CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

Cover Shot
The very best outdoor writers I ever knew wanted to fish more than they wanted to write. They wrote all right, sometimes begrudgingly, and they took photographs of fishermen with broad smiles and huge fish held up to the camera, but given their druthers, the good ones would always rather have a rod in their hand.

So, with this admission, I guess it would come as no surprise that, in 1983, I was not looking forward to covering the Eastern Sierra opener. I had been warned.


In those days, Western Outdoor News went out at noon on Monday. Without benefit of digital photography, cell phones or the internet, the basic drill was to cover as much ground (or water) from Bridgeport to Bishop on Saturday, drive home with your film, write as much as you could on Sunday and then lapse into a coma Monday afternoon.


Coming off an especially harsh winter, Lake Crowley and many other waters were not going to be ready for the April 30 festivities, so the machinery of the 1983 opener was postponed for exactly one week.


Saturday, May 7 was a gorgeous day. Along with Tom Bette, a WON advertising sales rep, the morning dawned over Crowley with the glorious mayhem of happy anglers, big trout and a festive atmosphere that needs to be experienced to be appreciated. Of course, Tom and I could not linger for long as duty called elsewhere from the East Walker to Convict Lake. Fortunately, by afternoon we had been nearly everywhere. Confident of our coverage and with some good shots in the can, we headed home.


It was somewhere in Bishop when everything changed. I’m positive we stopped at Schat’s Bakery for sheepherder’s bread but after that everything gets a little hazy. Wherever we were and whatever we were doing, someone asked us what we thought about the big brown trout caught at Lower Twin Lake.


Our collective response was “Huh?”


“Oh, haven’t you heard? Some guy caught a huge brown up there. Probably a state record.”


I’m guessing our immediate response was unprintable. But I’m certain our next reaction was resignation.


“Tom, you know we’ve got to go back up there,” I said, perhaps secretly hoping he had some fantastic solution for doing something other than retracing our steps for almost exactly one hundred miles. He did not.


There are a lot of things a chunk of Schat’s bread can cure, but anticipation isn’t one of them. As we raced back up 395, I took solace in having connected with the angler, Jon Minami. Yes, the fish was there. And, yes, he would stick around until we made the trek from Bishop. Still, I worried over what a 26-pound, five-ounce brown trout would look like after having been on ice for several hours.


Jon Minami had the look and carriage of a serious fisherman. Young and fit with a pleasant disposition, I was immediately put at ease. This was going to be a good story, not some fluke catch where you felt sorry for the old brute in making such a stupid mistake. No, it was no accident. Having carefully prepared for this moment, Minami came to the Lower Twin armed with the hard-earned knowledge of the hunter, from the subtleties of water temperature to the sometimes maddeningly slow trolling speeds to every small facet of every minute detail. This was a dogged pursuer, choking back his own excitement, choosing to motor away from the launch ramp and the growl of other outboards to what was arguably a pre-ordained clash between man and beast. If you were to look for nobility in fishing, here was the definitive example: An angler who deserved what he caught.


It was so totally cool. But, first things first. The sun was sliding down in the sky toward that golden time all photographers cherish, a moment as fleeting as it is spectacular.


“So Jon, where’s the fish?” I asked. “We’re starting to burn daylight.”


“It’s on ice in the store,” he warmly replied.


Before anyone could move, a man who had been standing nearby piped up.


“I don’t think you should do this,” he said in the strident tone of a true believer. “We shouldn’t be handling that fish.”


He blathered on for a few moments and then the world went quiet.


Stunned silence would be an understatement. In the time it took for those words to exit his mouth, my mood went from rosy to the pitch blackness only found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Apparently this was the store manager who, not until later, divulged that he harbored some long-standing grudge with a former editor, someone who hadn’t worked at the paper for years. I guess he decided this was the right moment for payback.


At first, Minami didn’t know what to say. As I learned in the intervening minutes and years since that moment at Twin Lakes, he is a gentleman of the highest order. On the other hand, I knew exactly what I wanted to say and, being someone who considers himself quite proficient in the art of cursing, I somehow kept quiet, passing on the opportunity to paint a Picasso in profanity.


With the blood pounding a marimba beat through the veins in my neck, I turned back to Minami and tried to be as concise as possible.


“Yes or no? Do you want to be on the cover of Western Outdoor News ?”


Thirty-five years later, he remains my friend, a great fisherman and someone worthy of the fish he catches.


atlowertwinlake
AT LOWER TWIN LAKE, Jon Minami cradles the 26-5 brown taken that morning, May 7, 1983. His state record lasted four years, nearly to the day. On April 30, 1987, Danny Stearman of Bakersfield bettered the catch by just 3 ounces. Stearman’s fish, taken from Upper Twin Lake, remains the state record at 26-8.

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special weekly supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


Jim Niemiec's Blog

High Sierra gobblers
It had been well over a decade since this WON hunting editor has last hunted spring turkey along the lower slopes of the western High Sierra. During a meeting at the SCI- Convention in Las Vegas earlier this year, I had a chance to visit with veteran hunting guide Ron Gayer and we talked about the old days of hunting hogs, deer and Merriam’s turkey on the Tejon Ranch. Gayer was the master guide on the Tejon for nearly 10 years, which gained him expert knowledge in resident big game and upland game birds that abound in this region.

Fortunately Gayer had an opening for a midweek spring turkey hunt and asked if I would like to join him for a hunt on Indian Rock Ranch, elkron98@bak.rr.com.


highsierragobbler
HIGH SIERRA GOBBLER — Guide Ron Gayer of Indian Rock Ranch in Glennville shoulders a tom that was shot by WON hunting editor Jim Niemiec on a hunt last week amid wind, rain and sleet. The tom was shot at a distance of 30 yards with Federal Premium FS Steel #4 shot. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC


“I think you would not only enjoy a great turkey hunt and this ranch is one of the prettiest along the slopes of the Western Sierra. It sits at an elevation of between 3,500 and 3,700 feet, it’s loaded with oak trees, has lot of ponds and Poza Creek runs through part of the ranch. With ample water its location is prime country for three species of wild turkey, deer, hogs, quail and dove.”


After leaving Hwy. 99 past Bakersfield, driving up through thousands of oil derricks, Granite Road went right by the old wagon train stop of Granite Station. It was at this elevation that the entire countryside turned to lush greening of wild oats, native grasses, live creeks and stately newly budding ancient oaks.


Arrival at Indian Rock Ranch hunt camp was at mid afternoon. With a storm system moving in but still a few hours left in legal shooting time (5 p.m.), Gayer suggested we go sit in a nearby blind.


“After we spend some time getting out in this rain and sleet, we’ll head back to the hunt camp to barbecue a steak and then head back out to try and roost a couple of spots that the turkey have been using regularly,” was the plan laid out by Gayer.


Driving around in the sleet we spotted small flocks of toms, jakes and hens moving slowly through wet grass on their way to a roosting tree having the choice of a tall oak or digger pine. One mixed flock of birds moved right through a newly planted food plot and this would be where we would set up in the morning, as there was a dry blind on one corner of that little field.


Back at the camp we talked about game on the ranch, its history dating back to the late 1800s and Gayer’s game management plan for the ranch.


“There are three species of turkey on this ranch. The bulk of the birds here are of the Rio Grande species, there are full-blooded Merriam’s that were released by the DFG (W) nearly 50 years ago and there are also huntable numbers of hybrid Rio/Merriam’s. I honestly don’t know which species will come into a decoy spread and sometimes, if I have two shooters in the blind, there could be two different species harvested. We manage our deer herd to harvest only mature bucks, and limit our quail hunting. This ranch holds some huge wild hogs and a trophy boar could weigh well over 300 pounds. Some of our clients opt to book a combo hunt for turkey and a boar and are often successful in harvesting both. Our camp can hold up to eight hunters, but I would rather have only two to four hunters and we really specialize in father son/daughter hunts,” said Gayer.


“I have a special place in my heart to introduce youngsters to hunting along with some of those with handicaps. This past year, Indian Rock Ranch hosted a blind junior hunter who harvested a turkey and a mule deer buck with the assistance of his father. Those were special hunts for me to be part of, hunts I will remember the rest of my life,” said Gayer.


Thankfully it stopped raining and sleeting before sunrise but it was a cold walk into the dry blind with a crinkle of ice under soft steps. The first gobble blasted the still air 15 minutes before legal shoot time, followed by echoes across the ranch. There had to be at least a half dozen roost trees within hearing range from our blind. The first birds that showed up were jakes, one sporting nearly a 60-inch beard, but this shooter opted to hold out for a longbeard.


With all that wet grass, after fly down everything went pretty silent and we opted to move around the ranch, setting up when Gayer got a response to his Bass Pro Shops box call. With a temperature still holding at 36 degrees at 10 a.m., the gobbles went silent and the hunt was on. After spending another hour in a blind, with distant gobbles coming from in front and behind us but not moving, and it was time to change tactics to soft calling, spot and stalk technique.


With good ears and seemingly a GPS locator set in his head, likely based on over a quarter of century of professional guiding, we were on the move over a couple of gentle ridges. Gayer spotted the red head of a gobbler and a fan just over a rise and motioned this shooter into position. At an elevation of nearly 4,000 feet and the stalk mostly up hill, this hunter was not steady enough to take the shot and backed off. Moving off to the cover of nearby oak and repositioned, a good shot was offered and a tom was folded as it was hit with a heavy load of Federal Premium FS Steel #4 Shot with a velocity of 1600 fps. It was a very successful day of turkey hunting to say the least.


While Indian Rock Ranch, (661) 809-1613, is booked for the rest of turkey season, there are a couple of openings for junior hunts and that season runs through May 20. For next spring Gayer will be offering a great father son/daughter spring turkey hunt. With an adult paid hunter, Indian Rock Ranch will allow the junior hunter to hunt for FREE! The hunt package includes lodging and great meals, guiding, transportation during the hunt and an opportunity to hunt a well managed and unpressured hunting ranch.


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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special weekly supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


Surf Fishing Round-Up

Perch bite up and down
Despite a windy week, there were still some good halibut catches, reported Hook, Line and Sinker in Santa Barbara. The protected waters in the harbor, on the sand spit and at the slough were good stretches. Three-inch Big Hammer Swimbaits have been best in the calmer water. Flash Minnows were best on the open beaches. A handful of legal fish were also taken on bait — one was taken off the Goleta Pier on a live smelt, the others on salted anchovy at East Beach. Finding clean water is key. The perch bite was up and down with the wind. On the better days, grubs and Gulp! Sandworms have been good for a limit of perch to 1¼ pounds. Jalama, Gaviota and Carpinteria have been good places to look.

MALIBU — The perch bite has been solid off Ventura and Oxnard beaches when the wind comes down, reported Wylie’s. Most of the fish have been ranging up to 1½ pounds with few of the bigger hens lately. More consistent weather would help. The calico bass have been active on the reefed beaches. Latigo and Big Rock are the ideal kind of spots. Staging grunion and small anchovies have drawn in the fish. Lots of short to just-legal halibut have also been on the bait. A shop regular landed a 37-inch fish on a kayak outside Malibu and released three other legals. A few corbina were also spotted in the surfline this week. The pier is holding big mackerel and topsmelt.


REDONDO BEACH — Catch of the week was a 4-pound corbina taken on a Carolina-rigged grub off Hermosa Beach, reported Just Fishing. Anglers are just starting to see the first corbina of the season. The perch schools have been scattered in the windy conditions. Grubbing has been the best way to find some fish. Smaller halibut will also latch onto the grub occasionally. A few more legal halibut came from the protected waters of King Harbor. Small plastics have been the ticket. Look for Torrance Beach to start kicking out more fish with a run of better weather. Flash Minnows and X-Raps have been top baits but the salted anchovy has also been a very good bait. Rock hoppers off PV are finding more and more calico bass when the wind and swell is down.


SEAL BEACH — The protected waters along Shoreline Drive and Cherry Beach produced the best halibut catches this week, according to Big Fish. Schools of small anchovies and staging grunion have drawn the fish in. You will have to weed through some shorts to get a legal. Anchovy-pattern 3-inch Big Hammers have been tough to beat. Hard jerkbaits are also producing. With the wind up, more anglers turned to the bay. The bite was good for a mix of spotted bay bass, sand bass and short to just legal halibut. White Zoom Flukes or Jerk Shads have been hot. The night bite has been especially good. A few small bonefish were caught and released in Colorado Lagoon.


NEWPORT BEACH — Lots of exposed beaches made for tough fishing in the wind, reported Ketcham Tackle. A best bet was fishing the mouth of the harbor with a trap-rigged frozen anchovy. The tide swings have produced best. On the better days, a few short halibut were reported from the surfline. The street jetties and River Jetties were good stretches. Look for the halibut bite to take off with better weather. There is a lot of small bait around. A few nice perch were scratched out near the Wedge, but the wind swell made conditions tough on most days. Pier anglers caught mostly mackerel and smelt this week. A few yellowfin croaker and short halibut were also reported. The annual Lilly Call Tournament takes place this weekend.


DANA POINT — A strong grunion run at Doheny perked up the inside bite despite the weather, reported Hogan’s. On the better days, anglers throwing zebra sardine-pattern Flash Minnows found biting halibut from the jetty to Hole in the Fence. Most of the fish were short to just legal. With a stretch of better weather and lots of bait around, look for the halibut bite all along Capo Bay to take off. The perch bite was sporadic this week. The schools have been small and scattered. The best action has been off Salt Creek and Strands and below the San Clemente Pier. Motor oil/gold flake grubs fished Carolina-style have been a good locater. Gulp! Sandworms and live lugworms have also been top producers. Cool, off-colored water slowed the bay bite.


OCEANSIDE — The steady wind rolled over the water all along this stretch, reported Pacific Coast. The cold, dirty water produced few good catches. A handful of legal halibut were taken at the lagoon mouths — one on a bucktail-grub combo, and the others on Flash Minnows. Look for the bite to pick up with better weather. All other conditions are favorable. A bright spot was a night bite on orangemouth corvina in the bays and lagoons. The schools of small anchovies have been shoaling at night under the lights and the fish are taking small topwater baits like Zara Puppies and Sammys. The fish have ranged from 4 to 12 pounds. A few topwater halibut were also in the mix.


SOLANA BEACH — With the wind up, anglers focused their efforts in the bays and lagoons and at the mouths, reported Blue Water. The results were good with some respectable halibut catches reported. With lots of shorts in the mix, a live smelt was a good way to get a legal one. Small swimbaits, hard and soft jerkbaits and spoons were all getting bites. The perch bite was up and down with the wind. There were several orangemouth corvina also reported taken at the lagoon mouths on chartreuse-colored swimbaits.


Compiled by Gundy Gunderson


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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special weekly supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


Bob Vanian's 976-Bite – HOT BITE

Decent weather days providing opportunities for bluefin, yellowtail, threshers, halibut and more!
I recently returned from some vacation time fishing for rainbow trout at Topaz Lake in the Sierras. The trout fishing was good on the days of fishable weather but there were several days of wet and windy weather conditions that kept me from getting out on the water. Upon returning home to San Diego, I found that the same windy weather conditions that I was trying to dodge and fish around in the mountains have been and are still troubling Southern California saltwater anglers who have had some days of good fishable weather and some days where the best decision has been to stay at the dock in order to avoid the rough water conditions out on the ocean.


Click on the image to get the best saltwater reports daily at www.976bite.com

The good news is that there have been some days of decent weather between the bad weather days and the even better news is that the spring time fishing is continuing to develop with a chance at finding action on bluefin tuna, yellowtail, white seabass, halibut, thresher sharks, bass, sculpin and an assortment of rockfish.


Bluefin tuna have been attracting much of the attention and last Saturday, April 14, 2018 saw some boats fishing overnight and 1.5 day trips to the waters ranging from below the 295 Bank on down to the area outside of the 1140 Finger while working between 65 and 80 miles 170 to 175 degrees from Point Loma. There was action on bluefin, yellowtail and bonito found within this zone.


Bluefin have been biting from stopping on meter marks, sonar marks and an occasional spot of breaking fish. Kelp paddies in the region are providing a chance at some yellowtail action and are also producing an occasional bluefin tuna.


It was hit or miss action on getting into a good bluefin bite last Saturday and the fish counts from Saturday's fishing show the hit or miss nature of getting a good bluefin bite going. The counts start with the Tomahawk out of Seaforth Sportfishing that fished a 1.5 day trip with 21 anglers who caught limits of bluefin tuna which was 42 bluefin tuna. Seaforth Sportfishing reports that the Tomahawk caught bluefin that went to 50 pounds. Fisherman's Landing had a 1.5 day trip aboard the Condor with 17 anglers catch 2 bluefin tuna and 2 yellowtail. Point Loma Sportfishing had the New Lo-An fishing an overnight trip with 32 anglers that caught 25 bonito, 12 yellowtail and 3 bluefin tuna. H&M Landing had the Old Glory fishing a 1.5 day trip with 27 anglers that caught 36 yellowtail, 3 bluefin tuna and 1 bonito.


Today, is Friday, April 20, 2018 and Seaforth Sportfishing is reporting that the Pacific Voyager is fishing the first day of a 3 day trip and has limits of yellowtail and 3 bluefin tuna aboard for their first day of fishing. They were still fishing and had lots of time remaining in their first day of fishing at the time of the report.


The fishing around the Coronado Islands has been producing hit or miss action on yellowtail along with a mix of bonito, reds and assorted rockfish. The yellowtail action can be up and down from day to day but the better days of yellowtail fishing have seen near limit to limit yellowtail catches being reported.


Recent fish counts aboard the San Diego out of Seaforth Sportfishing have been indicative of the hit or miss nature of the yellowtail bite with the more recent trips finding yellowtail playing hard to get. On Tuesday, April 17, 2018, the San Diego had 18 anglers on a full day trip catch 65 reds and 65 rockfish. On Sunday, April 15, 2018 the San Diego had 39 anglers on a full day trip catch 123 rockfish and 107 reds. On Saturday, April 14, 2018 the San Diego had 43 anglers on a full day trip find some cooperative yellowtail and they caught 33 yellowtail, 75 whitefish, 40 rockfish and 1 sheephead. The San Diego's trip prior to April 14, 2018 was on Wednesday, April 11, 2018 when they had 9 anglers on a full day trip catch their limits of 45 yellowtail along with their limits of reds which was 45 reds.


The best yellowtail fishing around the Coronados has been found in the region of the Rockpile with sonar marks, meter marks and an occasional spot of fish found up on the surface under working birds leading to most of the action. Once located, the yellows have been biting on yo-yo iron, surface iron, flylined sardines and sardines fished on a dropper loop rig with the yo-yo iron usually working best. The yellowtail biting around the Coronados have been mixed sized fish that have mostly been in the 8 to 15 pound range.


There has also been some good bonito fishing reported around North Island with one private boater Skipper reporting finding lots of bonito action on trolled Rapalas. Bottom fishing remains good around the Coronados with reds and an assortment of rockfish producing good action at a variety of locations. Productive rockfish areas have been the South Kelp Ridge, hard bottom areas to the north and the northwest of North Island and the lower end of the 9 Mile Bank while fishing on the Mexico side of the border.


Boats fishing along the San Diego County coast are finding their best chance at catching a yellowtail or white seabass to be in the La Jolla area. The yellowtail and white seabass fishing has been scratchy but there are occasional nice sized yellowtail and white seabass being scratched out of the area.


Yellowtail have been located in an area ranging from out in front of Mission Bay on up to Torrey Pines with the upper end of La Jolla, Torrey Pines and the area outside of Mission Bay tending to provide the best opportunities for locating some yellowtail. Schools of bait and porpoise have been indicators of where yellowtail might be found and the yellows have been located by finding meter marks, sonar marks and spots of fish under working birds. The yellowtail being found in these coastal areas tend to be the large 15- to 30-pound class fish.


The upper end of La Jolla has also produced an occasional nice sized white seabass. The best bet has been fishing with live mackerel along the outside edges of the kelp beds. Try slow trolling with a live mackerel or fishing a live mackerel down deep with a dropper loop rig.


Aside from the chance at yellowtail or white seabass in the Mission Bay to Torrey Pines region, boats fishing along the San Diego County coast have been finding a mixed bag of action on sand bass, calico bass, sculpin, halibut and rockfish.


Some of the better areas for rockfish in the San Diego region have been the Imperial Beach Pipeline, hard bottom spots outside of the Whistler Buoy at Point Loma, hard bottom areas outside of the Green Tank at Point Loma, the Pine Tree outside of Sunset Cliffs, the 270 out to the west of Mission Bay, La Jolla, Del Mar, Leucadia and Box Canyon.


Some of the better areas for bass and sculpin have been the Imperial Beach Pipeline, hard bottom areas to the north of the Whistler Buoy at Point Loma, hard bottom areas to the northwest of Buoy #3 at Point Loma, hard bottom areas outside of the Green Tank at Point Loma and hard bottom areas outside of La Jolla. Also productive have been hard bottom spots outside of Leucadia and Box Canyon along with the structure of the Anderson Pipeline, Buccaneer Pipeline and the artificial reefs outside of Oceanside Harbor.


There have been some flurries of halibut action along the San Diego County coast but it has been hit or miss fishing. Productive halibut areas along the San Diego area coast have been the Imperial Beach Pier, the Buoyline area of Point Loma ranging from below the Point Loma Light House on in to the bait barges, the sandy bottom adjacent to the structure of the Yukon Shipwreck off Mission Beach, the sandy bottom adjacent to the structure of the sunken NEL tower off Mission Beach, the sandy bottom outside of Ponto Beach, the sandy bottom adjacent to the structure of the artificial reefs outside of Oceanside Harbor, and the sandy bottom off the Golf Ball area above Oceanside Harbor. Going further north, a couple of additional productive halibut zones have been the sandy bottom off San Onofre and the sandy bottom outside of the San Clemente Pier.


Captain Tony Souza of the private boat Green Bee reported fishing for halibut outside of Mission Bay and having his brother, Mario Souza catch a 31 pound, 9-ounce halibut. Mario's big halibut bit on a sardine while fishing in 80 feet of water. Souza reported that they made another drift over the exact same spot and that he (Captain Tony Souza) hooked a similarly sized halibut that was unfortunately lost when the hook pulled out. The 31-pound, 9- ounce reported weight was from the certified scale at The Marlin Club.


Souza provided another report about fishing outside of La Jolla a few days after having made the catch of the 31 pound 9 ounce halibut outside of Mission Bay. He said that they were trolling with Rapalas aboard the private boat Notayacht while looking for yellowtail outside of the middle part of La Jolla when they hooked and landed a 71-pound thresher shark. Captain Tony Souza was the angler and Captain Mario Souza was at the helm. Captain Tony Souza reports that there have been a few thresher sharks that have gone to 400 pounds caught from the area outside of La Jolla in recent days.


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It is my goal to provide you timely and accurate information in these reports containing news from right off the water. If you require more details that include the specific location of where significant catches have been made, I refer you to the daily Member’s Reports at www.976bite.com . Those Member’s Reports contain additional specifics that include latitude and longitude coordinates and other descriptive references about where and how fish are being caught. Make the most efficient use of your precious time on the water with the use of timely and accurate information.


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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special weekly supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


Mike Stevens – KNEE DEEP

The Rapala hopper bite?
Out of every technique I have learned in over a quarter century of Eastern Sierra fishing, each was exactly that: learned. I either read it somewhere, heard about it, saw it on TV, or it was a variation of something loosely based another tactic. Nothing was the result of raw happenstance, or brainstorming or by illuminating accident, until it happened.

Anyone who has fished a Sierra stream in summer has tromped through a brushy meadow to get to the water and sent a grasshopper or three scurrying away with each step.


deaddriftinga
THIS CONVICT CREEK brown trout was the biggest (most were in the 8- to 10-inch range) caught by WON Editor Mike Stevens during a wacky bite on “dead drifted” floating Rapalas.

While I know trout eat hoppers and hopper bites are as fun as it gets on a fly rod, on this particular day, I was armed with spinning gear and floating Rapalas and paid little attention to the fleeing insects other than the thought that bringing my 4-weight would have been wise. I was looking for brown trout on a meadow stretch of Convict Creek that reminded me of a scaled-down version of the Owens River. Slow, grass-lined, with plenty of curves, deep holes, connecting riffles and so many tempting undercut banks, it would take you all day to efficiently target 50 yards worth.


My first target was the opposite grassy bank featuring deep water and an undercut just below a horseshoe bend in which the shallowest water of the feature was found at the apex of the turn. I lobbed the two-inch Rapala — the classic floating model in brown trout pattern — and it landed within inches of the bank. As I went to flip the bail, I saw a splash that didn’t match the slow gurgling that was going on all around it within a second of the bait hitting the water. It’s a creek, splashes happen, I didn’t think anything of it.


I was half paying attention when it happened on the next cast, and really watching on the third when I realized, “this thing is getting bit right when it hits the water.”


I didn’t really have time to think about why, I was just having a great time watching it happen almost every cast. And it wasn’t just those landing on the bank. I started casting them to that shallower section, mid-creek at the top of the horseshoe, and it not only continued to get hit, but a couple times it got sent a foot out of the water. All I’m doing is casting and allowing it to land with some slack, or, dare I say, creating a drag-free drift like I would if I were flyfishing.


While the Rapala keeps getting hit, it took a while before I could hook one in the form of a 10-inch brown trout, and that’s how it would play out until the bite stopped. A lot of misses between connections, but the whiffs were as entertaining as any topwater miss in the fishing universe.


While wondering how on earth a lure with two dangling treble hooks could be getting that much contact without hooking up, I had that “ah-ha!” moment that led me to my theory of what was going on that day, and when I saw it again on that creek and others like McGee and the Owens River.


It goes back to those grass­hoppers scattering out of the grass as I rumbled through. There is no doubt their presence — nothing strange throughout the summertime in the Eastern Sierra — had those creek trout “looking up” and waiting for one to make a wrong turn into the drink. And what was I sending their way? An elongated, 2-inch, tan, brown and black floating thing that was a perfect profile match of one of those local hoppers.


What occurred to me sometime later was, even the two treble hooks played a role in matching this hatch. Six hooks, six legs. Are light bulbs turning on yet?


Has it happened since? Multiple times. Can I count on it even if all factors line up? Not a chance, but I can say this much — when I’m throwing a floating Rapala in a creek, I’m definitely paying attention the second it hits the water.


I can sense the fly-fishing purists out there (and the long-rod amateur in me to an extent) scoffing at this claim that a red-hot hopper bite can be taken advantage of by dead drifting a floating Rapala, but that’s precisely what I will continue to claim went down until I’m overwhelmingly convinced otherwise.


Hopefully, you caught my drift.


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