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CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Mike Stevens – KNEE DEEP

Knee Deep

Stevens knew he wanted to be a Western Outdoor News staffer when he was 17-years-old, and it happened 20 years later. He worked in tackle shops before a stint at the Hubbs Sea-World Research Institute (white seabass hatchery) and later became the social media manager for several major outdoor brands while contributing to WON as a freelance writer. A member of the Outdoor Writers Association in California, Mike’s area of expertise is the Eastern Sierra, but he also feels right at home fishing his local inshore and offshore waters. He lives in San Marcos with his wife, two daughters and son.


Tough Love: trout edition
I wrote a good hunk of practical and next-level tactical intel for the special trout fishing section in the Jan. 25 edition of Western Outdoor News, and I may have just scratched the surface on some borderline-extreme, myth-busting, possibly untrue and definitely opinionated takes of mine that might fly in the face of plenty of stuff that’s generally accepted as common knowledge among trout anglers.


However, when you have a column with your mug shot on top, you can say pretty much whatever you want! So, as I do so often, here are some polarizing takes in quick-hitter form:


You give way too much credit to the intelligence of hatchery trout. When it comes down to it, they are hatched and raised in or around concrete and fed pelleted superfood before riding to your lake in a truck. I’m pretty sure if a glimmer of your gold treble hook is showing through your ball of power cheese, these fish are going to notice. You might check out the book, “ An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World .” I don’t agree with it all, but there were a lot of good points made.


The “best colors” aren’t necessarily so. If I asked 100 of you at the Fred Hall Show what the best color of Thomas Buoyant and Panther Martin are, I’d bet my favorite discontinued Kastmaster that 80 of you would blurt out, “red and gold!” and “black and yellow!” You know, they might be, but consider this. I love throwing Buoyants, and for a few years, I forced myself to throw ANYTHING BUT gold/red just to see, and I was convinced very early in the experiment that at least three of them out-produced the one that gets all the love: watermelon, both frog colors and brown trout. These days, I use those, and more, including red/gold, and those colors might not get you the same results. My point here is, take off your blinders. Often times, the “best colors” are just the result of them popping up in reports that land in the right places early in the game, and it just snowballs from there. Apply this consideration to everything.


Two-pound-test is not much different than four. Well, it is when you’re throwing minijigs because jigs weigh next to nothing, and if you need a long cast, 2-pound is going to get the job done. Let’s just take Trilene XL as a baseline example. The diameter of 2-pound is .005; the diameter of 4-pound is .008. Taking jigs out of the equation, if you’re going to try and tell me that a stocker rainbow is going to pass on that Yo-Zuri Pins Minnow or Rooster Tail you’re dragging on 4-pound, only to bite for the guy next to you because he’s flinging in on 2-pound because a trout is going to detect that THREE THOUSANDTHS of an inch difference, I have some oceanfront property in Lee’s Summit, Missouri to sell you.


I PROMISE, fishing for trout can still be fun if you aren’t a “made guy” in a trout-fishing “crew” with an edgy name (with Z’s in the place of S’s) that wears matching shirts and says “slay” a lot. Just trust me on this one.


I KNOW FOR MANY IT’S SACRILEGE, adding terminal tackle like a swivel to your lures, but, go ahead and add a small (but not so small it restricts motion) snap to all your Thomas Buoyants. I always found tying directly to drilled-out hole to be sketchy; light line against a tiny edge, so I bit the bullet and added a Duo-Lock Snap. Later, I read somewhere that the top brass at Thomas Lures also recommended it, so there’s that. It’s fine on Rapalas, too. I’ve noticed no drop-off in bites, and most of all, I’m not finding something to be sketchy.


POWERBAIT WORKS. Does it ever. But, if you find yourself in a cove lined with bait dunkers all deploying some variation of the stuff, try something different and/or new to set yourself apart from the gauntlet. BaitPro is an up-and-comer (but coming on strong) doing some exciting stuff in the doughbait space. Give them a Google for a good place to start. You can also add a Lil’ Corky Bait Floater to your rig to give it a different visual profile. That’s right, replace that bait ball with a bait snowman and hang on!


THAT $500 ROD AND REEL COMBO isn’t doing you as much good as you think. Yeah, it’s nice, fun to fish, and you can probably feel a trout exhale on your jig with all the space-aged materials and what not. But if I’m fishing nearby with my Daiwa Presso/Fuego combo (or one of several set-ups I own with an even lower street value) and you limit sooner than me, it’s not because of your $500 set-up. You’re just better.


THROW AWAY YOUR SWIVELS, unless you use them for trolling. The classic floating bait rig has always been a main line through an egg sinker, then tied to a swivel, then a leader tied to the other side of that swivel, then to a hook. Instead, swap the swivel out for a Carolina Keeper and eliminate two of the three knots (which are the weak points of any rig). So it’s just your 2- or 4-pound line coming off your reel running through the whole deal, and you can also change the “leader” length in seconds.


SINCE I’M ON THE SUBJECT, I never understood the whole 4-pound main line to 2-pound leader thing. If it’s going to break at 2 pounds, what purpose is the 4 serving? It all comes down to more knots to tie.


FOR AN ELEMENT OF COMPETITION resulting in glorious, tangible winnings, check out @STOCK_TRUCK_CHASERS_TOURNEY on Instagram. It’s new and growing, and each month of trout season is a new “online tournament” in which you can fish when and where (in SoCal) you want. At the very least you’ll get to keep tabs on the aforementioned trout slaying crews slugging it out.


HEY! GUYS ARE STARTING TO THROW JIGS ON FLY RODS! Norman MacLean and Rusty Kreh are watching from long-rodder’s Heaven. They would like you to stop.


THEN AGAIN, ERNEST HEMINGWAY threw garden worms on a fly rod, so, there’s your argument. He’s also your WMD if anyone suggests you’re not a man because you own a cat.


STILLWATER NYMPHING is starting to become more pre­valent in SoCal lakes on a semi-underground level. Norm and Rusty do approve of that.


THERE’S NO SHAME IN BAIT DUNKING. Not in trout truck country, anyway. I used to look down upon dunkers over 14 years of age, but now I’ll even mix it in if I just want to get bit when it’s high noon and slow. But you’ve got to wear it as dorkily as possible. I like to see how many consecutive times I can cast, hook and land a trout while lying flat on my back (my record is five), or if I’m upright, every hook-up is punctuated with a flawless Michael Jackson kick. “Serious-bait-angler-face-guys” need not apply.


I RAN ACROSS A DISCUSSION on the internet the other day where SoCal trout anglers were discussing which was a better fish — the Calaveras rainbow or Nebraska Tailwalker. One guy (who I do know and would agree with most of this list) apparently made a groundbreaking point with the group when he said “Calaveras fish bite right out of the truck.”


’Twas a line that will live in infamy.


I SUPPOSE I should have mentioned this at the beginning, but each of these points are best absorbed when read individually, then rereading the first one before moving on.


bigpartofthe
A BIG PART of the magic and joy in fishing for stocked trout comes as a result of the fact that… well… they’re dumb. PHOTO COURTESY CHRIS NORBY


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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.


2018: Lessons learned
There’s always a long list of topics swirling around in my head that I think could make a decent column one day in greater detail, but I’m not quite there yet in terms of information at hand and the angle of attack I’d take. There were a lot of those this past year and most of them fit the “revelations” genre, epiphanies, or things I straight-up didn’t know existed until 2018. What follows is a few of them, along with the bare minimum of context for various reasons:

There’s a Christmas tree “hunting” season. Really, there is. For sure in NorCal, and I can only imagine where else. They issue tags and close the season when the harvest limit has been reached and everything. If you cut one out of season, are you a “poacher?”


Deckhands get seasick. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, two of the three on the same trip (along with over half of the passengers). God bless ‘em, turns out they are men, not machines! They were younger guys, but deckhands nonetheless. It made me feel less bad about feeling it a bit myself.


“Full rack bendo!” I can’t think of anything I’ve heard on a boat make me laugh as much as that one. Captain Wes Flesch on the Options would yell that every time he would drop down a Sabiki rig and come up with five mackerel on as many hooks. It was really in the delivery — as if it fired him up just as much as landing a tanker seabass — and I can’t really do it justice here.


Vegetarian hunters exist. Indeed, they’re out there. Good for them. I still don’t think I’ll hear of a vegan hunter any time soon, though.


Fishing for rockfish can be fun. Braid has scaled down the size of the rods, reels and tackle needed to fish for them, and feeling the tap, tap, taptaptap of a 10-inch fish 200 feet deep is very cool. Thanks braid.


Top-level bass anglers are obsessed with the idea of calico bass. I got to work with a bunch of them at an event out at Kentucky Lake in Tennessee — I’m talkin’ the household-name BASS, FLW and Major League Fishing guys here. When they heard I was from Cali­fornia, most of them grilled me on all things calico bass.


Trailcameras are being used for fishing purposes. I’m not sure how widespread the practice is, but it’s definitely happening, and it’s actually quite genius. That’s about as far into that as I would like to get into because I am not interested in winding up in a hole in some corn field.


Stock-truck-chasing trout anglers are still convincing themselves they need a $250 rod. Eastern Sierra trout fishing arguably occupies the top spot on my preferred brand of fishing list, and I’ve still yet to think to myself, “You know what? I really wish this $70 Daiwa Presso was better at (insert rod function here).” Multiply that by 100 if I’m chasing stockers on local lakes.


Having a column topic blatantly ripped off, rewritten and passed off as an original thought on a website actually felt kind of cool once the steam stopped spewing from my ears. Glad I helped you hit that deadline, buddy.


Charismatic megafauna” is a great term for dealing with anti fishing/hunting folks. I first heard it from Steve Rinella on the MeatEater podcast and it basically means the wildlife that most people tend to care about above all others. If there are stuffed animals or calendars made of them, they fit the bill, which is why the ignorant masses knee-jerk to saving every last sea lion but couldn’t care less about a salmon. Ever see a kid lugging around a Tickle-Me Salmon?


Public Land laws, history, battles and madness is one of the most fascinating fall-down-an-Internet-rathole and read-all-you-can topics I have ever been exposed to. It’s a huge deal in our western states, and I couldn’t join Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and support the front lines fast enough once I became even a little informed.


That seasick deckhand trip was loaded with first-timers, and the thought that most of them might never get on a boat again bums me out. Maybe a public service announcement needs to go out urging charter masters to opt for a cushy summer outing rather than a late November 3/4-day if you have a boat full of rookies.


“Florida likes fishing” was something I heard an industry mentor originally from Cali­fornia say at an event in his new home state. I think what brought it up was, I was boarding his boat and realized I didn’t have a Florida fishing license yet. He then gave me a web address, and I bought one ON MY PHONE while we grabbed some live bait. I did the same thing in the backseat of a Jeep on the way to Kentucky Lake, so apparently Tennessee likes fishing, too. I imagine many more states also like fishing, and I wish mine did more.


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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.


My Lottery Lake
Whenever I fish with this one dude, the outing inevitably evolves into long philosophical discussions about anything, and sometimes, about nothing. Sometimes, they will occur over email, and he recently sent me a fun one.

If I won the recent billion-dollar lottery, and could do whatever I wanted with any Southern California lake in terms of rules, species, limits, etc. what would I do? He listed several fisheries: Dixon, Wohlford, Poway (we’re both from North County, San Diego) and Irvine, as examples.


happiertimes

HAPPIER TIMES AT IRVINE LAKE — Brady Garrett of Long Beach with a torpedo trout out of “The Vine” before it shut down.


It was Irvine Lake that really got my wheels turning, because that actually is a lake that needs to be back up and running, with or without a billion-dollar investment. During the quick brainstorm session, I found myself taking the best, or at least the coolest or most unique attributes of some of the lakes I already cover on a weekly basis for WON.


As for species, I want it all. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what “The Vine” had. Stocking of quality trout (including some alternate species to spice things up) and catfish, resident monster blue cats, thriving panfish population, and it was a real sleeper largemouth spot. As for striped bass, I like the idea, but I think my official response in the email was “maybe if someone smarter than me didn’t think they’d screw everything up.”


Stocking? I’d go for private stocking of quality trout like they do at Dixon, Wohlford, Poway and so on. But, rather than plant nothing but 2 to 5 pounders on average with some trophies mixed in, I would back off on some of the biggest fish and replace them with smaller two-to-a-pound little guys. For example, swap that 7-pound tanker out for 14 small guys. That’s for you swimbait guys, bass candy baby, and if they’re not eaten, they might still fill out some kid’s limit.


Trout stocking days would not be published, at least not the actual day. I’d do it how the DFW schedule works: post the week the lake will be stocked but not the day. Sorry trout-truck chasers, Irvine Lake brought to you by Stevens/Western Outdoor News is going to be a level playing field. You want to go to the closest cove to the stocking location on stock day, tee off on jaded trout just off the truck and pop off on the Internet like you accomplished something, you’re going to have to do it somewhere else!


Speaking of the location at which trout are delivered, I’m taking my billions and getting creative with that. If possible, I’ll have it one night after the lake closes. I might even have a net-pen barge out in the middle of the lake that new arrivals can “cure” in prior to release mid lake ensuring even distribution throughout the lake. Catfish can be stocked in the same place every time because they holdover from one season to the next, and new batches of catfish aren’t immediately “slain” in half like a trout plant is.


Silverwood Lake is in my area of coverage, and one of the most productive fishing locations for all species therein is the Marina Dock. It costs a couple bucks for access to it, but it always seems well worth it and by God I want one on my lake. I want a big, gnarly angular one that perhaps serves as the border around the marina itself. It should have built-in rod holders like the one out at Willow Beach, and trap doors like they have at Henshaw so you can fish right through it. Also, mix in a few shade structures for the scorchers, lights for night fishing, basically, full-featured but just short of having a Ruby’s Diner on the end.


Dude (his name’s Brady Garrett by the way. You may have read some of his features in WON’s saltier special sections and supplements) suggested one day per week for kayaks and float tubes only. I’m down with that.


He asked about boat restrictions, specifically, higher end bass boats. I stalled for a minute on that one but ended up saying glitter boats are welcome, but I’d have some serious speed restrictions and monster no-wake zones. Rental boats available would be those nicer Lund boats they have at Diamond Valley Lake, maybe a pontoon or three and a couple upgraded sleds with pedestal seats, a trolling motor and maybe even a reasonable Lowrance Hook unit (since anyone can figure out how to use it).


Garrett also suggested a day per week with no fishing, a breather. I went with it. Billionaire me can handle the loss of revenue, and it would create a perfect setting for my aforementioned exotic trout-stocking practices.


Of course, I’ll have a tackle shop, maybe a café or at least an area where food trucks can come in and set up shop.


Oh limits! Standard limits on trout, catfish and panfish. But, I might get slightly medieval when it comes to largemouth. Dixon Lake recently changed its limit from five bass to two. As much as I hate seeing bass on stringers, I think that’s reasonable. A little herd thinning can do the biomass some good, even with all that Vitamin T swimming around as an added food source.


I remember reading something in Field and Stream when I was a kid about turning your old Christmas tree into pond habitat, so we’re going to do that, too. Every January, free admission (or, I don’t know, free something) when you bring in your tree so I can haul them out in the pontoon and sink a pile of them in various featureless locations on my lake. That’ll give you crappie guys something to vertical jig over as well as some reduced-pressure offshore bass habitat – that you’ll be able to can find with the Lowrance Hook units aboard the deluxe rental boats.


That should do it.


That was the easy part.


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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.


Tackle Shopping Torture
The holidays are a special time for tackle shop employees.

Regular customers are replaced by girlfriends with lists, wives who think they’ll figure out what to get because they know what hubby fishes for and moms adopting either approach all visit with increasing frequency right up through Christmas Eve.


And yes ladies, I know you fish, too, especially these days. I just have no recollection of your men coming in with Christmas lists FOR YOU, which I’m sure was a pride thing on their part.


Of course, my 5-year tackle shop career (Shout out to all the Bob’s Bait and Tackle graduates out there, from both sides of the counter!) took place in the mid ‘90s, so the memories are getting hazy.


The Christmas-specific gift items that would arrive this time of year were awesome in a horrible way. Coozies that looked like fish swallowing your can (available in five species!), everything from coffee cups to wall clocks emblazoned with Guy Harvey art, and we couldn’t keep those obnoxious singing bass mounts in stock for more than half-a-day.


“Take me to the river! Drop me in the water!”


Wind-up/solar powered radios, cases of MREs, pens that looked like jerkbaits, I could go on forever and almost guarantee I name something that found its way under your tree or into your stocking.


“Mmm. Thanks for the dehydrated beef stew and the radio I can hand-crank to life, Aunt Beatrice.”


And this was two decades ago before the “end of the world as we know it” and zombie apocalypse was as trendy and realistic a possibility as it apparently is now.


The worst thing that would come in for the holiday rush was the “Spineless Wunder Boner” (Google it if you don’t believe me) which looked like a medieval torture device in miniature and allowed (allegedly) an angler to rip out the majority of a dead trout’s central nervous system in one fell swoop.


As for the wish lists, they came in three distinct categories: detailed bullet points ensuring success without surprise, basic ideas with a disclaimer to letting one of us do the shopping (those were fun, and I felt like I always nailed it because the dudes would always come back in January and give me a high five), and then, there was a third, and I never understood why someone would think this was a good idea other than for providing us annual entertainment.


The list itself was legit, most of it anyway. Each item would be read to me, and I would run around the store finding them and throwing them into a basket. The last item on these particular lists would be where the magic happened.


It was always a product that didn’t exist, but to the list holder, it was always something that sounded like it could be real, so they’d ask for it with a straight face. Often times, the fictional product sounded so legitimate, it would get us thinking about it for a minute or two.


Most were obvious, for example, camouflage versions of various personal products one might pick up at a pharmacy and not want to mention to anyone, ever.

But you haven’t experienced unintended deadpan humor until you’ve heard a young lady ask for “clam decoys.”


“Excuse me?”


“Clam decoys. The last thing on my boyfriend’s Christmas list are clam decoys. Do you carry them?”


At this point, I knew I had another victim, but I had to know.


“Hmmm. I don’t think we carry those, what are they exactly?”


“Before you put out your “clam trap” (he must have already had one of those), you throw out a bunch of clam decoys, and they attract real clams that will get caught in the trap.”


At that point, the charade is over and I had to put an end to the misery. That’s where it always confused me that guys would pull this stunt. Your lady is out BUYING YOU ALL THE FISHING TACKLE YOU ASKED FOR, and you can’t help yourself and add an element of humiliation to the equation. I’m shocked that I never had one of those ladies dump out the basket on the counter and walk out.


I wish I remembered more of these fictional items. I seem to remember “live squid” coming up a few times, with the ever-present background whirr of the shiner-tank pump adding an air of confidence to the request. Another was “bass bacon” which turned out to be – after a long discussion – a real request for the pork trailers that used to be added to jigs (jig-and-pig anyone?), but that would have been just too merciful to make it that easy.


But clam decoys, I’ll never forget the clam decoys.


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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.


One trip on the Prowler
One of my favorite fishing stories is one of my oldest, and it has little to do with fishing. It was more of a humorous tale of “survival” set aboard the Prowler. I’ve never written about it, and I figure now is probably a good time to do so.

prowler

I was 19-years-old and working part time for Bob’s Bait and Tackle in Escondido. If that wasn’t dating myself enough, it was 1996…’97 tops. I had never been on anything longer than a 3/4-day, but a steady stream of customers were coming through the shop, and it seemed like each one of them was raving about overnight-trip yellowfin and dorado – which seems normal now but at the moment it was a big deal.


I reached my breaking point and decided to jump on my first overnighter, solo, that night. From right there in the shop, I started calling the landings and each of them told me all the open-party trips were sold out. Eventually, one of these calls revealed a limited-load overnight trip, and it was aboard Buzz Brizendine’s Prowler.


Typically, this type of story ends with “So I went out and caught a limit of tuna and dorado, and I grew up to be an overnight partyboat legend!” but that’s not exactly how it played out. You see, that “limited load” thing was going to play a huge part in why this is a trip story that still comes up way more often than those of subsequent outings where I caught way more fish.


The open-party trips I was chasing were $99, give or take. Limited load trips were around $140, and this starving journalism student was making $6 an hour working part time and had $150 to his name, before buying the ticket. Looking back just over two decades, the details are hazy, but I don’t remember why I didn’t bum a 20 off someone, or at the very least, pack a lunch, but I know for some reason I was not in a position to do either.


So, I boarded the Prowler with ten bucks, a Penn Powerstick/Jigmaster combo, a custom Calstar 210 I bought used and matched with a Daiwa Sealine 30 I scored via birthday money and the employee discount. The reason that ten-spot was untouchable was I knew I’d need it to get fish filleted at the end of the trip, and I found myself almost hoping I wouldn’t catch too many. I’d yet to catch an “exotic,” even a yellowtail, so the thought of driving home with whole fish I’d have to fillet myself already had me anxious, and we hadn’t even untied yet.


The fishing was good not great, but my mission was accomplished when I broke the ice with one of the first fish landed that day: a respectable bull dorado that I eventually brought to gaff with that noodle-of-a-Calstar. I’d catch another smaller dodo later in the day, and that was that.


I have a theory on why boat burgers are so good. It’s not the ingredients. I’ve seen galleys stocked a thousand times. It’s usually from Smart and Final or Costco. Sure there is a bit of magic from the cook, but I think when you’re fishing, you simply don’t realize how hungry you are. As soon as you’re done fishing and heading back to the barn, that’s when the starvation hits you. That was the point I was at on the Prowler.


Famished with a 100-plus mile run home ahead of me and my last $10 earmarked for fillets, a mild panic came over me. I tried to sleep through it, but it wasn’t happening. I remember going into the galley and being surprised no one was hanging out in there, so I started snooping around. I wasn’t going to steal anything, but don’t really know what I was hoping to find.


Sweet salvation arrived in the form of those twin packs of saltines you get with cheap side salads, and single serving Knott’s Berry Farm jelly packs. They were neatly stacked in those wire racks like you’d see on a table in a breakfast joint. I must have made a dozen saltine and jelly mini sandwiches, and by that time, they tasted as good as any galley burger.


I don’t think I ever rode on the Prowler again, for no other reason than the group of anglers I fell in with were loyal to another landing. What I do know, is even 22 years later, that’s all I think about when I see those saltine two-packs and one-shot jellies. That noodle Calstar is still my go-to stick for slinging pinhead ’chovies. Tackle shop guys made fun of it until the ‘chove was all we had and they all started borrowing it.


I took my saltwater fishing to the next level aboard the Prowler, and it looks like I won’t be able to circle back and take another ride on her again like I had always imagined. For my story, the fishing was a side note, but it’s a trip I’ll never forget aboard a boat that played a role in my fishing evolution.


What is it about boats?


Feel free to send in your story about fishing aboard the Prowler. Not sure what I will do with them when they arrive, but I’ll think of something. Send to mikes@wonews.com


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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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