Blake Warren – ON THE HOOK

On the Hook

Western Outdoor News’ freshwater editor, Blake Warren, is a fishing enthusiast who pounces on any opportunity offering a shot at hooking any finned creature in any body of water. After serving as an auxiliary engineer in the U.S. Navy for 6 years aboard the destroyer, Paul F. Foster (DD-964), Warren went on to use his GI Bill at San Diego State University, where the proud Aztec earned a degree in Journalism. Hooked on fishing from a very young age upon first catching a trout in the East Walker River, he has never been able to shake the angling bug, traveling as far as southern Argentina in pursuit of fish. Warren currently resides in Capistrano Beach.

‘Irvine Fake,’ revisited
It’s now been over three years since Irvine Lake’s gates were closed to the public on Feb. 28, 2016, but a recent Orange County grand jury report detailing the dysfunction surrounding the parties involved who are to blame for the lake still remaining unusable might just twist some arms and at least get some kind of ball rolling at long, well-overdue last. I wrote an initial “Irvine Fake” column in these pages about the conundrum surrounding the stagnant nature of negotiations and any possible path toward a possible resolution in reopening the lake for public recreation in September of last year (Sept. 21 issue, page 7).

Not much has really changed in that regard, except for the fact that the recent grand jury findings may actually force the parties involved to at least come to the table and make a mere half hearted attempt at figuring something – ANYTHING – out rather than just continue on with the petty and immature bickering and infighting that’s dragged things to an essential standstill like a zillion-ton anchor.

THIS NEBRASKA TAILWALKER caught at the 2015 Irvine Lake Trout Opener was the type of specimen anglers flocked to Santiago Canyon for each and every year.

As for a little background first, here’s the gist of it all: In 2015, the Irvine Co. agreed to bestow 2,500 acres surrounding Irvine Lake to the County of Orange. The previous concessionaire at the lake prior to it closing was the Serrano Water District, whose lease — as part of the land transfer agreement — wasn’t renewed in late 2015 to continue operating the concessions. Hence, that’s when the gates closed to the lake. Well, Serrano, which owns 25 percent of the water rights to Irvine clearly wasn’t thrilled with that decision. Irvine Ranch Water District also owns a percentage of the lake’s water rights, and OC Parks can’t even begin to start planning for any type of recreation at the lake until the parties come to some sort of agreement. But it’s been as clear as the water that runs down your drain — especially after this most recent grand jury report — that nobody involved has even been trying to find a solution to creating a path to the lake reopening to public recreation.

In the 30-page grand jury report, jurors hammered both water districts for failing to make any progress toward a resolution, saying that IRWD hasn’t provided any information or any plans for a new successor to come in to OC Parks despite a number of contacts by OC Parks, while noting that SWD had no documented communication with OC Parks in regard to recreation rights in nearly two full years. How’s that for sitting on your hands? And these are elected officials mind you, to make matters even worse, as if we needed yet another local government failure on our hands here.

Thankfully, however, the grand jury report and its aftermath provide a little positive light at the end of the tunnel for those of us eternally hopeful that Irvine will one day reopen to fishing. The jurors ultimately came to the conclusion that the situation and the three government agencies involved needed some serious arm twisting and oversight, which is the first actual legitimately positive news regarding the Irvine Lake to arise since its gates sadly closed over three years ago.

Here’s what we now have to look at going forward: First, less than three months from now, the agencies must all give their input on a possible resolution to the presiding judge of the superior court. Next, if the involved parties cannot come to some type of resolution by year’s end, they will be required to post the obstacles as to why not on the web, along with how they plan on overcoming said obstacles and coming to a resolution on the issues at hand. After that, the report stated that by March 21, 2020, OC Parks, “…should hold open public planning meetings to address possible uses and activities.”

Those meetings would still be 10 months out, but hey, it’s a start. At least somebody has stepped up to push the ball forward and put an end to this ridiculousness from a few dozen folks to keep a treasured public resource for the better part of a century inaccessible to that very public it once served so well.

And there should be no viable reason that Irvine Lake doesn’t in fact reopen in due time. The concession always, or almost always, turned a profit of some sort with boating and fishing being on the menu. The RV storage facility at the lake is also a revenue producer, and the grand jury report even kicked out a handful of more ideas to add revenue streams. If just brought back up on-line to its past operating levels, the jurors wrote, “it would appear operations would produce net income in roughly the historical amounts.”

Ok then, the writing is now on the proverbial wall. The lake is still a highly coveted public resource for outdoor folks near and far, and it is still a viable moneymaker with taking the necessary steps forward. There are plenty of reasons these steps need to start being taken, and for all the bickering and posturing by the few who are denying the many to just finally come to an end at long last. Those fish are still just all in that lake in Santiago Canyon waiting for us. Let’s just hope that this actually means things will actually start to happen and that some type of resolution will soon be in sight.

In the meantime, it probably wouldn’t hurt to send a few emails to these folks urging them to finally come to the table and figure something out. The grand jury put a good bit of pressure on them to get their acts together. A little more pressure probably wouldn’t hurt from those of us just wanting to get back on the water either.


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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 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.

Gem of Diego
Tucked away in the foot­hills of East San Diego County just a few long and winding roads and a handful of miles outside of the quaint town of Alpine, Barrett Lake is certainly as unique a bass fishery as there is here for miles in every direction. Chock full of the South­land’s lone major population of Northern-strain largemouth — and its population is in fact major — amid a beautiful alpine setting, fishing Barrett is more so an experience than just an­other fishing outing.

YET ANOTHER SEASON is dawning at Barrett, and it certainly appears the stage is set for it to be a good one.

Open just five months a year (May through September) and just three days a week during the season, opportunities to fish Barrett are indeed treasured by those who understand its unique potential. That’s only approximately 67 to 70 days of fishing at the reservoir each year, and with a limited number of rental boats and reservations available for each of those days, it’s all that much more of a treat to get on its alpine waters on any day.

It’s akin to the contrast between the NFL and Major League Baseball: 16 games versus an allotted 162 of those rascals, respectively. Those 16 football games are hyped up and highly anticipated events, while the 162 near-daily contests in the baseball season are more so glanced at in passing as the long flipbook turns page after page through the dog days of summer and beyond. Point is, often times, less is more. Such is exactly the case with Barrett Lake.

And then you get to the fishing itself. The majority of San Diego bass anglers, both young and old alike, have heard the Barrett glory day tales through the years. Those of 100-, or even 200-plus-fish outings. Epic topwater bites marathoning from first light through the afternoon. Days where the term “plastics” doesn’t even breeze across one’s cerebral cortex. Sure it’s had its down years — some might suggest that last year was somewhat of a “down year” by Barrett’s traditional lofty standards — but more often than not, it’s generally a solid producer on most occasions.

Then there’s the quality of fish at Barrett. Having heard a fair share of the previously mentioned glory tales myself, a rare and recent personal visit to Barrett just a couple weeks ago was surely an impressive reminder. Catch numbers were up from the previous year’s pre-fishing by most accounts, and between our boat’s 60 to 70 fish that were caught and released, the vast majority of them were running 2 to 4½ pounds, a few bigger, a few smaller. Stout, healthy and awfully aggressive, those Northerns. Try having a mid-April day like that at San Vicente, or up north at Castaic. Sure it’s possible, but Florida-strain bass just simply don’t usually treat us to that type of frenzied action with a heavy helping of quality for good measure.

BARRETT’S AGGRESSIVE BASS aren’t usually too shy about whacking baits.

To back up the quality claim at the lake, when California Department of Fish and Wildlife staff assessed Barrett in January of 2018, a metric used that compares length, width and relative weight to measure ideal growth curves showed the reservoir’s bass scoring phenomenally, with the vast majority of Barrett specimens assessed scoring in the top 8 percentile. After my recent day on the lake a couple weeks back, I can definitely see why. Most of these bass, regardless of each one’s particular weight, were fat, stocky footballs.

This week marks the kickoff to yet another promising Barrett season — May 1 being 2019’s opening day — and the anticipation is palpable in high hopes for a “bounce-back” year for the alpine reservoir. And it certainly seemed to me that could very well be the case indeed. I’m looking forward to seeing the trickle of reports from opening week myself (feel free to send any Barrett photos/reports to blake@wonews.com). Barrett is the region’s proverbial box of chocolates, and it’s always fun to see just what she yields in the top of the first inning each year. It can also fire an arrow of jealousy into your gut should you happen to see you missed out on one of those particularly classic “glory days.”

It is ‘game on’ now. Hope you’ve got your opening month reservations. Enjoy the gem of San Diego if you do. Shouldn’t be an issue, it’s damn near impossible not to.

Fishing reservations for Barrett Lake can be obtained via Ticketmaster.com. Reservations ($80 for rental boats, $20 for float tubes / kayaks) go on sale at 7 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month for the following month’s fishing dates. The month of May is currently sold out.

NOW OPEN FOR the season through September, Barrett Lake offers a unique bass fishing experience quite unlike most in the Southland, along with the only major population of aggressive Northern-strain largemouth in SoCal. WON PHOTOS BY BLAKE WARREN

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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 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.

A well-placed (pod) cast
Grass roots. It’s the very place where the serious fishing bug is continually born and/or caught, generation after generation, and it is most certainly where it most consistently spreads and how the seed is nurtured to foster further growth. It’s teaching a kid how to rig up and make a solid cast. It’s talking to the folks at your local tackle shop and asking a bevy of questions. It’s geeking out with a fellow fisherman over the endless stream of baits out there and the plethora of different ways to rig and fish them.

It’s where the legitimate heart and passion of fishing lives and thrives, and where it’s passed on down the lineage.

One recent example of this is in the upstart weekly fishing podcast, “ Cast and Crank,” which initially launched in late August and is now up to its 25th episode venturing further into the New Year.

If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s headed up by co-hosts Nick Trujillo and Justin McTeer, two guys — both of whom I’ve yet to meet in person — who come off on the podcast merely as two dudes that are just into fishing and want to delve deeper into the angling rabbit hole. Sound and feel familiar?

And how else do you dig deeper and get closer to fishing Wonderland but to kick around ideas, theories, techniques, back­grounds, etc. with other guys who are already well on their way down the El Chapo escape tunnel of the proverbial fishing rabbit hole?

Cast and Crank has an easy-listening feel. It’s not over-produced with any real bells or whistles and it’s pretty rudimentary and straight-forward: just sitting around and talking fishing. The guys are still feeling their way into it and adding and adapting things as they go along, but for the most part, it’s just fun, and interesting.

Of all the noise that pounds our ears on a daily, minute-by-minute basis, I for one would personally prefer having that noise be fishing noise, or something else I’m legitimately interested in rather than the 90 percent of practically-unavoidable noise we’re pelted with that usually amounts to all but nothing in the end game. At this point in life, I’m convinced: simple IS best in the majority of cases. Pick your poison.

The podcast has mostly — with a handful of exceptions — focused on the bass scene to this point, both the saltwater and freshwater varieties. Which is fitting, especially with the relatively new wave of innovative and inevitable crossover between the two in recent years. There’s a bit of focus on the tournament fishing scene — both fresh and salt — along with a good bit on particular baits / gear and techniques, and the personal stories and experiences of the guests and their backgrounds, including how they first put their heads and arms down this vast and endless rabbit hole of fishing that many of us find ourselves immersed in today.

Perhaps the biggest early takeaways from the young podcast for me is the simple notion — which is always a good and helpful reminder — that there truly is no particular one way to fish or how to go about things, and that the myriad subtleties and possibilities in this sport of ours, just as in life itself, are practically endless. You can pick up on this in just listening to a handful of Cast and Crank episodes.

Take a half dozen guys who are true-and-true, dedicated calico specialists, and each of them are most likely to have their own preferred approaches and styles of fishing. One guy leans heavily on big weedless swimbaits, while the next dude might be a die-hard crankbait chucker.

And in between it all, there are those countless little nuggets in all the details about just how exactly each guy goes about it. Pay close enough attention and it can be pretty enlightening in a number of different ways.

Most of the guests thus far have offered up plenty of insight to chew on from each of their deep wealth of knowledge and vast experience of time on the water, which is clearly the ultimate teacher in this game when all is said and done. As far as any angler’s learning curve is concerned, you can only read about it, watch videos online or talk about and pick other folks’ brains so much — ultimately, you just have to get out there and continue casting away to keep ascending to that next level on the learning ladder.

But that’s not to say that you can’t absorb ample insights without having a deck under your feet, because you most certainly can, especially when it’s coming from guys who’ve logged more hours on the water in the last 10 or 20 years than the rest of us could ever hope to accumulate in a lifetime, even if we make an honest and valiant effort at it.

From Eric Bent reminiscing about the early days of saltwater bass tournament fishing to Chris Lilis breaking down the nuances within the nuances of a particular calico bite on a kelp line.

From Eric Landesfeind recalling a once-in-a-lifetime teener calico boiling on his bait just like a 25-pound yellow and the heartbreak of the trophy bass getting away, to Captain Jimmy Decker giving advice on how to get the most out of any given seminar you attend, and Ben Secrest advising all the SoCal skiff “captains” out there on simply how to avoid being a “ kook” while out on the water.

There’s a lot to be gleaned by one with keen and open ears who’s mining for gold nuggets of information, insight and possibly some new ideas to incorporate into your game.

All in all, it’s something that has likely been wanted and needed in the sportfishing community for a long time now. It’s definitely worth a listen or three to at least check it out for yourself and see what you might be able to glean from it. It certainly beats the perpetual droning on of the nightly news or scrolling through the perceived and exaggerated, overhyped glitz and glamor of social media.

After all, it is grass roots. And one very well-placed (pod) cast…

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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 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.

Options 'Galore(y) Days'
These are indeed very unique and interesting times, both as a mere participant currently existing in this ever-evolving – or, in a number of other cases, devolving – world, and especially so if you happen to be a fisherman in the southern half of California at the moment. With the fast-paced nature of our modern society, aflood with a constant barrage of social media posts and a relentless carpet bombing of non-stop tidbits of information coming our way from every direction, it can sometimes be easy to lose a little bit – or “a lot bit” – of perspective, and taking just a brief step back for a moment, it's damned near impossible to not notice that these are in fact some great days, months and years we're living through if you just so happen to have some kind of passion for hooking – and landing – any variety of finned predators.

This is one helluva playground we're currently playing in. The options are seemingly endless: a shot at the catch of a lifetime in a 200- to 300-pound bluefin tuna right out your backdoor? Excellent and rapid-fire calico bass action inshore along kelp stringers up and down the coast and frenzied boiler rock reaction bites at the islands? A better-than-fair chance at kelp paddy dorado and yellowtail without burning barrels of fuel? Schoolie-grade bluefin and yellowfin at numerous spots to keep rods bent and freezers filled? Bottom fishing galore practically year-round? Heavy-duty, consistent snaps on white seabass during monthly moon cycles? Big halibut, trophy corbina and more and more hefty striped bass being beached from the breakers of our beaches, along with consistent bites for big croaker, perch and sharks? Chunk spotties in the bays before or after work?

And then if you want to shift into your freshwater gears a bit, there's always that shot at a double-digit / trophy largemouth at any number of lakes within tolerable driving distance, and a good chance at finding good numbers of biting bass at just about anytime of year. Big stripers are always willing players at a handful of SoCal lakes, while youngsters are easily sucked into the sport with relatively easy catches of panfish and catfish during their off-days of summer as well, Then mix in our relatively access to the wonders and trout-laden waters of the Eastern Sierra and we have a whole ’nother gem of a fishery on our hands just a few hundred miles up Hwy. 395.

The options truly are seemingly endless. And that's a very good problem for us as fisherfolk to have on our hands.

These past few warm-water years have brought more droves of pelagics up into very reasonable striking range, and at least for now, it seems like they are going to be here to stay. The volume of bluefin that many assumed would slink right back down the Baja coast once that cooler water came has never truly happened, and while that cooler water has surged up a handful of times, we've also just seen peak ocean temps pushing 80 degrees – perhaps meaning our backyard playground is merely becoming an extension of northern Baja for the long(er) haul with the way things are currently trending. No complaints here (except for the occasional Orlando-like humidity that appears to becoming more commonplace through the warmer months of the year with it all). Win some, lose some, I suppose. Gotta take the good with the bad. And the good has been very good to us here recently for the most part.

So let's stop just short and hesitate at the verge of getting jaded with all of this goodness. Dial back some expectations here and there and just enjoy what we have right in front of us in these Glory Days. It's really far more than any of us could realistically ask for with a reasonable tongue.

Western Outdoor News headquarters is no stranger to receiving the occasional gripes and disappointment-laden complaints here and there claiming that someone was “jobbed” because a 2-day trip targeted trophy bluefin at San Clemente Island and “ONLY” decked 8 of 'em, rather than just go paddy hunting and pick off whatever dorado and yellowtail was available – and contrasting objections also trickle in essentially saying just the opposite: “Why were we worrying about these 8- to 10-pound kelp paddy dorado and yellows when we have this shot at the fish of a lifetime?”

Different strokes, certainly. But let's not necessarily break out the torches and pitchforks just yet folks. There's plenty to go around. Plenty more than most of us could legitimately ever hope for or really expect, so let's just pump the brakes, gear up and enjoy it. There's most definitely no shortage of variety to enjoy here right in our backyard.

So just get on out there and get your own little – or big – taste of these Glory Days.

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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 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.

Irvine Fake
It’s still there. Hasn’t gone anywhere, dried up or been stricken from the earth via some kind of natural catastrophe. Nope. Irvine Lake still sits there in Santiago Canyon as it has since its construction in 1929 and since it opened to fishing in the pre-World War Two era in 1941. No fewer than four generations of Southern Californians have enjoyed Irvine Lake’s serenity, uniqueness and perhaps most of all — at least to us anglers — its multi-pronged fishery.

It’s been out of commission to recreation now for 2½ years, since it closed to the public Feb. 28, 2016 after a land deal consisting of 2,500 acres surrounding the lake going from the Irvine Co. to the County of Orange, which was agreed upon in 2015. Aside from the presumed nighttime ninja fisherman desperately hunting for his PB largemouth or any possible transients squatting in the nearby hills poaching fish in the evenings, nobody has wet a line there since just after Valentine’s Day in 2016 — and no one here locally can love that.

But really, why?

Well, the shortest of answers is that the powers that be haven’t really figured anything out at all since then. The main players are the Serrano Water District, the County of Orange and the Irvine Ranch Water District, all of which are run by publicly elected officials — with elections coming up this November to most definitely keep in mind in this case.

What should by any and all assumptions very well be an incredibly valuable and fantastic public resource, hasn’t been accessible to the public for more than 30 months now. And there doesn’t seem to be much resolve on the part of any of the main parties involved to do anything with an eye toward the good of the public or surrounding community for the sake of recreation or fishing in the near — or distant — future.

Instead, the bickering and stalemate continues, while those of us who happen to enjoy a little time on the water and catching a fish now and then are essentially boxed out. For no real, legitimate reason, and merely because perhaps a couple dozen folks can’t — or won’t — get their act together and figure out a solution that makes the premier freshwater fishery that Orange County has really ever known accessible to the people who pay high dollar to live their lives in Orange County and Southern Cali­fornia in general.

With the two water districts controlling the recreation rights to the lake’s water, the parties involved would have to come to some sort of agreement in order to transfer Irvine’s recreation rights to the County of Orange to begin paving the way back to reopening the 25 acres of lakefront to public use again. And there doesn’t seem to be much traction in getting there as of now. All sides say they are working toward some type of solution that could eventually do so, yet there also seems to be quite a bit of finger pointing and balking among them at the same time, or at the least the appearance of a lack of urgency to move the ball forward to toward restoring public recreation at the lake.

One primary sticking point in this situation rests with the Serrano Water District, which last managed the concessions and recreation at the lake before its lease was not renewed back in 2015, and ultimately when the gates closed Feb. 28, 2016. Serrano controls 25 percent of the lake’s water rights, yet has not come to any sort of terms as to taking a requisite 25 percent of any future water-based recreation revenue. So, here we are. The stalemate continues, and the public continues to lose out most of all.

According to the county, it has engaged and facilitated discussions with the water districts to push the ball forward toward coming to an agreement that would allow for eventually reopening the lake to public use. However, the folks at Serrano say the County of Orange hasn’t breached talks or approached the water district for a year now. Like most things in life, the truth most likely lies somewhere in the middle of it all in the gray, but that doesn’t give much solace to the public that’s being denied use and access to one of its most long-favored and popular outdoor recreation areas amidst an ever-growing and expanding urban sprawl so desperately in need of it.

So for now, we just wait. Or we write the county expressing our displeasure with the situation. Or we cast a ballot for a whole host of new and different names in the upcoming November elections and merely hope that somebody will finally get the ball rolling. Because the folks currently in place certainly don’t seem to even be holding the ball, let alone appear to be inclined to rolling it forward with any positive momentum at this particular point in time.

Does a lake sit in the woods? And while we know this particular one does in fact sit there right in our backyard, does it really even exist if nobody can even access or enjoy the resource? Philosophy for dummies.

In the meantime, that unique body of water out in Santiago Canyon continues to just sit there and taunt those of us who truly realize its value and importance to the angling community and beyond to no avail. And it’s really a crying shame across the board.

But, yes, to answer the question. A lake does sit in the woods...

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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 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.

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