All posts by Chris Cocoles

Yarnies made easy: how to make one of the most productive steelhead baits

By Larry Ellis

Glo Bug yarn – check. Miracle Thread – check. Mustache scissors – check. PEX tubing – check.

That’s all the materials an angler needs to make a yarn ball, one of the most effective lures for drift-fishing and side-drifting. And with January being a prime steelhead month, you’re definitely going to want to carry a couple dozen of these killer attractants with you.

With new no-bait restrictions cropping across the West Coast up these days, people never know when/if their home river is going to be the next stream to be listed in the no-bait zone. But that shouldn’t deter steelheaders from fishing. Yarn balls, or “yarnies” as they are commonly called, are nothing less than fish magnets.

Many guides I know in Oregon and California tell me that if push came to shove, they could actually leave their roe at home and become Mr. Yarn Ball if they so desired.

Why not join them?

One Oregon and California guide, Troy Whittaker of Troy’s Guide Service (541-761-0015), originally got me hooked into making yarnies. We were fishing the Chetco River in southern Oregon one winter, using small yarn balls, about the size of a nickel. In the front of his drift boat were places for people to put their coffee cups. Troy put plastic cups filled with Pautzke Nectar in these spots, where we would dip our yarn balls before making our casts. We caught steelhead pretty much all day on these things.

Throughout the day, I did notice one yarn ball in particular that was larger than the rest – much larger. It was almost the size of a 50-cent piece. I almost laughed at the prospect of a yarnie this size hooking a steelhead. On the last drift of the day, Troy asked me to slip that bad boy in my egg loop.

The river was leaf-stained, so there was debris occasionally floating down the river. At one point during the drift, I thought I snagged a tree. It turned out to be a huge steelhead, and although I never got this one in the net, it looked like it was definitely pushing the upper teens. I’ve been a yarn ball addict ever since.

Why yarnies: It only takes about a minute to make one of these things once you get the knack of it, and you can make them any size you wish.

You can also try various color combinations. I like to use five strands of the cheese-colored yarn and place an orange strand in the middle. I’ve named this one “fried egg” because that’s exactly what it looks like, a yellow ball with an orange center.

One thing that I will do is to save the juice from my Pautzke Borx O’ Fire-cured roe and dip the yarn ball in this concoction before making a cast, but you don’t need any scent at all in order to hook up with a scrappy steelhead.

Once they’ve committed themselves to biting this very soft offering, the yarn usually gets caught in their teeth, making it very difficult for them to spit the yarnies out.

And don’t worry if you don’t get these things perfectly concentric. Even the worst yarn ball will catch steelhead – scented or nonscented.


STEP 1: Step 1: Troy uses a short piece of PEX 3?8-inch tubing to make quick-and-easy yarnies. Just lay out five strands of Glo Bug yarn in your favorite color. Insert a doubled-over piece of 40-pound monofilament through the tubing to grab your yarn. Insert the ganglion of yarn strands inside the loop and then pull the strands through the end of the tubing. Laying out yarn in this manner allows you to pull the strands out evenly, and there is very little waste after you’re finished.














STEP 2: Trim the ends of the yarn evenly with a pair of scissors and pull the yarn clusters about 1?4 inch through the end of the tubing. STEP 3: Now take a piece of Miracle Thread and wrap four times around the yarn strands, making sure that you wrap as close to the PEX as possible. STEP 4: Now pull the strands out another 1?4 inch and while stretching the thread at its maximum, throw an additional 10 wraps around the previous four wraps. Pull the thread until it breaks. You don’t have to make any fancy knots – the thread adheres to itself. Maybe that’s why they call this stuff Miracle Thread?
















STEP 5: Now pull the strands out a little more and then make a cut on the opposite side of the wraps to sever the strands, making sure that both sides are of equal length. Your yarn ball is nearing its completion.














STEP 6: You’ll now have a 1?2-inch piece of material to work with. Double over the strands and pinch them between your thumb and middle finger.













STEP 7: Trim the exposed sections into a half-moon shape.













STEP 8: When you’re done doing this, roll the piece of yarn around in the palms of your hands and your yarn ball will take its spherical shape. If you’re fussy, like most steelheaders, you can now trim the yarn ball even more, and fluff the yarn ball by pulling on the individual strands.


Fluorocarbon leaders provide a “happy medium” for wahoo anglers

By Steve Carson

More long range anglers are opting for fluorocarbon leaders when fishing for wahoo. (Steve Carson)

SAN DIEGO – A possibly excellent solution to a long-running conundrum for anglers throwing iron jigs for wahoo is emerging this season. The choice for anglers targeting these sharp-toothed beasts has long been to use a wire leader and hope that the wahoo will not be spooked by it, or to use straight monofilament, and hope that the fish don’t bite you off.

It often seemed like the most productive rigging was whichever one you did not have tied on, but switching back and forth was frustrating.

A reasonable solution: Although not perfect, it looks like a 3-foot piece of 120-pound fluorocarbon leader material attached to the main line via a size 6 (163-pound test) Owner Dark Wahoo ring creates the “happy medium” that can maximize your wahoo catch rate. The invisible fluorocarbon definitely gets more bites from skittish wahoo than even 40-pound-test wire, and the heavy fluoro is reasonably resistant to bite-offs when used with iron jigs in the 6- to 12-inch range like the 5-ounce Williamson Benthos Jig.

You will still lose jigs to the wahoo’s razor-sharp dentures, but fewer than you would with the straight tied 40- or 50-pound monofilament that most anglers resort to when confronted with reluctant fish.

It should be noted that the heavy fluoro does not work at all with wahoo bombs, and experimentation is still ongoing in the area of live bait leaders.

The right mainline: The second part of the wahoo puzzle solution revolves around use of straight superbraid line attached directly to a 3-foot fluoro (or wire) leader for all jig and bomb casting at wahoo. The use of the non-stretchy 65- or 80-pound superbraid, and drag set snugly at 20 to 22 pounds will drive the hook solidly into the wahoo’s iron jaw in a way that even 60-pound mono just can’t do.

Caution is necessary when casting with straight braid for a number of reasons; most obvious is that getting a backlash with a spool full of superbraid is a true nightmare. Super-long casts are not needed, so take it easy.

Another thing to remember is to never make a cast with dry line, or you may end up with a severely burned thumb. Some of the silicone-based commercial line sprays like Line Tamer can be helpful as well. Last, when the wahoo is ripping line off your reel on its trademark 50 mph runs, don’t let yourself or others come into contact with the braid, as it can cut like a knife.

New Franchi Instinct SL over & under is “above & beyond”

September is not that far off for hunters, and one can safely bet that California Sportsman’s Brian Lull is already chomping at the bit to get back out there for some wingshooting.

The magnet for this is a Franchi 20-gauge over-and-under shotgun, the Instinct SL, with which we opened the 2012 grouse season rather successfully. He likes the gun so much he bought it, which says everything there is to say about a firearm.

When you find a “keeper,” keep it.

That stack barrel impressed me too, and I am presently shopping for a similar model, which may shock my friends, who know I’m a devoted side-by-side, double-trigger aficionado.

Why write about a shotgun for bird hunting now, in the dead of winter, when the season is months away? Because right now is the time for someone to be buying a new gun. Set aside some of that IRS refund. Give yourself a reward, and a bit of a head start. Getting a new gun now gives someone plenty of time to work out any kinks, and get used to the trigger, how it patterns with different choke tubes, and how it shoulders.

A ‘marvelous arm’: The Franchi Instinct SL in 20-gauge is a marvelous shotgun that can tackle anything from quail to ducks, as Lull found out this past fall. After a deer-hunting sojourn to Montana, he was rather busy bringing law and order to anything he could shoot with the Franchi, and that covers a lot of ground.

Fitted with 26-inch vent rib barrels (28-inchers are also available) the Instinct SL now in Lull’s possession came with three extended choke tubes in full, modified and improved cylinder that may be screwed in by hand and tightened with a wrench.

Additional chokes are available in cylinder, improved modified, skeet 1, skeet 2 and extra full. The front ends of the chokes project from the muzzles about an inch.

My own 20-gauge shotgun is a Stoeger S/S with fixed chokes in full and modified, and double triggers. It’s killed some fat grouse and will doubtless see more action. I also tried out a rather pricey test gun, also an O/U, from Fabrica Armi Isidoro Rizzini, but have my sights set on a Franchi O/U and I’m getting that gun as soon as possible, for the reasons stated earlier.

Even if you plunk down money on a new pump or semi-auto, the months between now and hunting season can be put to very good use. Trips to the range, a round of clays, some spring turkey hunting; it all contributes to long-term success, which translates to meat in the cooler and many fine meals.

Weighing 5.3 pounds, the Franchi Instinct SL is marketed by Benelli USA. That’s the same outfit responsible for bringing Stoeger shotguns into the country, so by setting aside some cash for a Franchi, I’ll be “keeping it in the family,” as it were.

One of these days, hopefully far over the horizon, I’m going to slow down a bit on my writing chores and devote more time to hunting grouse. I have a marvelous vintage Beretta S/S 12-gauge with fixed modified and full chokes in the gun safe, and a Stoeger .410 with fixed full chokes on both barrels that is a proven grouse gun, but you can never have enough good shotguns. CS

By Dave Workman
Editor’s note: The author is a veteran West Coast gun writer and reviewer.

‘New water’ benefits Santa Ana River Lakes trout anglers

By Joel Shangle

Monster trout like this have been regularly stocked since the November opener at Santa Ana River Lakes. (Photo courtesy

ANAHEIM–It might sound like an oxymoron to describe the water conditions at a stocked lake system just off the Riverside Freeway in Anaheim as “natural,” but you could get away with it in the case of Santa Ana River Lakes. Check that. Make that the “newly improved” Santa Ana River Lakes.

To the veteran SARL trout angler – and there are thousands spread throughout the L.A. metro area – last summer’s shutdown of the three-lake, pay-to-play lake system on La Palma Boulevard probably seemed like business as usual. All of SARL’s business (and stocked fish) was transferred to neighboring Anaheim Lakes for the season and the “under construction” signs came out.

Nothing new, this.

“We’ve had to move out every three or four years in the past to replenish the underground aquifer,” says SARL owner Craig Elliott. “The silt would back up and plug up the drainage, so we’d have to go in and ‘break the crust’ and scrape the lake bottom to clear it all out. It wasn’t a big, new deal that we closed up for the summer and moved everything over to Anaheim Lakes because we’ve done it before.”

Ah, but this summer closing was different. Not only was the goop scooped off the bottom of all three lakes (Big, Small and Catfish), but a new drainage/water-movement system was installed. That new series of pipelines will now transfer “settling water” near the bottom out of the lake, which replenishes the entire system and makes the habitat much more friendly to SARL’s stocked trout.

“The neat thing about it this construction work they did and the re-channeling of flow through these huge, huge pipes at bottom of the lakes has completely changed the flow of the water and made the fishing at Santa Ana River Lakes phenomenal,” Elliott says. “Unlike in the past, where the only water that flowed out of the lake was up near the surface, now the first water purge out is the stuff at the bottom. The fresh water flows in, it sinks to the bottom, and then it’s automatically purged. That old stagnant water was where the fish weren’t. This fishery is now replenished on a constant basis.”

The improvements to the fishery were apparent immediately when SARL reopened in early November.

“Santa Ana had possibly the best opener ever,” Elliott says matter-of-factly. “Lots of big, beautiful fish and plenty of action for almost everybody.”


SARL's new drainage system will translate into better conditions for the fish, and better action throughout the lake for local anglers. (Photo courtesy

Ridding the lake of ‘hot spots’: In previous years, a handful of locations (Sandy Beach, etc.) would inevitably produce the majority of the action at SARL because those areas held the most trout-friendly, oxygenated water. The improved movement of water through the new 8-foot drainage pipes virtually eliminates those hot spots and spreads the bite over more of the system.

“Fish were always looking for the best water, and they’d almost always search out these hot spots and just stay there,” Elliott says. “With overall better water, it changes everything. Those three or four hot spots are still good places to fish, but there are so many other areas that you’ll find fish in now.”

Back to the old school: Back in the heat of the “Trout Wars” days, metro L.A.’s handful of pay-to-play trout spots would all take pride in sheer poundage, and would publish stocking numbers as a means to attract anglers to their location. Elliott has peeled away from the Trout Wars mentality and now says simply: “People catch more big trout out of our lakes than the entire state of California. We’re still stocking a lot of big fish, but along with that we’re putting a lot of catchable size fish in, too. You still have the quantity to catch limits, and, man, jackpot fish over 10 pounds, up to 20 and maybe even larger. The biggest so far was around 18, and we’ve had a lot of 13- to 17-pounders.”

The bottom line is that there’s plenty of trout and catfish biomass to go around.

“We’re probably the largest buyer of trout and catfish in the nation,” Elliott says. “For both the quantity and size of trout, nobody stocks as much, anywhere.”

The family’s fish lineup: SARL and its sister lakes, Corona Lake and Anaheim Lake, are stocked with fish from Mount Lassen Trout Farm. Mount Lassen fish wizard Phil Mackey’s “Sierra ’Bows”, which were developed specifically for SARL, are raised in earthen ponds near Payne Creek, in rural Lassen County, which makes them about as close to a natural trout as possible.

“There are no concrete runways there – they’re raised where the bears could come scoop them up,” Elliott says of the Mount Lassen facilities. “These are farm ponds out in the pine trees and snow. That’s why they have such beautiful fins and tails. They’re absolutely gorgeous fish with pink meat.”

Corona Lake also stocks Mount Lassen’s “Lightning Trout,” which are a cross-bred strain with a recessive color gene. The fish, which are stocked in limited supply whenever they’re available, are orange-skinned with a bright crimson stripe down the side, and blood-red meat.

Pay attention, Golden State hunters and shooters …

It’s been roughly two months since the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary – a very anxious, fractious, sobering two months.

Because of print deadlines and the holiday schedule, the January issue of California Sportsman required a super-quick Editor’s Note that I cranked off without really having an opportunity to chime in as the Second Amendment debates began to flare.  That’s probably a good thing, because as was evident in that last Note, my reaction would’ve likely been over-reactionary and pretty well flavored with emotion.

Somewhat cooler heads now prevail, and it’s time to take an honest, logical, productive look at the layers that surround this most personal of issues.

Clearly, this is not a black-and-white discussion, and not one that will be played out quietly. The President has put into motion a $500 million proposal that’s been hailed as “the most sweeping effort at gun control policy reform in a generation.” This in addition to more than 20 executive actions aimed at sturdier background checks, mental health guidelines and gun safety as a whole.

This is a matter that will occupy discussion at the highest levels of government for months to come.

Pay attention! It’s absolutely critical that it’s given adequate time and care by American gun owners, all of whom should be prepared to join the debate. They also should be prepared to filter through an avalanche of media misinformation about gun violence – one of the most popular online news sites identified grenade launchers as gear available for purchase at SHOT in Las Vegas! – and to help their friends and neighbors do the same.

We exist in a state with rigorous, unique gun control statutes, and in an environment where the Second Amendment is under siege almost constantly (Google “Barbara Boxer on gun control” for some … eh … interesting reading).

Whether you lean slightly right or slightly left, become a frequent surfer to the NRA website ( and to other sites like the Gun Owners of California (, and Be aware of the issues and of the tone of conversations about gun safety and Second Amendment restrictions

If you have additional resources that you’d like to share with Golden State hunters and gun owners, drop me a line at

Tiffany Haugen’s cornmeal-crusted, pepper jelly-stuffed trout

By Tiffany Haugen /

Trout is a mild, versatile fish that’s available in many fisheries year-round throughout California. We enjoy trout in many forms, be it on a plank, campfire, grill, smoker or fried crispy in a cast-iron skillet – trout is on the menu in the Haugen household several times a month.

Because trout isn’t a strong fish, stuffing the cavity adds flavor and variety. The possibilities are endless. I usually grab whatever I have on hand such as fresh herbs, leftover rice pilaf (or in this case, cream cheese and pepper jelly).


6 to 8 trout
1 8-ounce brick cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup pepper jelly (purchased or homemade, link below)
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter

-Clean fish, removing heads and tails if desired.
– In a shallow dish or pie pan, mix cornmeal, flour and spices.
-Stuff each trout with 1 to 2 tablespoons cream cheese and 1 tablespoon pepper jelly. Close cavity and roll trout in cornmeal mixture.
-Heat a griddle or large skillet on medium-high heat. Melt butter and add olive oil to pan.  Fry fish three to five minutes, turn heat to medium and carefully turn fish over.
-Cook an additional three to give minutes or until fish tests done.

NOTE: For my pepper jelly recipe, go to HERE.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tiffany Haugen is an author, recipe developer and lifetime fish/game cook. To order signed copies of Tiffany book, “Grill It! Plank It! Wrap It! Smoke It!” go to or send a check for $19.95 (free S&H) to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489

Explore small-stream options if Russian is out of steelheading shape this month

By Paul LeFebvre

It’s a safe bet to say the Russian River has more fish than any other stream in this vicinity of California. It also has a large hatchery fish run so two fish can be kept.  However, for the angler who is willing to travel a bit, doesn’t necessarily care if he/she keeps a fish, then there are steelhead fishing opportunities that exist nearby when the Russian is out of shape.

Hard core steelhead anglers frequent the coastal area of Sonoma and Mendocino counties that have smaller, undammed streams that clear rapidly after a winter storm.  Timing is critical on these little streams, though, as they can quickly drop to low and clear levels making fishing extremely tough.

After January, and late in the season, these smaller streams like the Gualala River and Ten Mile River can house tackle-busting wild steelhead with size that rivals the Russian. These smaller streams are a challenge to wade, but if you are willing to hike in to a spot you can sometimes catch steelhead that are so hot they will take you several riffles to land (if you can land them).

These smaller streams are a drift-fishing delight, but bring plenty of leaders with you as there are plenty of logs, fallen trees, and brushy areas that will test an angler’s casting skill to the maximum. Private property can be an issue with these streams, so check to see that you are on public lands, or ask permission, before fishing.

Latest from the long range grounds: Royal Polaris scores seven cows, good times for Interpid, Excel

Filed by Bill Roecker –

SAN DIEGO – Here’s the latest from the San Diego long range fleet:

Getting the job done aboard the Royal Star, long-range veteran Art Nolen with a nice yellowtail. (Photo courtesy Royal Star)

Five Over Off The Mainland: “Our day started out similar to yesterday with a little bit of action on smaller grade tuna up to 50 pounds,” recalled Excel skipper Justin Fleck January 27. “We decided to move on from that area in search of bigger fish. Late in the day there were a few bird schools around with some good grade tuna crashing underneath. We picked off ten fish from 140 to 250 pounds, with five cows. Phillip Bruce was first to hook up with his biggest tuna ever at 225 pounds. Next was Max Dallorso with a 237. Then Nonon Alvarez got a 209. David Christopher one at 210. And the final cow was caught by Scott McCall; a chunky 251. Overall I’d have to say this is tough fishing but there is definitely a chance for a trophy here.”

“Good Times!”: Intrepid’s entry for January 27 reads, “Another good day of fishing here, as we boated another 51 fish today. We had one to three going almost the whole day with the exception of a lunchtime lull. There were 18 more nice Wahoo in the mix as well. Chef Mark Pariano fixed up some fresh Ahi Sushi for an afternoon snack, then backed it up with an incredible Wahoo dinner! We have three more days down here in the far reaches before we head up the line. We’ll see what the next couple of days bring before we make a move.”

All Nice: Red Rooster got a late report in January 28 that said, “26 tuna! All nice size fish! 2 fish over 200lbs, the majority of fish being 90 to 190pounds! The weather was absolutely fantastic. We are out here at the (Hurricane) Bank, we will spend about half the day here, then go out to the island, and give that a go.”

Seven-Cow Day: Frank LoPreste spoke with his crew aboard Royal Polaris about fishing January 26.

“The Jerry Brown 18-day, 18-passenger group continues to have outstanding fishing: 23 yellowfin tuna were put aboard yesterday, with many 100 to 130-pounders released. There were seven fish over 200 pounds: Joe Amagrande 231, Jim Nailen 227, Robert De Loach 215, Joe Cruz 219, Jim Tallerico 215, Richard Keely 233, Dan Gaudy 203. The center hold is absolutely packed and today they will start on R.S.W. fish. On all Jerry Brown spectra trips there are a multitude of cash prizes that the group can receive throughout the trip plus many, many other gifts. We are quite privileged to have Line One Spectra as a sponsor.”

Premium Scratch: “Steady scratching on premium quality today in fine working conditions,” wrote Royal Star skipper Tim Ekstrom January 26, “a welcome change enjoyed by all. Fishing conditions themselves were not so easy, and incredibly unpredictable, but it did not seem to matter much to the only ones in that equation who count, the tuna. Satisfied with the pace and quality we forge into day five with a building sense of satisfaction, and relief. If this fishing holds we’ll be in fantastic shape sooner than later. Photo for the day features Royal Star veteran Art Nolen, who matched his personal best with this stocky 240-pounder landed mid-morning on the chunk.”

Bundle up for limits of trout this month at Topaz Lake

Topaz Lake’s trout season opened Jan. 1 and runs through Sept. 30. And like Lake Tahoe to the north, since Topaz straddles the border, California anglers won’t have to wait until the traditional late April trout opener to catch Topaz’s nice supply of rainbows.

Just dress warm for the occasion.

By Chris Cocoles

TOPAZ LAKE – There’s really no other way to put it: It’s not warm and toasty at Topaz Lake this time of year. The fish, though, don’t seem to mind.

“Sometimes it’s just miserable out there (in January),” says Liz Weirauch of The Angler’s Edge in Gardnerville, Nev. (775-782-4734; “You’ll go out there, set your rods up and run back to your car and watch. But they put tens of thousands of fish in Topaz just as soon as it closes in October. They stock the crap out of that lake with everything from fingerlings all the way up.”

Quality fish like these on display at Topaz Lodge are part of the attraction of Topaz Lake in the dead of winter.

Weirauch wasn’t sure the last time California Department of Fish and Game made a plant at Topaz, but the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s stocking more than compensates. Just before the New Year’s opener, Topaz also received a stocking of Mount Whitney Strain rainbow trout from Jim O’Banion’s trout farm in Wellington, Nev.

“They are gorgeous fish, bright sides and heavy shoulders that just fight like a son-of-a-gun,” Weirauch says of the Mount Whitney trout.

The Angler’s Edge specializes in fly fishing, Weirauch said fly anglers usually doesn’t make appearances at Topaz until April or so, partly for the cold weather.

Bait fishing can be very effective from the shore here. Simply casting a weight with an inflated worm or with a marshmallow attached to the hook about 6 inches above so it stays off the bottom works well if you don’t have a boat to troll with.

But fly anglers when they do go out tend to use float tubes at the south end of the lake. Purple buggers and midges are a popular choice. Weirauch also said anglers are not permitted on the California side of the West Walker River diversion canal that feeds into the lake. But the outlet canal on the Nevada side is open all year-around. Both California and Nevada fishing licenses will work on Topaz.

Topaz Lodge (; 800-962-0732) will host the lake’s annual fishing derby from Jan. 1 to April 14.

PROS/JOES: Dial in your electronics to become a better winter bass angler

Technology has changed the game of bass fishing forever. Period.

If $500 nanosilica rods, $360 magnesium reels and $30 vacuum-metalized, 3D-etched baits aren’t proof enough that the catching of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bath has advanced to a level of science that would confound Mr. Spock (the Vulcan, not the child psychologist), take a peek at the 9- and 12-inch sonar/GPS screens that are now adorning bass boats across the country.

Thanks to manufacturers like Lowrance and Humminbird, your on-board electronics can now tell you where you are in the world down to a few inches, shuffle your iTunes playlist, draw you a picture of a rusted-out car body that you used to think was a brush pile at the bottom of your local bass lake, and serve you a salami sandwich.

Maybe not the sandwich. But everything else on the list above (courtesy of GPS mapping, Sonic Hub, StructureScan and Side Imaging), is now part of the well-equipped bass angler’s electronics cluster. And all of that gadgetry and science can translate into one thing: your on-board computer systems can help you catch more fish.

Oh, how times have changed.

“Years ago when I put my first boat together, I had probably $1,200 worth of electronics total,” says Kent Brown of Ultimate Bass Radio in Sacramento ( “This year’s boat when it’s all together, it’s upwards of $5,000 of electronics, which is about half of what I paid for my first bass boat. Electronics have become a really, really big part of your boat, but there’s a reason for it. It just cuts the learning curve so much, it’s incredible. Simple as that.”

Brown is a shining example of the evolution of the modern-day bass fiend, and the necessary adaptation to/use of technology. While he still uses old-school Lowrance buoys to help mark his spots when he’s fishing deep structure, he’s also about as well-versed on the tweaking and functionality of the electronics on his new Triton as anybody in the West. He’s gone from paper and pencil notes to punch-of-the-button information storage, and he’s a better angler for it.

“Dude, I learned to run the Delta with a map folded between my legs,” he says. “That’s how all of us old farts learned it. Now, the GPS will give you a topographical reading – a perfect map of the Delta – tell you exactly where you are, tell you whether the tide is coming in or going out, how much it’s going to move that day. It’s all right there with the touch of a button. You’re getting information that you had to scratch for years to learn back in the day, and it’s making you a better angler, if you’re using it right. We have a distinct advantage that we’ve never had before. It’s not cheating, either: you still have to get the fish to bite.”

Seeing what’s down there: The best example of how profoundly a good set of electronics can influence your fish-finding ability crept up on Brown one afternoon as he was idling across a channel at his home lake, Folsom Lake near Sacramento. It’s a body of water that he’s been on hundreds upon hundreds of times and knows like his own back yard, but one cruise over a spot with a new array of Lowrance HDS electronics completely changed the way he’ll fish a certain area from now on.

“I was idling over a channel, talking on my cell phone and happened to look down at my screen the first year I had StructureScan,” Brown recounts. “I found an area that’s about 150, maybe 200 yards long where there’s a stretch of trees still standing in the main channel, about 60 feet down. When they cut the trees to make the reservoir, they just left those trees down there. I had no idea they were even there and I’ve been over that spot 500 times, but StructureScan drew me an absolutely perfect picture of what was down there. My first drag through there with a purple rubber worm and a jig, I caught one 5 pounds.”

Your first step: take your units out of automatic mode and ditch the basic, video-gamey fish-finder setting. Brown cranks the sensitivity as high as he can.

“I want to see everything that’s down there,” he says. “If I’m pre-fishing or on a new lake – of if I’m deep-structure fishing on Oroville or Shasta and I just want to see that darterhead working down there – I can pick up stuff that I couldn’t see otherwise.”

Finding new territory: Topographical mapping features are a godsend when fishing a new lake. SideScan and the like are fantastic detail-providers once you’ve identified a piece of structure, but smart use of a topo map is the first step in actually finding potentially fishy new areas.

“Once you understand how to read those maps – you know, the lines running real close together are a sharp break, the long lines represent a flat tapered area – it gives you the structure, and lets you expand on stuff you’re already fishing,” Brown says. “If you usually fish the end of a point, a topographical map might sow you that there’s really an even steeper break 75 yards away.”
Stay on your spots: While old-school sight triangulation and reading what your sonar is telling you are still functional ways to find your way back to your favorite ledge, brushpile or submerged roadbed, the simple touch of a button saves you time untold.

“When you find that rockpile, ledge or break that has fish on it, it’s ‘beep’ and it’s stored forever as a waypoint,” Brown ways. “The ability to store a waypoint it just awesome. You can leave a spot and go back 10 years from now, and be literally 3 feet from it.”