Ode To Our Favorite CS Stories Of 2023

Last day of the year. Let’s make it count! As we prepare to say Happy New Year tonight at midnight. Let’s take a look back at some our favorite CS stories of 2023. Enjoy.


Photo by Cal Kellogg

I took a deep breath and pushed the negative thoughts from my mind. I crowded up against the stunted oak tree to my left and tried to steady the dancing crosshairs. The bellow of the 7mm came as a surprise. When my eyes opened a beat later the buck was down. It was 8:30 a.m.

The path to the buck was treacherous and steep with lots of lava dropoffs. The last thing you need on a solo hunt is a twisted ankle, or worse, a broken leg, so I took my time, backtracked and took the long way around. A half hour later I was standing over a handsome blacktail with an 18-inch spread, deep forks and complete with brow tines.

Just about the time I reached the buck it started spitting rain. It took me about an hour to field butcher the deer and six hours to backpack out the meat. Back at home I ended up with 59 pounds of boned meat, so I imagine the buck had a live weight of 140 to 150 pounds.

I hunted the rough country alone, sacrificed my body and went head-to-head with one of North America’s most elusive big game animals: the mature public-land blacktail buck. The satisfaction I still feel is unmeasurable. -Cal Kellogg


Photo by Darren Soo Hoo

Back in the day, anglers relied on word of mouth and print media to get the latest fishing reports or to learn about new fishing techniques. Today, with search engines, social media, online forums and YouTube videos, anglers have what amounts to a seemingly infinite amount of information at their disposal. Regionalized innovation and techniques are now just a click or swipe away.

Simply put: It’s hard to keep new baits, hot techniques or secret fishing spots under the radar. An angler who knows how to successfully research and vet information can significantly shorten the learning curve. Just remember that for every really good piece of information you may uncover, you may have to sift through a great deal of content.

For me personally, I can say that I have never been more excited about fishing for trout than I have in the last few years. I can’t wait to see where the sport goes next. -Mark Fong


Photo by Scott Haugen

Don’t get me wrong, Kona has fun hunting, but hunting is business. When he’s hunting, Kona is focused and will sit from daylight till dark looking for and retrieving ducks, no matter how cold, wet or hungry he gets. He doesn’t like being touched or petted when hunting. He’s 100-percent focused. So this request was out of the ordinary, and he knew it.

Also, when Austin’s sweetheart called to let him know she was close with lunch, he asked her to call to Kona once he headed her direction for the pickup. About 200 yards out, Kona’s pace slowed and his stature grew upright and alert. Even from 300 yards away I could read his body language, which said to me, “I’m still having fun, but not sure where I’m going or why, and this girl’s high voice sounds a lot like Mom!”

Then he kicked it into high gear and sprinted right up to her. They’d met before, and Kona loves her. I would not have sent him to a stranger.

By the time Kona reached the delivery point behind an old ranch house where my truck was parked, I was back in the blind. Once I saw Kona had the bag secure in his mouth, I gave him two beeps on his e-collar. This is the most important communication tool I have with my dogs, as it allows me to get their attention and give them directions via hand signals at amazing distances.

As soon as Kona got the two beeps on his e-collar – which means “come to me!” – he did, fast. Kona sprinted the entire distance, not slowing down one time. Kona’s head was held high the whole time. So was his tail. His body language exuded pleasure. He loved doing something new, something fun. -Scott Haugen


Photo by Tim Hovey

Fishing for native or wild trout will take a little more effort than fishing for stockers. Making another visit to the CDFW website, you can search for locations where both native and wild trout exist. These areas are almost always well off the beaten path and will definitely require more fishing effort than soaking dough bait.

To advertise the native fishing opportunities here in California, CDFW maintains a Heritage Trout Program (wildlife.ca.gov/ Conservation/Inland-Fisheries/Wild-Trout). This program awards anglers who challenge themselves and catch six different subspecies of native trout from six different drainages within their historic range. For the purpose of this challenge, the historic range includes the trout’s native distribution in California, prior to human influence, and all waters that feed into this watershed.

Wild trout fishing in California is challenging and rewarding. It’s the type of fishing that requires dedication and a good set of hiking boots. Working backcountry creeks and streams for wild fish will give you a new appreciation for trout angling. -Tim E. Hovey


Photo by Scott Haugen

Soon I was dressed and headed out with Jorge, one of Puig’s guides. Traveling on remote logging roads, it took nearly an hour to reach the hunting spot, located at over 7,500 feet in elevation. We set out a decoy and called, but heard nothing.

Jorge pulled a box call from his pack and let it rip. A loud cutting series elicited the gobble we’d hoped for. The tom was on the same ridge we were, but so far away I seriously doubted it could reach us by dark, even if it started running just then.
I took over the calling with a Slayer diaphragm call. I’d used this call to bring in several Rios earlier in the season, and wanted to see how it performed on the Gould’s. I like doing my own calling, and Jorge understood. After 15 minutes of calling, the tom finally gobbled. It was closer, but still so far I had my doubts. I kept calling. We didn’t move. Thirty minutes later it gobbled again, this time within a couple hundred yards. For the first time I thought it might happen.

Minutes before the sun dipped below the mountaintops, the lone tom came silently strutting into the decoy. I’ve called in hundreds of big toms over my more than 35 years of turkey hunting, but this was the most stunning strutter I’d ever witnessed. The shot was simple and just like that, two hours into the hunt my world slam was complete. -Scott Haugen


Photo by Lance Sawa

Five years ago, after a very bad time at a hospital visit, my dad Mark died at home. He wanted to go out not with tubes down his throat into his lungs, but at home with the dogs and Mom. He barely made it up the four steps into the house – and only then with three rest breaks – and then slept with the dogs in the front room. He never made it back into the bedroom one last time.

My older sister was able to say goodbye the next morning before they took him away. It would be another short but agonizing month before I could get back and be there for my mom. She was unable to process her feelings at the time and we decided to not throw anything away until next time. We didn’t think that would be so long, though.

This trip was to help me sort through some of the tackle Dad left behind. Mildew had taken over most of the cherished cloth items. Dust-covered reels that once dripped with water; many rods bent against the wall after an animal or earthquake knocked them over; line dry-rotted from the heat in the garage. By contrast, his hooks were still all in perfect condition, though none in the correct size for the trout in Bishop’s Owens River. -Lance Sawa


Photo by Cal Kellogg

I settled on the all-around catchall freshwater bait: a nightcrawler. I had eight cans of ’crawlers in the fridge, plus 2 pounds of white prawns and a pound of liver. Gena and I planned to spend a lot of time on the back of the boat relaxing and soaking bait.

I rigged the worm to drift 12 feet beneath a big slip bobber. With the water so deep and clear, I was thinking trout, but I figured a spotted bass might take a swipe at a worm too. I tossed the bobber out and finished my first cup of coffee. I headed back into the galley, filled my cup again and returned to the stern just in time to see the bobber disappear beneath the rippled surface!

Picking up the rod, I reeled in several feet of slack and came tight to the yet unidentified fish. At first it felt substantial and then it felt downright huge. At times the fish bulldogged; at other times it shook its head violently. And several times it took wild runs and smoked braid off the reel.

Gradually I wore the fish down and yelled for Gena to bring me the net, which was still stowed up front. The suspense was intense. I was going to let the fish go but I wanted to see what it was. A huge rainbow? A trophy postspawn spotted bass?

When the fish finally materialized off the starboard corner, I was shocked to see it was a big, bad channel cat!

Don’t get me wrong: I love fishing for catfish and had planned to spend a fair amount of time over the next few days targeting them. But I didn’t expect one to bite in broad daylight while cruising 12 feet down over really deep water. But such is the way Gena and I kicked off our May anniversary trip aboard a Lake Shasta houseboat. -Cal Kellogg


Photo by Scott Haugen

FISHING WITH OTHERS, EVEN a guide, offers a different perspective. Sometimes it’s as simple as them bringing different gear or bait, or reading the water on their terms. Other times it’s an all-out lesson of fishing a new technique.

I help at a fishing lodge in Alaska every summer, one where the coho fishing is as good as it gets. The river is easy to fish and coho can be caught many ways. Over the years, dozens of anglers have booked trips there to specifically learn how to twitch jigs.

One of the guides at the lodge, David Stumpf, is the best twitcher I’ve seen, and he’s a very patient teacher. But in the end, most of the anglers go back to twitching the wrong way – jerking up quickly on the jig and letting it slowly fall.

“A slow pickup and quick fall is what you want because the fish hit the jig when it’s dropping,” Stumpf always teaches. But people just don’t listen and they go back to snagging fish with the quick upward jerk of the rod as soon as Stumpf leaves them alone. I’ve watched it many times. In order to learn, you have to pay attention and be willing to change.

I know a group of guides who make it a point to fish together at least one time every year. Yes, they’re competitors, but if they book large groups of anglers, they call one another for help. Because they want their customers to have success, they work as a team to be the best they can be. I’ve fished with them multiple times on their buddy trips and their goal is to enlighten one another. They share secrets within their inner circle and as a result, each guide catches more fish all season long. It’s a great team concept and a prime example of how fishing with a friend can truly expand your knowledge base. -Scott Haugen


Photo by Tim E. Hovey

ON OPENING MORNING, WE set up at the edge of one of Mike’s fields, and we had the entire property to ourselves. I glanced over at Cheryl and could see she was nervous and excited. I smiled to myself knowing that after today, she might never be the same.

Against every fiber of my hunting being, I decided to spot incoming birds for Cheryl and give her the first shots. Anyone who has hunted with me, including both my daughters, knows that this is beyond tough for me to do. However, I really wanted Cheryl to bag her first upland game bird.

A little after shooting time, a pair of mourning doves came towards our decoy set from straight out front. I quietly pointed them out to Cheryl and watched her rise and shoot a little too soon, scattering the pair; one flew right over my head. On instinct, I dropped the dove in the brush behind me. I instantly felt bad, but the dove had flown outside of Cheryl’s safe shooting zone.
When I got back to my chair, Cheryl wanted to know what she had done wrong. I told her to be more patient and to lead the bird just a bit before squeezing the trigger. I had seen her shell wad a foot behind the bird she shot at.

A short time later, a single dove came in unnoticed on Cheryl’s side and landed in the decoy spread. We both spotted it just as it settled in with its plastic brothers. Cheryl stood up, swinging her shotgun towards the bird and the dove instantly took flight.

I cringed a bit as the bird’s position put the Mojo decoy between it and Cheryl. I kept quiet. Cheryl followed the bird, and when it cleared the decoy, she fired. The dove dropped to the ground. After a summer of training, her first ever hunted animal was on the ground. -Tim E. Hovey


Photo by Cal Kellogg

I estimated the visibility to be about 25 feet and that may have been generous. I had no idea where I was. When I pedaled the kayak away from the launch ramp, the plan was to head for the dam, but a minute or two later, Lucy the Labrador and I were disoriented and lost.

I worked the pedals slowly and watched the screen of the sonar unit. One moment I was in 20 feet of water and next the bottom plunged away to 60-plus feet deep. Immediately, three arches appeared on the screen 30 feet down.

A couple minutes later, I had a copper death prism Trigger Spoon working off the downrigger approximately 25 feet below the kayak. Since I couldn’t see anything to aid in navigation, I fell into a pedaling rhythm and pushed the kayak forward at 2.5 mph and locked my eyes on the sonar unit’s screen.

For five minutes nothing happened, but then four good marks appeared on the screen – again at 30 feet. Were they trout? A beat later the downrigger rod started bouncing and the line released from the clip. Fish on!

I was hoping to catch Lahontan cutthroats, but the lake also holds rainbows, browns and a sleeper smallmouth population. I could tell from the quick runs and vicious headshakes it wasn’t a bass, but was it a cutthroat?

Seconds later as I slid the fish into the net, I got the answer. It was a sleek 16-inch Lahontan, gunmetal gray up top, silver-white down below with a salmon-colored midbody stripe and a smattering of black spots increasing in number as the body gave way to the tail. -Cal Kellogg


Photo by Joe Sarmiento

Susan and I were waiting at the top of the ramp to board the boat. I got a call from Capt. Kris. I figured he was calling to let me know that it was OK to come down before the rest of the passengers so we could get comfortably situated. Instead, Kris had something else in mind …

“Hey, Joe, the cook didn’t show up for this trip. I would really appreciate

it if you could step in and help out.” Oh; I wasn’t expecting that. The guys know I can cook. I’m always posting food pictures on Facebook. But it’s one thing cooking for myself and a guest or two. It’s another thing entirely taking food orders and pumping them out in a kitchen I’ve never cooked in before. I was nervous about saying yes, but at the end of the day these guys have treated me well over the years. Here was an opportunity to give back to them in a more meaningful way.
I took my things down to the boat and boarded. Capt. Kris wasn’t working this time, but he was onboard getting the galley set up for the trip. He gave me a quick tour of the kitchen. Kris showed me where things were and how to turn on the flat-top grill, among other things to note, then wished me luck and left.

I was already in the know with how things worked with the passengers (you keep a running tab that they pay at the end of the trip), so it was really just a matter of getting prepared to deliver the normal menu items (largely breakfast burritos and burgers) in a timely fashion. Ryan came down from the wheelhouse before heading to the bait receiver to check in on me. He let me know he was a resource if I had any questions.

While the boys loaded up live sardines for our trip, I commenced to get to work in the galley. I started a pot of coffee and got some bacon and hashbrowns going on the flat-top.

I updated the crew roster on the whiteboard and prepared for the customers to board.

On the way out from the harbor, people filtered into the galley. They ordered coffee and put in their breakfast orders. At first, I felt an unfamiliar queasiness cooking on a moving platform, but as things got busy I concentrated on the work and pumped out the orders. By the time we made our first stop, I had filled all the orders and was able to step out of the galley and fish.

The primary program for this kind of fishing currently is fly-lining bait – meaning, just the line, hook and a sardine – and no additional weight. While simple in concept, there’s definitely some nuances to doing it successfully, but that’s a whole other article. -Joe Sarmiento


Photo by Ian Rigler

After baiting up with a lively minnow, I carefully free-spooled my rig to the bottom and placed my rod in the rod holder for our first drift. We made several passes through the area without a bite. As the outgoing tide began to slow, I was hopeful that our luck would change.

On our next pass, Ian adjusted the position of the boat, and it wasn’t long before he was hooked up with the first fish of the day. Unfortunately, the fish was an undersized shaker, which we quickly released. Not more than a few minutes later, I was hooked up with my first striper, but this fish too was a shaker.

It did not take long for me to get bit again on the next drift. As I was fighting the small fish back to the boat, Chris’s rod began to load up. In an instant he was hooked up with a nice striper. The fish made a powerful run, and it was apparent that this one was a different grade of striper.

I tried my best to keep our lines from crossing, and with a little bit of skillful over-and-under rod exchange, we were able to avert disaster. I quickly landed and released the small fish just in time to take in the action as Chris battled a nice Delta striper. After several strongly sustained runs, Chris had the fish to the side of the boat, where Ian skillfully slipped the net underneath the fish and lifted it into the boat.
The Takedown made easy work of the bass, and we celebrated with grins and high fives all around. The striper pulled down the needle on the scale to a bit over 13 pounds. -Mark Fong