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Mike Stevens – KNEE DEEP

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Thursday, February 02, 2017
Best winter Sierra trip from hell

Make stock days a semi 'guessing game' for a better trout fishery
The annual Dixon Lake Trout Derby went down earlier this month, and fish were caught over the lake. This includes the usual suspects in terms of historically productive coves and shorelines, but there were also good numbers of Nebraska Tailwalkers caught at spots not typically trout producing, and even by boaters in open water. Much of the credit for that should be given to Dixon Lake staffers who mixed it up and took pre-derby measures to protect the huge stock that went in days before the derby.

Similar practices have been in place at various watersheds to some degree, and I have always wondered why it isn’t the norm in every lake that stocks trout.

A hefty 6,000-pound plant from Chaulk Mound Trout Ranch in Nebraska arrived on the Wednesday prior to the derby, and Dixon Lake Rangers decided to close the lake to fishing on stock day, and the next day, so by the time the derby crowds arrived at the crack of dawn on Friday, those fish were not only free to circulate throughout the lake for a couple days, but not a single one of them would get caught before the event kicked off. Based on years of previous stocks at Dixon, those fish — that are usually stocked on the south end of the lake near the Buoyline — do make it to at least Boat Dock Cove (located about midway through the lake) and all the way to Trout Cove and Jack’s Creek Cove on the north end of the lake by the following morning if not late that afternoon. So, in two days without a gauntlet of minijgs and power cheese to evade, 6,000 pounds of trout freely inhabited every nook and cranny of the lake.

“In the 15 years as a full time ranger here at the lake, it has never been done before,” said Richard Studinka. “I think the prior management did not want the hassle or know how to do it. I was on the truck watching and tagging trout for the derby and estimated some big fish in the 10- to 12-pound range and a few 12 to 14 pounders. These fish would always get fished out before the derby in past years when we stocked two days before a derby, and it would be a free for all. Then, tons of people would complain and ask where all the trophy-size trout were. In the past 16 derbies, there has only been two grand prize fish over the 10-pound mark. This year was completely different with a 10 pounder right out of the gates and a lot of trout in the 9- to 13-pound range, and now a new lake record and derby record fish of over 16 pounds. I know we set a precedent, and it changes the outcome tremendously. We will probably do it again for the upcoming Kiwanis derby in April.”

Great planning for a very well-attended event, but what about the trout stocks for the rest of the season? How could the same type of benefit be repeated throughout the season to level the playing field for the majority of anglers?

Closing a lake to fishing for two or even one day isn’t very realistic as it would just result in too many lost fishing days over the course of the year. But I have always had a beef with making a stocking schedule public. Perhaps that is where an adjustment can be made.

Using Dixon Lake as an example, currently, the stocking schedule — which includes stock days as well as the amount of fish arriving with each de­livery — are posted on a bulletin board at the lake, and sometimes online. Invariably, reproductions of the schedule or even a photo of the hard copy will pop up on message boards, fishing groups on social media and so on.

At that point, anglers connected to any of those outlets plan their attacks for stock days and a couple days that follow. If a trout plant goes in on a Wednesday, you can set your watch to the fact that the minijig pro-staff mafia will be out there slugging it out with each other to see who can beat up these fresh-of-the-truck Tail­walkers when they are easy targets. This will go on for a couple days, and then a respectable number of fish in that fresh stock will be yanked out before the weekend arrives. Those that make it to through the on­slaught will likely be bite shy throughout the weekend after being bombarded by jigs and bait for over 48 hours, and at this point, the trout angler’s best bet is just to post up in Trout Cove or Jack’s Creek where holdovers from earlier stocks end up.

I have a lot of “minijig minions” as contacts for trout fishing reports all over Southern California, and I can tell you first hand that some of them, if they aren’t on the lake on stock day or the couple days that follow, they won’t bother hitting the lake over the weekend to target the jaded fish that remain.

For lakes like Dixon, Wohl­ford, Poway, really any lake that stocks big numbers of trout during the season, publicizing the pounds per stock and per season that are stocked is good for business. I’m no lake manager, but why not issue a statement along the lines of, “We will stock a total 35,000 pounds of trout this season, and they will be stocked just about every other week?”

Then, try and mix up which days they are delivered on so no on catches on to the pattern. Anglers then would simply hit the water whenever they got the itch. Maybe one of the days they picked would be a day or two after the stock. Or maybe, they might find themselves in the right place at the right time when as the truck dumps them in. At least you won’t have the same army of jig chucking ninjas beating up EVERY load of trout that are dumped in only to hang up the gear (or chase the truck to another local lake) until the next batch of targets arrive. I do admit, it is fun to watch them all accuse each other of snagging, lying, dynamite-ing and otherwise online once the dust settles.

Keeping stock days on the down low would keep more of the most-recent stock intact for the weekend when most anglers are out there anyway. The jig mafia would then be on a level playing field with the weekend warriors in terms of tracking down where the fish are and how to get them, rather than going shoulder-to-shoulder in the first cove away from the stocking location and firing away on trout still dazed from a 1,500-mile truck ride. More locations on the lake will become productive which would alleviate angler pressure in the most popular spots as a higher number of trout would be able to circulate throughout the lake.

And Dixon Lake is just an example, since it’s my home lake and I have seen this level of truck chasing, to some degree, for over 20 years. The same thing is occurring at trout lakes all across the Southland.

Some lakes have taken measures along these lines to give everyone a fair shot at fish. At Big Bear Lake, some loads of trout are stored in a net pen after delivery, and lake management can release them whenever they like. Several Eastern Sierra Lakes have even boated trophy trout into the middle of the lake where they are released, out of range of floating baits and garlic worms until they organically mosey to the area they chose. Other places will take the a page from Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife stocking, which is only posting the week fish will be stocked, rather than the day.

Not everyone would dig it. The jig mafia would hate it, and even trophy bass anglers wielding 12-inch trout baits would be irked, as they are just as likely to chase a stock truck as a trouthead. But ideally, the long-term result would be a trout situation like that in the stocked, drive-up lakes in the Eastern Sierra, where no one pays a lot of attention to when the last stock was, but are somewhat mindful of how many trout are slated to be stocked in their favorite lake or area that season. Up there, fishing is always good for those willing to move around until they find them, and yes, if you find yourself in the right spot right after trout were dumped in, you may tee off on big numbers of truck-dumb trout.

But is that what you’re out there for?

Reader Comments
I grew up fishing Poway, Miramar, Choyas, and Jennings and continue to fish every trout season when I come home from school. The minijig minnion are too much. Same with those swimbait splashing knuckleheads. I've had guys try to fight me over turf, even with my 70 year old father by my side. Try that routine on a wild steelhead and see how well it works. I love So Cal lake fishing but I'd rather drop shot the jetty for rockfish and lingcod or throw a spinner for late fall kings. Expand your horizons and think outside the trout truck.
John Robert
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