All posts by Sam Morstan

Piranha Of The Surf

Small but Feisty, Barred Surf Perch provide great Fishing action on the California coast

By Tim E. Hovey

The end of February is transition time around the Hovey home. Hunting season is winding down, school breaks are over and a seasonal change is in the air.

While the largest ones can reach 2 pounds, the average barred surf perch weighs about a pound and can be a challenge on light tackle. (TIM E. HOVEY)

While the largest ones can reach 2 pounds, the average barred surf perch weighs about a pound and can be a challenge on light tackle. (TIM E. HOVEY)

As the days get longer, I start dusting off the fishing rods and think about walking the beach and casting the shore. My grandfather taught me to fish when I was about 5, and from then on, whenever my family was around water, I wanted to know what was swimming below the surface. I gradually accumulated better gear and more experience and started fishing every chance I got.
As a boy, I’d spend summers down at the beach, fishing from the pier and the shore. When eating fish were caught, I’d string them up, load them up in my backpack and ride my bike home. With some help from my mom, we’d fillet up the catch and she’d cook them for

While spinning gear works fine for casting for perch, Tim Hovey prefers a baitcasting setup. The way the line comes out of the reel and over his fingers provides a good feel for what’s going on with his bait. (TIM E. HOVEY)

While spinning gear works fine for casting for perch, Tim Hovey prefers a baitcasting setup. The way the line comes out of the reel and over his fingers provides a good feel for what’s going on with his bait. (TIM E. HOVEY)

dinner. I can still remember feeling an immense amount of pride at being able to bring home food for my family with little more than a cheap rod and fresh bait I’d peel from the rocks down at the surf.
When I had kids of my own, I made sure I exposed them to the thrills and the bounty available to anyone willing to catch some bait and toss a line down at the  beach. Probably one of my biggest thrills was watching  my daughters’ faces as they caught their first fish in the surf and learned how to fish down by the shore.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of fishing in some amazing places. I’ve chased dorado in Baja, big game fish in the open ocean, monster kelp bass in the near shore kelp beds and freshwater species from trout to catfish. If it swims and can be caught, I’ve tried to catch it.
Of all the different types of fishing available to a Western angler, one of my favorite things to do is to walk the shores and  cast into the waves for barred  surf perch. I have been walking the Southern California beaches for over 40 years, and to me, nothing is more relaxing.

HIT THE SAND 

The key to catching surf perch is working areas of rough bottom during tidal movements. Waves and current push fish forage out of the rocks and sand. (TIM E. HOVEY)

The key to catching surf perch is working areas of rough bottom during tidal movements. Waves and current push fish forage out of the rocks and sand. (TIM E. HOVEY)

The beaches I fish are a few steps from where you can park and, except for the drive, a quick perch session is only a cast away. As long as the tide is moving, I’ll walk the beach and try my luck. During this time of year, fishing gear and a rod are always in the back of my truck.
Using a simple Carolina rig applied with sand crabs, plastic  grubs or a Berkley bait, I’ll search the shore for what I call watery chaos. I like to fish in areas where the waves are disruptive and not uniform, places where the structure of the beach or submerged rocks agitate the water, churning up the sand. In these disturbed spots, the surf will kick up all sorts of food items, which attracts fish.
When I find these target areas, I’ll figure out what the surf is doing and cast into the moving water, so that the wave action washes my bait into the agitation zone. Bites can be quick and aggressive, so maintaining a tight line is important.
While this type of fishing lends itself to spinning gear, I love my baitcasters. Understanding what’s happening at the end of your line is the key to catching any fish, and I find I can do this more successfully with my bait-cast reel using a technique I learned long ago.

Grab your gear and find a quiet spot along the beach; there’s a good chance surf perch will be a short cast from your spot. (TIM E. HOVEY)

Grab your gear and find a quiet spot along the beach; there’s a good chance surf perch will be a short cast from your spot. (TIM E. HOVEY)

Holding the rod just above the reel with my left hand,  I run the line under my thumb and over my index finger. This gives me a direct connection with anything occurring at the end of the line.
Some species of fish will inhale a lure or bait, and then quickly spit it out before the hook is set. Using this method, I’m actually able to feel subtle changes in the bait action, in my opinion, allowing me to catch more fish.

FROM SURF TO SKILLET
Barred surf perch are feisty fish, and large ones can weigh a couple of pounds. During a peak bite, the average fish are about a pound and can be a challenge on light tackle. They are abundant, and if you can find where they’re gathered, the action can be consistent.

Jessica Hovey holds a nice surf perch. Catch-and-release anglers can have a blast when these fish are in the mood to bite. (TIM E. HOVEY)

Jessica Hovey holds a nice surf perch. Catch-and-release anglers can have a blast when these fish are in the mood to bite. (TIM E. HOVEY)

Surf perch are members of the Embioticidae family, which means they give birth to live young. During the spring and summer, it isn’t unusual to catch a very pregnant female – its swollen belly may hold as many as 20 little fish.
While I really enjoy catching my family’s dinner at the shore, I have a couple of self-imposed rules about what I bring home when targeting barred surf perch.
A majority of the time I release everything I catch when I fish down at the shore. However, I still love eating fish, and on occasion, I’ll save a few larger perch for the frying pan. These fish have a white, tender flesh that is perfect for frying or baking.
When I’m catching perch for dinner, I only take the  males or larger females that have already birthed their young. If there’s any question about whether the fish is pregnant or not, it gets released.
I also take only what my family and I will eat that day (six will provide a meal for a family of four). I never freeze fillets or bring home more than I need. My favorite way to cook them is to dip the

This is the reward after a day of catching barred surf perch along the coast. They may be rather small but they are delicious to eat. (TIM E. HOVEY)

This is the reward after a day of catching barred surf perch along the coast. They may be rather small but they are delicious to eat. (TIM E. HOVEY)

fillets in egg and then lightly roll them in flour. After a quick deep fry on both sides I serve them with fresh lemon slices and tarter sauce.
As I get older, I find that I fish for far different reasons  now than when I was younger. For the first half of my  life, fishing of any sort was my passion, bordering on an obsession. I’d plan trips all over and pursue any species that was worth catching.
Now, I fish for peace and quiet. When I sort through the tackle and grab a rod, I begin to relax. At the beach, any stress melts away in the pursuit of the feisty surf perch. When the season shifts to fishing, there’s no place I’d rather be than down at the shore, catching the piranha of the surf.

Opening Act Tough To Call

WHAT SHOULD YOU EXPECT NEXT MONTH FOR THE SIERRA TROUT OPENER? FIRST THINGS FIRST, CHECK THE WEATHER FORECAST, THEN GET SOME BAIT
By Mike Stevens

The best Eastern Sierra trout anglers are not always certain of what the conditions will be like on opening  day of the general trout season (April 30), but they are always aware of that uncertainty.
Last year it snowed and “blowed” on opening day. Two years ago, 8 inches of snow was predicted on the day prior, and 36 inches came crashing down. Three years ago it was so warm it may have well been the Fourth of July.

Convict Lake’s high elevation means the April 30 trout opener could be sunny and warm, but also maybe snowy like the last two years. No matter the weather, expect big crowds. (MIKE STEVENS)

Convict Lake’s high elevation means the April 30 trout opener could be sunny and warm, but also maybe snowy like the last two years. No matter the weather, expect big crowds. (MIKE STEVENS)

If that pattern – completely different weather in three consecutive openers – continues, I suppose all that’s left is pouring rain. While it’s impossible to predict even a week prior to that last Saturday in April, a wet “Fishmas” certainly is more possible this year than ever, thanks that that El Niño kid.
Of course, there is no science to suggest that would be the case, and it’s always a roll of the dice. But it would be funny if trouters were hit by something altogether different four years in a row.
The most successful opening-day trout anglers are ready for all of the above, and they adjust the game plan based on whatever Mother Nature throws at them.

PREPARE FOR THE WORST  
If it is actually snowing on opening day,  like last year, being prepared for a long  day of exposure should be priority number one. Once you are layered up from head to toe with plenty of chemical handwarmers (inexpensive lifesavers), a lot of how the day turns out is determined on what area of the Eastern Sierra you are targeting. For most attendees at the opener, this is known way ahead of time, so that really isn’t something that is going to change unless the conditions are insane, for most people anyway.

Crowley Lake gets probably the most fishing pressure for the trout opener, but there is still plenty of shoreline for “bank robbers” to pick a spot and net a trout on April 30. (MIKE STEVENS)

Crowley Lake gets probably the most fishing pressure for the trout opener, but there is still plenty of shoreline for “bank robbers” to pick a spot and net a trout on April 30. (MIKE STEVENS)

For those who fish creeks, they are usually productive regardless of the conditions. The water will be frigid, so bait presentations like split-shotted nightcrawlers, crickets or salmon eggs that can be accurately cast to fishy locations and then fished slowly are a great way to go. Plastics like minijigs, trout worms and plastic eggs, with or without scent added, can be fished the same way, and quite effectively. If you think of it as the ultralight, moving-water version of “flippin” for bass, you’re in the ballpark. This technique will actually work in all fishable creeks in late April.
The most popular moving-water location to fish on opening day is the confluence of the South and Middle Forks of Bishop Creek, and one semi-secret factoid about that spot -and actually the entire Bishop Creek Canyon, for that matter – is it lies  in Inyo County, where opening day starts at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday (and yes, there are people who bundle up, throw a headlamp on and fish that early in the morning). Convict Creek below Convict Lake and Rush Creek between Silver and Grant Lakes in the June Lake Loop are also popular opening-day creeks for anglers.
The miles of wide-open shoreline at Crowley Lake – which is likely statistically the most popular watershed  for the trout opener – mean plenty of shoreline for bank robbers to choose from, but it also means there is nary a tree shielding them from the elements. There is some shelter to be had in the coves around the Fish Camp at South Landing, especially in the easily accessed Whiskey Bay, where the bank is a good 20 feet lower than the parking area behind

it and down and out of the wind. There will be a lot of anglers down there, but there is always elbow room on the east side of the cove. If you need more space, make your way to the other coves toward the east end of the lake.
Boaters at Crowley tend to fish from larger craft than your average 15-foot rental boat, so flat-line or leadcore trolling with Tasmanian Devils, Owner Cultivas, Rapalas or Needlefish should never be pushed aside due to the elements. Just make sure your boat, and the amount of people in it, are capable of handling some weather.
Crowley Lake, as much as any of  the bigger lakes on the east side, can take the full blast of hard Eastern Sierra winds, and legitimate wind waves can form in bigger lakes.

Layered up for 2015’s whiteout opener, author Mike Stevens managed to bring in this Lake Mamie trout. If the fish aren’t biting at traditional locations due to weather conditions or whatever, anglers should keep an open mind about switching spots. (MIKE STEVENS)

Layered up for 2015’s whiteout opener, author
Mike Stevens managed to bring in this Lake Mamie trout. If the fish aren’t biting at traditional locations due to weather conditions or whatever, anglers should keep an open mind about switching spots. (MIKE STEVENS)

WEATHER CONDITIONS DICTATE OPTIONS 
The thing about snow in the Sierra is it’s not always snow on the day you are fishing, or even the day or two before. The weather in the entire week or two leading up to opening day can factor in to what options are available.
The Mammoth Lakes Basin is a perfect example of this. Two Aprils  ago, when 3 feet of snow fell in some places on Fishmas Eve, Lake Mary Road leading up to the Basin was covered in white stuff, and there was no way to get anywhere near the lakes. In all fairness, they were probably at least partially covered in ice anyway, but that took away as many as four (depending on how far up the road you can get even if the lower lakes are open) angling options.
Last year, when it snowed during  the first day of fishing, the road was wide open all the way past Lake Mary to just beyond Lake Mamie. That, my trouthead friends, is a game changer. The thing is, the majority of people in the area on opening weekend are in Bishop Creek Canyon, Crowley or Convict Lake, or the June Lake Loop, with a handful more setting up in the Bridgeport area. When the Mammoth Lakes Basin is accessible, it is fully stocked, and it is an absolute ghost town.
I was covering the goings on at Convict and Crowley in particular, and when moving from one to the other I checked my phone and saw a text message from my brother that  said “wide open at Mamie.” I had about an hour before the weigh-in for a kid’s derby at Crowley that I needed to get photos of, and it would take me 20 minutes to get to the basin, and another 20 to get back.
So of course, I jerked the wheel to the left when I hit 395 and charged up the mountain, saw my dad’s truck and literally followed footsteps in the snow to where he and my brother were absolutely teeing off on 2- to-5-pound rainbows.
They had caught and released 20 each by the time I got there, and I figured I had about a 15-minute window to chuck my Thomas Buoyant before flying back down to Crowley. I fired away and managed to land six trout of my own in that size range before I had to take off.

Snow was also on the ground at Mammoth Creek on 2014’s opener. What will next month bring? Who knows, but we’d go prepared for everything! (MIKE STEVENS)

Snow was also on the ground at Mammoth Creek on 2014’s opener. What will next month bring? Who knows, but we’d go prepared for everything! (MIKE STEVENS)

There was no one else around, and my dad and brother said they saw maybe two groups at Mary and one down at Twin when they did a lap on the way out. Given the crowds at the more popular opener spots, the Mammoth Lakes Basin being open is a big deal and it is something that you should monitor as the last weekend in April approaches.

OUTSIDE-THE-BOX TIPS
The following quick-hitters will help you get the most out of your trip.

Sleep in: I’m not talking about rolling out of the rack at 10 a.m., but you certainly don’t have to be out there at the crack of dawn. Using Crowley as an example, there will be cars lined up for hours before the gate opens, then it’s a mad dash to park, launch or find a spot on the bank with a mob of other people. The best bite over the last three years has been between 8 and 11 a.m. for shore guys, and the troll bite lasts all day long. Colleagues covering all the other spots have also indicated that this is the case in their area of coverage. If anything, stay out later. Most people call it a day in the very early afternoon, so you have a lot of room to operate if you fish until dark.

Go a day or two early: While the general trout season opens on the last Saturday in April, trout lakes and streams between Bishop and Lone Pine have been open for a while already, and they are largely untouched as well. Starting from the bottom up, the way we do it on Thursday and Friday before the opener is we simply head west into the mountains wherever we see those “fishing that way” road signs and check it out. The creeks west of Lone Pine, Big Pine and Independence are all stocked, and the campgrounds – the areas that typically have the best fish-holding holes – are barely occupied, if not vacant. Heading east from those same towns will put you on the Lower Owens River, where you can catch anything from stocked trout and big browns to panfish and bass.

Slow it down: Unfortunately, moving around throwing and grinding metal isn’t going to work in the chilly April water like it does in the summer. Bait guys really do the best, as  far as numbers, and trolling almost always sticks the biggest fish caught that weekend. If you have sworn off bait, reach for plastics like trout worms, minijigs, grubs or even little trout swimbaits. Fish them slowly on a leadhead; drop-shotting them is also deadly. Jigs 5 feet under a bobber when there is some chop on the water are also money. Fishing a fly-and-bubble is also a great way to get after it, and a streamer like Woolly Buggers or Matukas on a slow retrieve is the best technique this time of year. I am assuming that that wide-open bite on Buoyants at Mamie was the  exception, not the rule. But clearly  it happens, so if you can’t help but chuck some metal just to see, keep them as slow as you can stand.

For the love of God, mix it up, people!: A few things that I have discovered while covering the Eastern Sierra trout opener will never cease boggling the mind: There are families who have been fishing the opener for decades, and sometimes I will run into families with three or more generations represented right there on the bank. That is quite cool, and I think it’s funny that I see the same families in the same spots every year. This plays out at Crowley, Convict, throughout the June Lake Loop, and beyond. I mean, I dig the whole tradition aspect of it, but if it’s not happening at your family’s signature lake, load up the wagons and try somewhere else this opening day.

Lakes still here in May, June …: The last thing is, most people I talk to come for the opener, and that’s it – see you next year! They come when the weather is the most unpredictable, the crowds are as heavy as they get, the entire backcountry is frozen, Tioga Pass is closed, trout are sluggish and even some drive-up lakes are inaccessible – and that’s just dumb. I  find myself begging them to come up in a month or three, and I sell it hard But at least they are getting up there.

The one thing that opening weekend is every year, and you can count on it, is that it’s always a spectacle.

The Barracuda Question

While catches of exotics are on the rise, these Toothy Fish have been mysteriously absent. Could they return?

By Steve Carson

The last couple of years have seen unprecedented action for California saltwater anglers due to a strong El Niño. Highly desirable pelagics like yellowtail and tuna, along with true exotics like wahoo and blue marlin, have been dominating the headlines and anglers’ attention. Over the past 50 years, barracuda catches have fluctuated up and down considerably, as has the species’ popularity. In the late 1960s, Southern California party boat operators ranked barracuda as the No.1 species that drew anglers to their ticket offices. The last few years have seen a combination of fewer barracuda and diminished effort as anglers chased after abundant yellowtail and tuna. As the population of anchovies in California waters increases, it’s hoped that the substantial barracuda population in northern Baja will come back up within range of local anglers.

Barracuda sightings have been diminishing in recent years, but it’s hoped that even in an El Niño year that the fish will return in 2016. (STEVE CARSON)

Barracuda sightings have been diminishing in recent years, but it’s hoped that even in an El Niño year that the fish will return in 2016. (STEVE CARSON)

SEASONALITY
In non-El Niño years, the barracuda would start to show up in San Diego waters in early April. They continued to move northward along the coast and then spread to the offshore islands. May and June would often see huge areas of barracuda, from the Huntington Flats to Santa Monica Bay, and even to the Channel Islands. Local party boats would check in with hundreds of barracuda, and occasional heavy weekend crowds  would score full 10-fish limits, totaling 500 or more barracuda. By mid-summer the fish would disperse, but catchable numbers were still around. Exactly how 2016 will play out re- mains to be seen.

TACKLE
California barracuda do not get especially large. The state record is just over 15 pounds, although there are moderately credible reports of fish in the 17-pound range being caught in the late 1940s. These days, anything over 10 pounds is a whopper, and typical legal school-size fish range about 4 to 6 pounds, with 8-pounders often taking the jackpot. As such, the main line can be only 15- to 20-pound monofilament, and private-boat anglers can easily get by with 10- to 12-pound mono. Spinning, baitcasting and conventional gear is all suitable for barracuda, although the presence of larger species mixed in with the school may dictate selecting heavier tackle. Some lures such as “surface irons” will also require specialized tackle for proper casting.

CASTING LURES
Most serious barracuda chasers tie on an iron jig like a Tady 45 or Tady C. Blue/white or chrome combinations are the most popular, but as always with surface iron, action is more  important than color. Sometimes,  deep-swimming schools simply won’t come up any higher than 75 to 100 feet, and yo-yo jigs like a Tady 4/0 or Sumo C2 can be sent down deep.  A not-too-well-kept “secret” lure to pull out when the fish have seen everything is a chrome or blue mackerel-color 2¼-inch Krocodile. The Kroc’s exaggerated action and bright flash definitely trigger lethargic barracuda into biting. Cagey old-school anglers often tie on a feather jig with a hexagonal chrome head. Rigged on singlestrand wire and with a chrome torpedo sinker about 3 feet in front of it, this setup is deadly in the right hands. Barracuda will also readily go after soft plastic swimbaits of various styles and colors, and it goes without saying that their teeth are pretty destructive. A large percentage of barracuda will be under the 28-inch size limit in some areas. If possible, relocate when this happens, or at the very least minimize the damage done to short fish. Convert lures with treble hooks to single hooks, never grab the fish with a towel, and don’t let the fish hit the deck.

LIVE BAIT
Barracuda will go after a variety of live baitfish species, but for the most part prefer either anchovies or sardines best. As with most open-water species, the livelier the bait the better. Way back in the day, many anglers used “shorty” wire leaders for barracuda, and some tackle stores still sell them. However, wire leaders will often spook wary barracuda. Much more productive is a live bait-rigging trick made popular by the late Capt. Russ Izor. Using a basic three- or four-turn surgeon’s knot, attach a 4-foot piece of 30- or 40-pound fluorocarbon to your main line, then tie on your hook. Some fish will still manage to bite through the fluorocarbon, but for the most part, it will hold until the fish is landed. You will then need 4 to 6 inches of frayed line cut off and retied. Gradually the leader will grow shorter with each retie, and when it gets down to less than

California barracuda don’t grow particularly big, but they are fun to catch and can make for a delicious meal compared to their East Coast cousins. (STEVE CARSON)

California barracuda don’t grow particularly big, but they are fun to catch and can make for a delicious meal compared to their East Coast cousins. (STEVE CARSON)

12 inches, start over with a new piece of fluorocarbon. Hook choices should match the bait, but heavyweight hooks are not needed. Some anglers claim to be able to use long-shank or circle hooks to just get the barracuda in the lip, but in practice this is inconsistent at best. A light-wire hook like the Owner Gorilla Light is perfect. Go with size 1 to 4 for anchovies, and size 1/0 to 4/0 for sardines.

TROLLING LURES
Specific trolling effort is not usually directed at barracuda, but they are often caught incidentally, primarily by anglers trolling for yellowtail. Almost anything with flash will draw a barracuda’s attention, but it would be hard to beat a silver/black Rapala in the XR15MAG or XR20MAG sizes  for trolling, and those choices would also appeal to yellowtail

CARE OF THE CATCH
Of course, we are talking specifically about “California barracuda,” which is a highly edible species. The tropical species found in Florida and Hawaii known as “great barracuda” are generally not considered edible. After gently determining if the catch meets the 28-inch minimum-size requirements, private boat anglers should immediately bleed the catch by cutting a gill raker. Lay the fish out completely flat in an  ice chest as quickly as possible; cover with crushed ice if you have it.  Party boat anglers should take extra care their fish do not go awkwardly into the gunny sack, and end up in a stiff curved shape. An easy trick is to make a 6-inch loop of monofilament line after cutting a gill raker, attach it to the barracuda’s tail, then hang that from the same hook the gunny sacks hang from, letting the fish hang straight down.  Barracuda can be steaked out, but are more often filleted. The flaky  white meat can be baked, broiled,  fried or barbecued. The legal bag limit is 10 fish, with a minimum length of 28 inches. Barracuda do not freeze especially well, so take home only what you can consume while fresh, and then go out and catch more.

Editor’s note: Email the author at scarson@sunset.net.

Enjoy Your Piece Of The Pie

Tiffany Haugen

By Tiffany Haugen

Now is a good time to start cleaning out the freezer to make room for spring fish and game. Shepherd’s pie is a versatile dish that can be prepared with a variety of ingredients and is a delightful comfort food on a chilly day. It can be created ahead of time to pop in the oven for dinner or baked and left to keep warm while waiting for the hunting party to return.

This one-dish meal is easy and sure to please everyone. This recipe works well with any ground or chopped venison. Some of the less popular cuts of meat such as neck and brisket also work well. Exterior rib meat, as well as meat between the ribs, can be stripped from the bones and used in  this recipe. The meat from between the ribs can also be removed and ground or chopped.

For the best end result, remove any sinew and silver skin  tissues before chopping meat. We’ve enjoyed the following recipe with elk, blacktails, muleys, whitetail, antelope and bear.

Tiffany Haugen likes to pull out game meat or fish from the freezer and
create a comfort-food staple: shepherd’s pie. (TIFFANY HAUGEN)

POTATO LAYER
1½ pounds potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
2 tablespoons spicy mustard

MEAT LAYER
1 pound ground or chopped venison

1 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste

VEGETABLE LAYER
1 tablespoon olive or coconut oil
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced bell pepper
1 cup corn
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
½ cup chicken broth

In a medium saucepan, boil potatoes until tender. Drain water and add broth, yogurt and mustard. Mash potatoes with a masher or hand blender. Set aside. In a medium skillet, brown meat on medium-high heat and add chili powder. Remove from pan and set aside.

In the medium skillet, sauté onion and bell pepper in oil until soft on medium-high heat. Add corn, garlic and Worcestershire sauce, and continue to sauté. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and sauté one minute. Add broth and bring to a boil. Remove from heat after mixture thickens.

Assemble in six individual serving dishes or in an 8-inch by-8-inch casserole dish. Place meat on the bottom layer, then veggies and top with mashed potatoes. Bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until potatoes begin to brown. Dust with additional chili powder if desired.

Editor’s note: For 100-plus more great recipes and signed copies of Tiffany Haugen’s popular cookbook, Cooking Big Game, send a check for $20 (free S&H) to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489, or order online  at scotthaugen.com.

For Anglers First

SCENIC LAKE EMBRACES FLY FISHING FOR LARGE TROUT
By Jon Baiocchi
Lake Davis has long been considered the best public still water for fly fishing in all of Northern California.
The lake sits at an elevation of 5,885 feet in a setting of a coniferous forest, mixed with willows, aspens, cottonwoods and meadowlands. Most of the west shore is shallow and offers fertile flats and expansive weed beds that make stalking trout from the shoreline so incredible.

The evening hatch at Lake Davis can be magic if the wind lies down. A high-elevation fishery in Plumas County, fishing is the top pastime with water skiing and Jet Skis prohibited. (JON BAIOCCHI)

The evening hatch at Lake Davis can be magic if the wind lies down. A high-elevation fishery in Plumas County, fishing is the top pastime with water skiing and Jet Skis prohibited. (JON BAIOCCHI)

On the east shore, deeper water exists where you can find the Grizzly Creek channel that lies parallel to the lake. This lake has one of the biggest bio masses in the entire state of California, and because of such, aquatic insect hatches can be profuse here.

A SPECTACULAR SETTING
The beauty of Lake Davis is amazing, as is the wildlife and birds. Rainbow trout average 18 to 20 inches and display abundant girth; using 6- to 8-pound tippet and strong knots is a must to prevent breaking one off. Lake Davis is for fishing only – there is no water skiing or Jet Skis allowed.
The best times for the fly angler to visit are right after ice out at the end of March, and mid-May through the first weeks of July. During this time, the famous damselfly hatch commences where resident rainbows will cruise the shallow water, eat nymphs as they migrate to the shore and hatch into adults.
The damselfly hatch offers sight fishing at its finest – like fishing the flats in the South Pacific – and casting to moving targets.
Another short-lived phenomenon that occurs in early spring is the flying ant hatch, where the rainbows come to the surface and gorge themselves when the wind blows this source of food from the forest to the water. It pays to have some carpenter ant patterns in your box during this time, as one never knows when the hatch will happen or how long it will last.Lake Davis 101 Lake Davis 3 Lake Davis Jon Baiocchi 2005

A selection of tried-and-true Lake Davis flies: the hexagenia mayfly (the largest mayfly in North America), a Jay Fair Strippin fly in barred olive, a Blood Midge emerger and a damsel nymph hatching into an adult. (JON BAOICCHI)

A selection of tried-and-true Lake Davis flies: the hexagenia mayfly (the largest mayfly in North America), a Jay Fair Strippin fly in barred olive, a Blood Midge emerger and a damsel nymph hatching into an adult. (JON BAOICCHI)

Also during spring, there are blood midge hatches, several different species of chironomids and callibaetis mayflies. When June arrives, during the last hour of light magic happens with a special hatch.
The hexagenia is the biggest mayfly in North America; they are a vivid yellow in color, with females as large as a size 6, and males at a size 8. These big bugs bring trout to the surface and offer exciting dry fly fishing. Unlike Lake Almanor, about 90 miles northwest of Davis, making presentations with nymph patterns is fair at best. The rainbows prefer the emerger and the adult on the surface. The hexagenia mayfly appeared in Lake Davis only four years ago and it appears they were blown in from Lake Almanor, Mountain Meadows Reservoir or Antelope Lake, which all hold good populations of the hex.
These new inhabitants have thrived since then due to the perfect habitat the nymph relies on to make its burrows, mud and clay. It’s safe to say they will be permanent residents of Lake Davis and a part of the ecosystem. As summer approaches and water temperatures exceed 70 degrees on the surface, the trout head for deeper water near productive weed beds and dropoffs.
The one food item that has not been as prolific of late is the freshwater snail. In my opinion and from observations on the lake, the two rotenone treatments of 1997 and 2007 to eradicate illegally introduced northern pike affected the snails. When a lake is killed off and must begin again, the entire ecosystem is changed and unbalanced. There are still snails in Lake Davis, but not nearly in the numbers that were found pretreatment. Bulging crunchy trout bellies in the fall are a thing of the past, though we could see a change for the better in the future.

A LONG SEASON
The other key time for the fly angler to visit is September through mid-November, when the water temps become too cold and winter takes over as the lake starts to freeze up. September can offer some incredibly good dry fly fishing with the last brood of blood midges hatching for the season, along with the return of the callibaetis mayflies.
During autumn the trout reappear in the shallows and gorge themselves to fatten up before winter. October is usually the peak of the fall fishing and when the rainbows will stay in the shallows for longer periods of time. Also during this time the aspens, cottonwoods and willows blaze with glowing fall color making for spectacular back drop while hooked up.

Rick Serini hooks up with a Lake Davis trout while sight fishing during the damselfly hatch. (JOHN BAIOCCHI)

Rick Serini hooks up with a Lake Davis trout while sight fishing during the damselfly hatch. (JOHN BAIOCCHI)

The most effective way to fish this still water is by a personal watercraft, where you can either fish deep or skinny water or have the availability to get out and fish the shoreline.
Stripping flies slowly with pauses will result in success as long as you are presenting your flies at the correct water depth. The trout graze like cattle and move slowly like the aquatic insects they are feeding on.
Using a strike indicator is a very effective method at Lake Davis while hanging midge patterns underneath. Early morning is best to present your flies close to the bottom, and as the hatch progresses, having your flies 3 to 5 feet down below the water’s surface will target the upper water column where the trout will be.
If the opportunity exists, presenting dry flies is the most sought after game, especially if you have active rising fish to cast amongst. When casting to a working fish, figure out their intended path and softly place your dry fly at least 3 feet ahead of them. To able to see the take is the most fascinating aspect of fishing the dry.

DAVIS ON THE FLY

Clark Harrison gets in on the Davis action from the west shore. The lake is at an elevation of just under 6,000 feet, so the end of this month when the ice is should kick off a fine season of fishing. (JON BAIOCCHI)

Clark Harrison gets in on the Davis action from the west shore. The lake is at an elevation of just under 6,000 feet, so the end of this month when the ice is should kick off a fine season of fishing. (JON BAIOCCHI)

Must-have fly patterns include the Sheep Creek Special, Jay Fair Wiggle Tails and Wooly Buggers in brown, olive, black and burnt orange, Pheasant Tail Flashback nymphs, and the Albino Wino midge pupa. For dry flies, Blood Midge emergers, Adams Parachutes, the Martis Monstrosity, RS ant, and Parachute Midge emergers are the most effective.
No matter what season you choose to visit, Lake Davis offers a variety of different ways to catch these large rainbows that will please any fly angler. Besides great fishing, the lake has excellent campgrounds, access areas, hiking trails, single-track mountain bike trails and the opportunity to kayak into the secluded coves for wildlife viewing. If you have never been to Lake Davis, it’s time to make a plan and visit Northern California’s legendary still water.

Author Jon Baiocchi with an average Davis Lake rainbow, healthy fish that measure about 18 to 20 inches. (LANCE GRAY)

Author Jon Baiocchi with an average Davis Lake rainbow, healthy fish that measure about 18 to 20 inches. (LANCE GRAY)

Editor’s note: Jon Baiocchi has been fly fishing and tying flies since 1972 and is a California-licensed fly fishing guide, published author, educator, innovative tier and a highly acclaimed public speaker. Jon now owns and operates Baiocchi’s Troutfitters Guide Service In Northern California where he has been guiding for the last 19 years. Visit Jon’s website at Baiocchistroutfitters.com

Bears, Bare Arms, and a Sidearm Bared

A Socal Bear Hunt is Interrupted by a Naked man, then a Staredown with 3 ‘Hikers’
By Tim E. Hovey

Whether I’m outside for work or pleasure, I’m always looking for new places to hunt.
As a field biologist, I get the opportunity to see quite a bit of the backcountry of Southern California. When I’m out conducting surveys, I make sure I pay attention to game sign and the surrounding habitat so I can return come hunting season.

Bear hunting this drainage while off-duty, CDFW fisheries biologist Tim Hovey's most valuable possession turned out not to be the rifle slung on his pack, but his quick wits and the .357 (below) holstered on his side during an encounter with three shady characters. (TIM E. HOVEY)

Bear hunting this drainage while off-duty, CDFW fisheries biologist Tim Hovey’s most valuable possession turned out not to be the rifle slung on his pack, but his quick wits and the .357 (below) holstered on his side during an encounter with three shady characters. (TIM E. HOVEY)

A few years ago, I was leading an endangered frog survey up a remote tributary during the late summer. Adam, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, was with me, counting frogs and assessing the health of the population as we moved.
We were about a mile up the side creek, with Adam  leading the way. He rounded a bend and startled something in the creek. By the time I got there, the black bear was aggressively climbing the bank to the top of the ridge. He looked back at us and then disappeared into the thick brush at the top.

Adam turned around smiling. I returned the smile and nodded slowly. He knew I hunted and knew exactly where I’d be when bear season opened up.
Indeed, a week after the start of bear season, I was back at the trailhead loading up my pack. This time I’d be hiking for pleasure, and with a bear tag in my pocket I wasn’t going to be counting frogs.
With over 2 miles of hiking ahead of  me, I loaded my pack with my game-processing gear, some water and called it good. I strapped Tales biologist 2my rifle to the outside of the pack, locked up the truck and headed out.

Since I frequently hunt alone, as long as I stay within my own limitations, I’m never apprehensive when hiking the back hills. I have a firm respect for the wildlife and I’m never afraid when I head out to hunt. Before the end of that day, I’d be served another example of how man is really the only animal that I need to be leery of when I’m by myself in the woods.

I WAS MAKING good time while hiking up the dry riverbed and was maybe a quarter of a mile from the tributary when I spotted movement up ahead of me. The old man was looking down into a portion of the wetted creek and slowly moving my way. He had a bucket strung up on a shovel, resting the handle on his shoulder as he walked.
Seeing someone in this lower section of the river wasn’t terribly unusual. The spot was located an hour’s drive from  the nearest city and a popular hiking area. I wasn’t surprised at all to see someone else out enjoying the wilderness. What did startle me was something that I wasn’t expecting: The old man was naked.
Except for a thin button-up shirt that was unbuttoned and  his hiking boots, he didn’t have anything else on. I moved to the other side of the creek as I approached and we exchanged  pleasantries. He wanted to know what I was hunting for and I decided to leave his

The bears the author were on the prowl for were nowhere near as intimidating as the three “hikers” he came across deep in a Southern California mountain canyon. (TIM E. HOVEY)

The bears the author were on the prowl for were nowhere near as intimidating as the three “hikers” he came across deep in a Southern California mountain canyon. (TIM E. HOVEY)

activities a mystery. Just before I continued, he mentioned that I’d probably run into three other hikers he had seen earlier moving upstream.
About 30 minutes after running into the mysterious naked man, I found the bear tributary. During the hike I had seen several sets of footprints in the dry sand of the main river. These were probably the hikers the old gentleman had mentioned. However, the tracks hadn’t been left by hiking boots – they looked more like slip-on tennis shoes, certainly not the footwear for hiking the back country.

I continued up the side creek, convinced I had left the three hikers in the main river. I worked my way to the frog area where the first signs of water appear in the drainage. I switched hats for a few minutes and  looked in on the  endangered frogs. I saw a few large adults basking in the sun in one of the larger pools. I watched them for a bit and then continued hiking up the steep creek.

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Referencing my GPS, I knew I was about 200 meters from where we had bumped the bear. While staring into the screen of my Garmin, I thought I heard voices. Up ahead was a bend in the creek, which obscured my view upstream. I quickly  hiked to the bend and peered around it, and the sight of the  three individuals and how they were dressed sent a cold pulse through me.

A biologist never stops exploring the local fauna, in this case checking in on endangered frogs in the area. (TIM E. HOVEY)

A biologist never stops exploring the local fauna, in this case checking in on endangered frogs in the area. (TIM E. HOVEY)

HOPPING DOWN THE creek in street clothes were three men in their 20s. Their attire was more suited for a day at the mall, and they each wore slip-on sneakers that looked brand new. They carried no packs, no water and no gear of any sort. I instantly got a nervous feeling in my chest. They didn’t have any gear because they were sightseeing, and I knew exactly what they were looking for. My one advantage was that I had spotted them first.
High mountain creeks that sustain a year-round supply of water are not only attractive to wildlife; those looking to start an illegal crop often seek out these remote headwaters to hide their plants and their activities. All plants need water,  and finding a remote creek that can supply that is usually the  first step in cultivation.
The three individuals hiking down to me were a scouting party that was looking for a place to grow and hide illegal marijuana plants.
I stepped around the bend and was instantly spotted. The lead guy said something in Spanish to the trailing guy and they instantly swapped positions. When they were about 25 feet from me, I spoke with the hope of keeping them at that distance. It worked. The lead guy put on a fake smile and sized me up. He could see I was by myself, and my rifle, securely strapped to my pack, was clearly out of play. As it stood to him, it was three against one.
I asked them what they were doing up in the creek. They said they were scouting for when deer season opened up. His response was a lie. I knew deer season in the area had opened up six weeks earlier.
They asked what I was doing and I told them I was bear  hunting. The lead guy mentioned that they had scared a bear  out of the creek on the way in. That did frustrate me, but in the span of a few minutes my day and my focus had changed.  I was clearly speaking with the leader of the small group. The other two remained quiet and never met my eye. That didn’t put me at ease at all. I knew if things got serious, they wouldn’t just sit back and watch.
The leader again looked me up and down and smiled. He then made a statement that surprised and angered me. He said that it was dangerous to hunt in this area alone. To me it sounded like a warning, and I glared at the smiling leader.
This was no longer a friendly encounter, and all that was left was to see who’d blink first. I told him I had a buddy hunting the lower section and that we were meeting up in a few hours. He kept smiling.
We stared at each other for a few moments when I decided I was done being nice. With my left hand I pointed up the drainage behind the three and asked if they had come down the side fork above them. As predicted, in unison they all turned to look where I was pointing. Seamlessly and with a practiced motion, I lifted my shirt on my right side that had thus far hidden my dirty little secret. I flipped the hammer strap off the .357 revolver holstered on my hip and

Our biologist had seen the remnants of an abandoned marijuana cultivation camp before in similar isolated areas as the one he was bear hunting in, so he has his suspicions about what the men he encountered were up to. (TIM E. HOVEY)

Our biologist had seen the remnants of an abandoned marijuana cultivation camp before in similar isolated areas as the one he was bear hunting in, so he has his suspicions about what the men he encountered were up to. (TIM E. HOVEY)

rested my hand on the weapon in one motion. I turned slightly so that all could see the odds in our little encounter had just changed.
When the leader turned around, I saw his eyes drop to the revolver. His smile instantly faded, replaced with the look of complete defeat. Even though I had answered his last

question about being alone in the creek, I didn’t like the tone of the warning and that made me mad.
I was no longer cordial or polite. I gave him my best Wild West stare and looked at only him for a full 30 seconds before I spoke. In a gravelly voice, I told all of them it was time for them to leave, now!
No other words were shared during this encounter. I watched them slowly make their way down the creek. Occasionally, the lead guy would look back, but I had hiked off the creek and was watching them through binoculars. He had no  idea where I was and I knew that troubled him. I didn’t leave that spot until they were completely out of sight.

BACK IN THE CREEK, I could feel I wasn’t in much of a hunting  mood. I decided to push on upstream despite the confrontation. About 100 yards up, I found wet and muddy bear prints near a bank and a dead rattlesnake with its head chewed off. I guess at least one of their statements was true.
I goofed off for about an hour but my heart wasn’t in it. I decided I was done and started making my way back to the trailhead. Down on the main river, I stalked to within 40 yards of a group of bighorn sheep drinking from small pools in the main creek. For some reason, having my last interaction on that day be a wildlife encounter calmed me.
I made it back to the truck an  hour before dark and unloaded my pack. I got in the car and started for home. As I drove, I thought about all that had occurred during my hunt. Thankfully I was prepared. I can say this: In over 20 years of hunting and hiking the remote sections of California, that day remains the most tense and strangest of them all.

Big Bass Are Lurking

WITH WATER TEMPS ON THE RISE, SOCAL LAKES ARE PRODUCING MASSIVE FISH
By Bill Schaefer

As spring approaches, it increases the chances of a trophy bass for your wall, with the males running the banks looking for a place to nest and the big  females just waiting to move into the shallows.
Southern California is already putting out some giant  bass, and lots of big largemouth seekers are already catching them, some on the record and some not. While most anglers tend to just post for a few friends on Facebook, they’re not officially recording the catch with the local lake’s staff. But the regular weekend warriors are scoring at some lakes as well and coming in with some massive specimens. Water temps are up at most lakes, which is starting to create the magic.
At the time of this writing, the largest bass on record is a 14.30-pound largemouth from Lake Otay in San Diego County. I talked with angler Ashley Hayden and she was thrilled with the catch.
“My dreams came true. I got to catch a 14-pound bass on a crawdad. The fight was fun and everything felt perfect,” she says. “I couldn’t ask for a better day!”
While crawdads are a staple of the bass and are great old-school bait, most trophy seekers are throwing swimbaits right now as we come out of winter into warmer  weather. A lot of lakes plant trout during the winter or  there are holdover fish from previous years that the giants eat up for a fast meal. Remember, the big mama bass need nourishment to lay their eggs and make it through the spawn during those times when they rarely eat.
Heading into spring there will be giants on beds and the baits that get them to bite will vary, but a lot of larger fish spawn out a little deeper and you cannot see them,
especially once the wind comes up. This is where having an assortment of swimbaits helps you out.
Once on a bed, the bass will protect it at all costs. Predators include other bass, bluegill and many other species  that swim in the lake; all

Ashley Hayden used a crawdad to land a giant 14.30-pound largemouth at Lake Otay, one of the largest fish around San Diego’s bass fisheries caught this year as of press time in mid-February. (ASHLEY HAYDEN)

Ashley Hayden used a crawdad to land a giant 14.30-pound largemouth at Lake Otay, one of the largest fish around San Diego’s bass fisheries caught this year as of press time in mid-February. (ASHLEY HAYDEN)

are trying to eat those nutrient-rich eggs. Swimbaits come in all species now, so make sure you have a diverse assortment. Sometimes swimming a bluegill by a bed won’t work, but the first pass with a baby bass will trigger a reaction strike.
For tackle, a strong trigger stick and reel are key components. Most of all, make sure your drag is set correctly.
I like to use the Daiwa Lexa 300 with Maxima braid in  the 50- to 60-pound range. A short fluorocarbon leader of 20 to 30 pounds will help. Tackle is as important as the baits, and just like your swimbait options, you should also have an assortment of actions and line size. You want that trophy in the boat, and as Hayden and others have discovered, the waters are teeming with giant bass.