Category Archives: Fishing

Fisherman casting


By Mike Stevens 

With a quarter-century worth of Eastern Sierra outings in my rearview mirror, you can imagine the adjustments, fine-tuning, fat trimming and experimenting that has gone on in terms of how I gear up to fish for trout up Highway 395. In reality, 25 years is nothing compared to how long many other Sierra troutheads have been fishing up there, and they certainly have their own arsenal specific to

The author on the lake

The author puts more thought into the length of his trout fishing rod than his reel, but has narrowed his list of lures to just a handful of top options. (MIKE STEVENS)

their trouting needs, but with trout opener 2015 beckoning this month, I hope that sharing how I do it can eliminate the learning curve for those new to fishing the area, and maybe even turn a seasoned veteran on to a trick of mine.
When it comes down to it, everything begins with your quiver of rods and reels. For the most part, ultralight rods are the way to go, but rod length is something that has evolved over the course of my Sierra tenure. When I started, I had a little 5-footer that I liked to use on creeks because it was easy to get through sticks and climb down rocks with, and then I had a 6-foot ultralight that I used in lakes for a little more casting distance.
These days, a 6-footer is the shortest rod I use, and while it might be slightly more cumbersome while bushwhacking around creeks, I like to reach out as far as I can when my lure swings downstream and ultimately, across the current.
With a longer rod, it’s easier to maintain that angle and keep the lure in the strike zone for a few more key seconds. It also allows you to reach out and fish undercuts on the bank that you are on without having to get too close to the water. On lakes, I will use that same rod to cast heavier lures like spoons, minnow baits and heavier spinners, because I get all the casting distance I need out of it.
That setup is paired with 4-pound test line – the heaviest line I use for most Sierra applications – because it’s going to get nicked and hung up often in the creeks, and you won’t snap off a big lure on a long cast on a lake with it like you will with lighter mono.
I also have a 7½-foot rod that I use for smaller lures and lighter line. I fish a lot of plastics like trout jigs and plastic trout worms with only 1/16-ounce of weight aiding my cast, if not less. When the long rod is paired with 2-pound test, I can fire those light lures as far as I ever need to. It is also the perfect setup for a fly-and bubble rig. Admittedly, you don’t see many rods this long anywhere, and a 7- or even 6½-footer would get the job done pretty well, too.
As for reels, I never put a lot of analysis into picking them, and I think it is silly to spend a ton of money on a trout reel (or rod for that matter). I just look for a smooth drag, no wobble when reeled, and a bail that flips from open to closed without much effort. Currently, my 4-pound-test reel is a Shimano Sedona 500, which runs about $75, but my main 4-pound reel is an Okuma Avenger 15, a very well-performing reel priced under 40 bucks. Both of my rods are Daiwa Pressos ($75). There are a lot of great ones out there at a good price – just don’t convince yourself you need to break the bank on trout gear.

You can cover most fishing bases with spoons, spinners, minnow baits and plastics, and that likely isn’t groundbreaking news to you. But I have found that having a variety of tried-and-true “confidence” models is the way to go, rather than simply my favorite of each.
In my first decade of Sierra fishing, I threw the obligatory black/gold Panther Martin 90 percent of the time because it was proven, and I fish with author's rod and reel of choicehad confidence in it. It was to the point where, in my head, if I didn’t get bit on it, there must not be fish there and I would move on. Boy, was I wrong.
On one trip, I decided to try as many different lures as I could. What I found to be the case quite often was a situation in which I would pick a historically good spot, and start getting fish on the third, fourth or even fifth lure I threw.
And we aren’t talking a fluke fish just to keep the skunk off; we’re talking from dead to five trout in 20 minutes. This approach went on for years, and here are the specific lures that I have kept in my “starting rotation” after another decade (and counting ) of experimentation:
For spoons, I go with Thomas Buoyants, Colorados and Cyclones, Kastmasters, and Luhr-Jensen Hot Shots. I know, no breaking news there, but I have drilled it down quite a bit beyond that. For Buoyants, don’t get tunnel vision for gold/ red because everyone else is fishing them and they appear in the most reports. I have had the most luck on watermelon, with plenty more on frog, brown trout and copper. Fish them slow and anytime you want to use metal in shallow or weedy water, because they are easy to swim high
in the water column. And if you only try one thing I mention here, throw them in the Owens River. I hate spoons in creeks, but for whatever reason they work in the “O.”
Colorado and Cyclone (also from Thomas) spoons are in my box, mainly because I know everyone is Buoyant-crazed and the fish aren’t seeing nearly as many of these. Kastmasters are the best in the wind, and I also like to step outside the color box with them and go with fringe colors like gold/fluorescent green, copper (it’s hard to find) and rainbow trout. The 1/16-ounce model can be a lifesaver on that long rod with 2-pound line in the backcountry when the bite slows mid-day. But you can still get brookies on long casts to the middle. I feel like a Hot Shot is kind of a happy medium between a Buoyant and a Kastmaster, and again, not used as much as other classic Sierra trout lures, so I use it just to get a different look out there.
As for plastics, there are a bunch of different brands out there that have worked very well for me, but I have settled on Sierra Slammers ( for one reason: the colors are chosen specifically for the region (if not for certain lakes – the South Lake Special, anyone?) as the company is owned by Jared Smith, general manager of Parcher’s Resort on Bishop Creek and the author of Fishin’ Trails.
For jigs, carry a few natural colors like grasshopper and cricket, plus some loud ones like orange/ red, white/yellow and green/black. I rarely use plastic trout worms solo, but I do like to use them as trailers on my jigs, and I like the one that’s just a natural worm color, or adding an orange one to any color jig. Sierra Slammers also makes a line of trout swimbaits, which are a blast to fish and have a track record of fooling big fish.
I carry a variety of floating and sinking Rapalas in classic styles, as well as some of the newer models like Husky Jerks and Scatter Raps. Owner Cultivas are another proven crankbait for trout, and new to the list are Berkley Flicker Shads that have great action, come in an awesome array of colors, and are a bargain at $3.99 each. I use minnow baits in the Owens, creeks, lakes with big browns like Crowley and Convict, and in the fall for “brown bagging” purposes in the lakes up there and Rush Creek.
As for spinners, I don’t use them nearly as much as I used to, but this is where I really keep it simple. Rooster Tails in natural colors is home for me. Salmonfly, grasshopper, brown, black and green are all in the mix, and can be fished on any type of water up there.

This is where I have a lot of fun, so it might be best if I just rattle off some nuggets just to get it all in. First of all, retire the tackle box, or at least quit carrying it around with you; it just slows you down. Vests, chest packs, lumbar packs, leg pockets and backpacks are the way to go. I use these items in various combinations depending on what kind of fishing I am doing at that moment. If it’s a quick run to drive-up lakes after dinner, I might just bring my Tenzing lumbar pack, or just a box of lures in my leg pocket. If I am heading into the backcountry all day long, and I need food, water, maybe a jacket, it’s a combination of the lumbar pack and the backpack. Whatever it is, don’t carry it; wear it.
Polarized sunglasses are game- changers, and it only takes a day of wearing them on the water to be convinced, and this is one thing that you should purchase the best you can afford. On the high end, Maui Jim and Costa shades can’t be beaten. For the best bang-for-your-buck, look at anything from Smith Optics with a Chroma Pop lens, and if you want to keep it under $100, Zeal Optics and Hobie have great options. But even cheapies will convince you of the power of polarization.
Those Buff-type facemask things don’t only make you look like some kind of cool fishing ninja in your photos, they are also very functional. While they are mainly used as a physical barrier from the sun, I use one when it gets buggy and I don’t want to inhale a flock of mosquitos, or to soak and wear it around my head or neck when it’s

Fisherman out on the river

Ultimately, you’re heading to the mountains to catch fish, so bring the gear that you feel most comfortable carrying and fishing with and fish the lures or plastic you’re confident in. (MIKE STEVENS)

Two-way radios are also a big part of my attack, as I am usually up there with three other guys who all take off in their own direction once we reach the water. They are ideal for a “divide and conquer” approach to finding fish. Also we make calls along the lines of: “I’m going up the trail to try the lake;” “Let’s get out of here, meet me at the truck;” and “I think this bear is going to bite me.” It’s all a lot easier with radios.
You can find them by the pair from reputable brands like Motorola, Midland and Cobra for under $40, and up toward $100 for models with better range or ones that are waterproof.
I saved my favorite item for last, because it is so simple yet crazily efficient, and I love it. That would be my beloved big Rubbermaid container. Yes, the same one you put your Christmas decorations in. I stock it with my lumbar pack, backpack, vest, boots, walkie-talkies, tackle, net, raingear, trail food – basically any gear but the rods. It is tastefully covered with trout-related and local business stickers.
In the tent, RV or condo, the lid serves as the perfect work bench (with a raised edge that keeps things from rolling off) for prepping gear under a lantern. So when I arrive at base camp, all I need to do is bring in my duffel bag full of clothes, and that container, and when I get back home, it easily slides on to a shelf in the garage until it’s summoned for another trip, or for impromptu “grab-and-go” duty. CS

Author with Fish


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!

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.

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.

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

Two anglers on the Shogun boat, one holding a large fish.

Chunking Chips for Tuna

By Steve Carson

Much has been written about the use of various live baits for tuna, and heavy chumming of the live stuff is almost always part of the program.
In a record-setting tuna year like 2015, what can a California small-boater do with limited live-bait carrying capacity and equally limited financial resources?
The technique known as “chunking” is nothing new and is practiced just about everywhere tuna are caught on the planet. Typically, California anglers cut up sardines into about four pieces each, an inch or two long, and toss them overboard at regular Two anglers on the Shogun boat, one holding a large fish.intervals.
“Small-boat owners can generally only hold a scoop or two in their boat’s live bait tanks, usually just enough to use as hook baits. Even carefully saving the baits that die and cutting them up into about four pieces used up our limited bait-carrying capacity pretty quickly,” says Doug Kern, manager of Fisherman’s Landing Tackle Shop (619-221-8500; in San Diego.
“This season, we have also been buying an extra scoop of live sardines and just putting them into a 5-gallon bucket. We cut the sardines up into ultrathin slices, not much more than the thickness of a potato chip at only one-quarter of an inch or so. The yield is around eight or nine slices per sardine.
“Any time we are near a kelp paddy, get a jig strike or have a good meter mark, we set up a drift. Start out by throwing a handful and then just keep a trail going by tossing one steadily every 30 seconds. The water this season is so clear, you can see the chunks 50 to 75 feet down. If all of a sudden you can’t see them, it’s probably because the fish have come through and eaten them. When you cut your catch open later, you will see that they have been eating your chunks. This year there has been a lot of waiting it out, but if you lay out a line of chum over a stretch of water of 300 or more yards, they will eventually find you.”
Dwayne Patenude, the past club president of San Diego Anglers (, agreed with Kern’s assessment.
“We use the chunks as hook bait too, and the fish are not shy about hitting on 40- or even 50-pound line,” he says. “We use a short piece of fluorocarbon, mainly for abrasion resistance, on a 3/0 circle hook. There are enough 50- to 60-pounders in every school that you don’t want to go too light. A long soak is not necessary; just let the hooked piece drift freely back with the chum about 100 feet, then crank it in and start over. The key is trying to make the hooked baits drift naturally back with the chummed baits.
“The whole technique is just a reaction to limited bait capacity. By doing this, you can stretch your chum power out three or four times longer on a private boat. Party boats, of course, have an almost unlimited supply of live bait that they can chum with.”
Chumming with the chunks, and then fishing live sardines as bait the standard way also works.
“On our little 17-footer, we thinslice the sardines ahead of time, and chum a slice regularly every 30 seconds. Then we just do a long soak with live sardines, every once in a while putting the reel in gear and cranking in a little, then letting it back out,” says Dawn Davis, fishing manager at West Marine (949-6739700) in Newport Beach. “We have done very well this season on bluefin tuna up to 50 pounds using this technique. Some days we’ll leave the harbor at 7 a.m. and are all done by 8:30 a.m.”

Another technique that has rapidly gained popularity over the past two seasons in California and northern Baja is topwater poppers. The most common species targeted with poppers is yellowfin tuna, and in some cases yellowfin will actually hit better on a popper than on live bait or traditional lures.
Yellowtail will also readily hit on poppers, as will skipjack tuna, although bluefin and albacore tend to be a little more reluctant. Dorado will often go after a popper, but there can be a safety issue with dorado that are jumping high in the air. They also can thrash on the deck, causing the lure to fly loose and injure anglers. Wahoo also love poppers but can be an expensive proposition with their razor-sharp jaws biting off a high percentage of lures.
Best popper sizes for local-grade tuna are around 2 to 3 ounces, with a popular choice being the 2½-ounce Williamson Jet-Popper. For larger fish, the 4-ounce Williamson Jet-Popper works well, and the extra water it pushes with each splash can sometimes trigger even small fish into biting. Conversely, finicky fish may prefer the slight subsurface disturbance created by the Williamson Surface Pro stickbait. Color is not as important as getting the proper splash on the retrieve, but natural colors like blue sardine, dorado, or black/silver all produce fish.
Spinning tackle is called for in most cases, especially if casting directly into the wind. Tuna fishing is definitely not the setting for inexpensive spinning gear. When fishing schoolie-size fish up to about 50 pounds or so, a PENN Spinfisher SSV7500 filled with 65-pound superbraid is sufficient. On multiday long-range trips that may regularly encounter tuna in the 75- to 125-pound class, stepping up to a premium-level PENN Torque TRQS9 filled with 80-pound superbraid is standard.
A short, 2-foot leader of 80- to 100-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon is primarily to allow easier handling of the fish on deck, and provide chafe resistance near the lure. Either a worm knot or John Collins knot connects the superbraid to the short leader. Due to the dead boat-style and lack of ability to chase the fish, spinning gear is not appropriate on party boats when tuna are exceeding 125 pounds.
In some cases, the hooks on less-expensive poppers may need to be upgraded to a heavier grade of wire or they may bend under the heavy pressure. When fishing is very good or when smaller fish may need to be released, changing the treble hooks out to single hooks is appropriate.
This writer always has one or two poppers with literally no hooks at all. When limits have been achieved or the grade of fish is a bit small, cranking back a hookless popper can result in 10 to 20 or even more spectacular strikes in a single cast! CS

Editor’s note: You can contact the author at

Adkinson with Bluefin Tuna

To The Blue!

By Chris Cocoles 

When Southern California angler Craig Adkinson and his buddies head out of port onto the Pacific Ocean to chase tuna, dorado and

Adkinson with Tuna, holding fishing rod in his mouth

Big fish like tuna, dorado and yellowtail are waiting to be caught off Southern California, as a happy Craig Adkinson shows off during a recent trip. (CRAIG ADKINSON)

yellowtail, the trip turns into an impromptu dolphin-watching tour.
“We look for porpoise (pods). We’ll follow the dolphins and try to get ahead of them. We’re talking huge groups of a couple hundred together all working bait,” Adkinson says. “They’ll follow the bait, and, of course, the tuna will go with the dolphins. And then the tuna start smashing on the same bait ball. And then you’ll see the birds going crazy.” It’s been another productive summer in the Pacific for the fish species that are usually more prevalent further south in waters off Mexico. But from San Diego north to Orange County and beyond, anglers continue to take advantage of weather patterns that have driven fish to usually colder water.
“The best thing we’ve been finding because the water temperatures have been rising because of what they call the Super El Niño, they’re finding what they call a current break,” Adkinson says. “So you’ll look where there’s a difference in the temperature of the current, where the water temperature goes to, like, 71- to 74-degree water; that’s where all the baitfish travel.”
What boats should be looking for are giant bait balls on their fishfinders, then traveling along the current break and zigzagging the boat in an S-style pattern.
“We catch them by doing what most call fly lining. That’s with a regular tuna rod set-up, with 20-, 30- or 40-pound test, depending on if they’re line-shy or not,” Adkinson says. “We have different set-ups for different grades of fish. So if the fish are in the 20- to 30-pound range, you can use 20-pound line. If the fish are in the 30- to 50-pound range, you use 40-pound test. My buddy just landed a 134-pound tuna on 50-pound line. So that should tell you the line

A Kelp paddy in the water.

Kelp paddies scattered throughout the offshore areas don’t necessarily have to be huge to contain a lot of fish underneath. (CHRIS RHODES)

There are several hotspots for catching tuna and other species. Adkinson has fished a lot in what’s known as the 209 or 277, between the lower side of Catalina Island and San Clemente Island. The kelp paddies that break off the main islands are an alternative to looking for dolphin and bird activity.
But there’s more than just finding a kelp paddy and fishing it. How you approach such areas is just as critical as how to fish them.
“We see a lot of people do things wrong; they’ll come up to the paddy all super excited and super fast. By doing that, they scare the fish and push the fish down that were under the paddy,”
Adkinson says. “They’ll have engines roaring and music blasting and they get up to it and throw out bait; they wonder why they don’t get bit and they leave.”
It’s also worth noting that sometimes boats won’t stay at a paddy long enough and will leave for another spot prematurely when it appears fish aren’t biting.
Adkinson has learned some tricks from veteran ocean fishermen Chris Rhodes and Dave Pearson. When approaching a kelp paddy and you are within about a football field’s length, slow down the engines to a trolling speed. Then do a loop around the paddy and troll the area. Chunking some bait around it should bring fish like dorado up to the surface.

Various rods and reels

Set-ups and techniques aren’t very complicated for scoring big on tuna and other species fished off the Southern California coast. The biggest factor is knowing where to find fish. (CRAIG ADKINSON)

“Once they get excited on the bait you’ll throw your live sardines or mackerel in there. You can hook it in the nose or the stomach – what we call ‘butthooking’ – and it will swim away from the boat better. We’ll just throw it out fly lining; no weight on it and towards the paddy,” Adkinson says.
“As long as your bait is swimming toward the paddy, let it free swim and keep working your spool. If you’re bit, just put it in gear and reel tight. You don’t even have to set the hook. Once you come tight with it the fish is already hooked up. When we fish the paddies we just turn the engines off and just drift.”
As for artificial baits that can catch fish, Adkinson likes a new line of Shimano-made lures: Flat Falls, diamond-style jigs that work well when fishing anywhere 30 to 200 feet down. It’s a simple way to fish these spoons: tie it on and let it sink as far as your line will let out. Tuna love these baits. Adkinson also trolls with Magnum Rapalas or tuna feathers.

Adkinson with Bluefin Tuna

Adkinson with a gorgeous Pacific bluefin tuna, which can be caught with simple tactics like trolling spoons or fly lining live bait near a kelp paddy. (CRAIG ADKINSON)

“These are pretty simple set-ups. The techniques to catch them are fairly simple,” Adkinson says. “The hardest part is finding the fish.” CS