFIC RATTLESNAKE
The southern Pacific rattlesnake can be found close to urban areas anywhere small rodents and ground-dwelling birds exist. This is a very common species and is usually the one encountered by hikers and anyone spending time outdoors. Often referred to as a diamondback for the dark diamond shapes on its back, the southern Pacific comes in a variety of different color schemes. I’ve seen this species from a cinnamon brown to a dark gray in color.
RED DIAMOND RATTLESNAKE

Caution sign detailing the dangers of rattlesnakes

A warning sign in California’s Sierra Nevada reflects that areas where rattlesnakes are present should be taken with extreme caution. (ALAN LEVINE/WIKIMEDIA)

This species occurs in the southern portion of the state, and in my opinion is one of the prettiest snakes out there. The body is a uniform cinnamon color, lacking the darker diamond shapes of the southern Pacific. The tail of this species has several black and white bands located just before the rattles.
MOJAVE GREEN RATTLESNAKE
Also referred to as the Mojave rattlesnake, this species has several differing color variations, including a green hue. This species has an overlapping range with the southern Pacific rattlesnake and is often mistaken for it. However, the diamond patterns on the Mojave green rattlesnake fade as you move towards the tail. An aggressive species, it feeds on mice and lizards.
SIDEWINDER RATTLESNAKE
Also called the horned snake, the sidewinder is a smaller desert species that moves over its sandy environment in a sideways manner. A relatively passive species, the sidewinder is tan to sandy in coloration, usually speckled with darker patches on its back. Distinct eye bars extend from the back of the eye over the jaw line. Sidewinders feed on pocket mice, lizards and kangaroo rats.
A DESERT SNAKE RUN
When the days get really warm, my daughters and I like to head out to the desert and drive the powerline roads looking for snakes as the temperatures drop in the evenings. We call these outdoor adventures snake runs.

During the blazing heat of the day, snakes seek out cooler spots or head underground to avoid overheating. As night comes and temperatures become more bearable, the snakes head out to feed and can be encountered warming themselves on desert dirt roads.Directions for how to treat a snakebite

We arrive with about an hour of daylight left and the kids usually hit the ground running. Both my daughters have been on snake runs before and they know how to be safe and what to look for. Using their snake sticks, they head out to search the desert terrain.

On this trip, Jessica was the first to find a snake. The small sidewinder rattled loudly as we gathered around to check him out. It was a beautiful specimen, and we kept our distance so as to not stress out the snake. We took a few nice photographs, took a waypoint on the GPS and left the snake where we found it.

As the sun dropped, we headedback to the truck. We grabbed some snacks and drove to the starting point for the evening run. The spot I chose has almost 20 miles of dirt road that travels through some great snake habitat. It was to be a moonless night and within the hour it was going to be too dark to see without lights.

By the time we started driving the roads, it was dark and the weather had definitely cooled from the 105-degree daytime temperature. In the world of reptiles, this is the time to move.

If you’ve ever driven dirt roads at night, you’ll notice that small mammals regularly use these cleared spaces to prey on invertebrates and to move easily between areas to search for food. In turn, snakes will take advantage of the open areas of the roads to prey on the mammals.

We traveled slowly and searched the road in front of us carefully and began the snake run. For the first hour all we spotted were the occasional kangaroo rat or field mouse. Specifically searching for snakes during a run isn’t easy and you may need to drive several miles before you encounter reptiles. Despite the lack of snakes, the
kids stayed positive.

Another rattlesnake

The southern Pacific is one of the most common rattlers found in Southern California. It feeds on small rodents and mammals. (TIM E. HOVEY)

We turned down a side road and our luck started to change. My friend, Jose, spotted the first snake of the evening. Stretched out across the road was a beautiful Mojave green rattlesnake. I have encountered this species dozens of times in the wild and they all seem to act the same way: very aggressively.

True to form, the 3-footlong rattler began rattling loudly before we were out of the truck. He coiled defensively and never stopped rattling. The coloration on this particular specimen was amazing. He had a uniform green hue and was in perfect condition. I took a few photos, and to keep him safe, we used the snake sticks to move him off the road.

A mile later, we added a second sidewinder to the snakes we encountered on our desert snake run. A relatively passive snake, and smaller than its more aggressive relatives, the sidewinder is unique in behavior and appearance. The sidewinder will bury itself in the sand and ambush prey that passes by. It possesses eye horns, or supraocular scales, that may aid in protecting the eyes in the sandy environment.

The sidewinder posed nicely for photos and remained calm the entire time. It was getting late, so we moved the snake off the road and called it a night. With three snakes encountered and two species recorded, it was definitely a great snake run.

THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR IS… I do understand the fear that snakes invoke in many. I used to experience the same emotion before I understood the reptiles’ behavior. If you take a few seconds to watch a snake react during your next encounter, you’ll notice that they form themselves into a defensive posture and position themselves to escape. In short, they want no part of interacting with a human.

A sidewinder

This sidewinder rattlesnake blends in nicely with the desert terrain it inhabits. (TIM E. HOVEY)

Fear is natural when it comes to dealing with snakes, but many species help keep prolific mammal populations in check. Even rattlers provide a valuable service in the wild and, in my opinion, are the most unique and beautiful species of snakes out there. Next time you encounter a snake of any species, take a few seconds and watch it react. I guarantee that as you do, any fear you may have will turn to appreciation and respect. CS

A snake hunt

When on the lookout for snakes in the desert shrub areas of Southern California, the best time to find rattlers or other species is in the evening hours when temperatures drop. (TIM E. HOVEY)

 

Fisherman at the lake

THE SEVEN-DAY PLAN

HAVE A WEEK TO FISH THE EASTERN SIERRA? TRY THIS ITINERARY
By Mike Stevens

With a quarter-century career of Eastern Sierra fishing in my rear-

Brookie in Skelton Lake

Trout as beautiful as their surroundings can be found in the Eastern Sierras; this brookie came from Skelton Lake, a hike-in water. (MIKE STEVENS)

view mirror, I feel I can maximize the efficiency with which I chase trout up there by following a finely tuned, day-by-day game plan for trips of various lengths. For nearly three decades, I have discovered new spots, eliminated some others, and have taken a wide variety of factors into consideration when deciding on which day of the trip I will make each outing.

Obviously, this attack plan is geared toward the type of fishing I do, the areas I do it in, and where I’m based. So I don’t expect anyone to do exactly what I do, but maybe if you see where I’m coming from and how I get there, you can come up with a similar playbook of your own.

Since my standard trip length is a week – give or take a day – and it’s based out of Mammoth Lakes, that is what I have outlined here. It admittedly reeks of OCD, but at the same time, it eliminates a ton of wasted time that could otherwise be used spanking some trout.
DAY ZERO
This is my travel day. I call it Day Zero because fishing opportunities are limited after a six-hour drive, and if I don’t catch anything, that would otherwise mean a Day 1 skunk, and that’s just not the way I want to get a trip started. However, Day Zero fish are bonus fish that I do count in the tally for the trip. Any Day Zero fishing is going to be done somewhere low maintenance, such as a drive-up spot that I won’t need to unbury any special gear to get to. In recent years, I have readied a rod to fish so that if I decide to check a spot out before I reach my lodging and unload, I can get in the game easily.

My Day Zero spots have included Convict Lake, the Mammoth Lakes Basin, Convict, Mammoth and McGee Creeks, and even spots hours south on Highway 395, like the streams coming out of the mountains between Lone Pine and Bishop. I have also done pretty well just turning off wherever I see one of those fishing road signs and go where it takes me.

If any fish are caught on Day Zero, I consider it a victory.
DAY 1
On my first full day of the trip, I stick to the easy-access game plan, but it works a little differently when I am working with an entire day instead of just a few hours. I still go to driveup spots, mainly because I am still acclimating to the altitude (the town of Mammoth Lakes sits nearly a mile and a half above sea level) and I’m not going to charge into the backcountry yet. But I am willing to walk a fair amount on flat ground.

I want to go to places that I know will have good numbers of fish on the board, even if they are just hatchery rainbows this time out. I want to get a strong start, work the kinks out, and hit the ground running toward my 100-trout (for the week) goal.

I hit the Upper Owens for at least part of Day 1. I can drive along the river, and while I do a fair amount of walking, it’s painless because it’s flat and open. Getting skunked is very rare; the action is wide open and produces gaudy numbers, plus you have a shot at big fish that snuck out of Lake Crowley.

Mammoth Lakes and Convict are still on the radar at this point, but

Lake Mamie

After a nice dinner in town, summer in the high country allows you to head to a secluded spot like Lake Mamie and cast for trout. (MIKE STEVENS)

Rock Creek Lake has also joined the fray because it’s a bit too far out of town for Day Zero, but there’s plenty of time to head down on Day 1. The lake is also easy to get around and is very much a drive-up impoundment. A boater? Perfect day for this one.
DAY 2

Now things are starting to get serious. Day 2 is always a Sunday for me, which means much of the weekend crowd or people whose own week long vacations are over and are now heading out of town, so any spot that typically receives heavy pressure will now be easier to fish. I also want to fish any spot on my list of favorites because if it kicks butt, I may want to return there later in the week. By now I’ve gotten used to the altitude, so at this point I can comfortably do a moderate hike. Saddlebag Lake up Tioga Pass is my favorite drive-up lake on the Eastern Sierras, and it’s almost a lock for a Day 2 spot. It takes about an hour to get there from Mammoth, and then I will take the water taxi to the far side of the lake and ?sh the shoreline right there where I’m dropped off.

Anyone else on the boat typically heads right up the trail into the 20 Lakes Basin and I’ll have most of my area to myself. I have caught big fish here, piled up numbers, and landed them on the fly rod and any other tactic you can think of. Fishing is usually so good here I will start swapping lures out that are working just to see what else I can catch them on.

If things should slow down at Saddlebag, I’ll hike up the trail and beat up brookies with the fly rod at lakes as close as a 15-minute scramble up the hill. On the way down from here, I will pull off and fish Ellery Lake by the dam where I have had some incredible days on stocked rainbows. Admittedly, I’ve had some skunkers too, but it’s right there; I have to do it. After lunch at the Whoa Nellie Deli in Lee Vining, I’ll regroup at base camp
in Mammoth and head out to an easy spot like the ones listed for Day 1 or 2.

Mountain trail

If you drove to Saddlebag Lake around Lee Vining, it’s a short hike from there to this spectacular fishing hole, Greenstone Lake. (MIKE STEVENS)

DAY 3
Vive la backcountry! Saddlebag Lake is a long day, but it’s pretty relaxing since the water taxi does most of the work, so I’m fully acclimated to altitude with fresh legs on Day 3. It’s time to put on some miles, and for me that usually means my favorite backcountry vein, the Duck Pass Trail.

With a trailhead near the back of Lake Mary, this trail brings me to Lakes Arrowhead, Skelton and Barney, in that order. Arrowhead gets passed up by most trail anglers, but it’s full of brook trout and a few Kamloop rainbows to make things exciting.

Skelton is a big lake as hike-in waters go, and sometimes fishing is so good there I don’t go any further. Barney, about 3½ miles in, always produces brookies. If I come back having caught any less than 25 fish up there, I’m a little bummed.

The base camp regroup usually happens around 3 p.m after this one, and it usually involves a stop at Mammoth Brewing and a nap, but again, a close and easy outing is still on the table that evening.
DAY 4
This is either a hard backcountry day, or my newest addition, a day spent working the San Joaquin River. I explored this area in pretty good detail last year, and I actually feel kind of lame for the fact that it took this long to do so.

I pick up the shuttle up near the ski resort that takes visitors to attractions like Devils Postpile, Reds Meadow, Rainbow Falls, and a couple of small lakes and cool campgrounds. Tying all this together is the San Joaquin River, which offers a legit shot at a Sierra grand slam – four species in one day – and good fishing on lures or flies.

I jump off the shuttle at the furthest upstream access point to the river, and work my way down. Walking along the river is easy My after-dinner runs are a biggie. After dinner each evening, I will head up to the Mammoth Lakes Basin and fish until dark. I’ll start at Twin Lakes and work my way up, sometimes spending as little as 20 minutes at a spot before moving on if I don’t like the way things look. Almost without fail, one of these lakes is going to produce a handful of fish, or even wide-open action. I like to end up at Lake Mary, because by 7 p.m., people have packed up and left and trout start visibly feeding very close to shore, all over the lake. I’ve had ridiculous fishing tossing Sierra Slammers jigs up to 9 p.m. – even if I’m wearing a headlamp, they’re still biting in the dark. I have also smoked them on long casts with a fly-and-bubble rig, or closer to shore with the fly rod. There are also times when I will get a feeling to check out a spot, earning it a hit on the following year’s seven-day rotation. That’s how I found Ellery Lake, and it’s also why Convict Lake is back on the radar after I gave up on it after a couple bad trips there over a decade ago. Stuff like this can occur at any time. While I’m based in Mammoth, if I get a tip, want to mix up the venue or, in some cases, get chased off the mountain by inclement weather (it takes a lot, but it has happened), I will head down to fish Bishop Creek Canyon. Both forks of the creek and North Lake have always been good to me; it’s just too far out of my zone for me to include it on the annual game plan. –MSthrough campgrounds and along roads, but it gets to where you need to scramble up a hill to get over an obstacle. There is some bushwacking to get to fishy-looking places, some wet wading, sliding down rocks and so on. So even though it’s all downhill once you get to the bottom, you can jump on the shuttle for a ride back up; it can beat you up. It’s a full day down there, and at the end your legs are tired and scraped up, but it’s a great area to fish and well worth it.
DAY 5
Ah, the lazy day. After trekking uphill on the Duck Pass trail and getting beat up by rocks, sticks and exposure along the San Joaquin, sleeping in one day doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world.

Granted, I’m not talking about the Vegas bachelor party sense of sleeping in, but I think I deserve the right to stay in the rack until 7 or so, have breakfast, and get back in the game by 8, or, dare I say, 9 a.m.

At that point, where I fish is wide open. It might be the Owens again or a short roadie to the June Lake Loop to fish Rush Creek or a lake; or it could be a longer jaunt to Virginia Lakes. I might be a whim to check an area I’m unfamiliar with, but the one activity I am not doing is hiking.

DAY 6
It could be a up a new trail, or back up one I went up earlier in the week like Duck Pass if it was awesome, or really, any spot that stood out as damn close to a sure thing when it comes to fishing success. Wherever I go, it will be knowing that the end of the trip is near, and I am going to fish hard all day, no matter what. Good fishing can really throw a curveball into the game plan at any time, but that’s a good thing.

A few years ago, I fished Convict Lake four different days because it was so stupid-good. The following year, I fished for an hour and that
was it. As structured and OCD as my attack plan is, it does allow for calling audibles to go where fishing’s good.
DAY 7
The easiest decision of all is where to go on the last full fishing day of the trip – the spot where I killed it. Day 7 has been Saddlebag Lake for me so often that it’s the main reason why I know I’m going to hit it early in the week, because I want to make sure going there twice is a possibility.

In rare cases, it’s been another day hike – for instance, if I caught 50 at Skelton or something. In years where I have had about the same success rate wherever I went, I might end up at the Owens one more time because of the numbers and quality factor. But at this point, I’m not only fishing and hoping that I’m about to eclipse the 100-fish mark, I’m reflecting on the whole trip and trying to determine what adjustments can be made to this seven-day madness next time. CSFisherman at the lake