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Pat McDonell's Blog

WONews Column by Pat McDonell

Pat McDonell is the Editorial Director of Western
Outdoors Publications and has fished and hunted all over the world, from Brazil’s famed peacock bass waters to Morro Bay for albacore.

A graduate from San Diego State University in Journalism, he coordinates the staffs of the weekly newspaper and magazine. He was a founding member of United Anglers of SoCal. He’s an avid saltwater and freshwater angler and hunter. He is also the director of the annual Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament held each November in Cabo.  McDonell, 52, is married with two daughters and resides in Carlsbad.

Snow melts, it's game on for Sierra
10-10 brown at Lower Twin paces Sierra big fish

BRIDGEPORT -- "Scott Harp Sr. didn't call it quits because of a little opening day foul weather," reported Martin Strelneck, one of our five WON reporters on the scene opening weekend in the Eastern Sierra for the traditional open. The opener, the last Saturday in April every year, draws thousands to the lakes along Highway 395. Streneck added, "Late afternoon he made the scales at Twin Lake Resort weighing in a 10-pound, 10-ounce brown trout, taking top area honors for the day's heaviest Eastern Sierra catch."

Strelneck said Harp Jr., an Elk Grove resident, spent the day trolling a J-plug, rigged with leadcore down 8-colors. It looks as though that fish, a 10-2 'bow at Crowley, several browns at Lower Twin and a host of 5 to 7 pounders at the Loop and Crowley and one 7 1/2 pounder at Upper Twin Lake in Mammoth were the opening day lunkers.

BIG FISH opening day honors went to Elk Grove angler Scott Harp Sr. who braved the elements and weighed in this 10-pound, 10-ounce Lower Twin Lake brown that inhaled a J-Plug trolled down eight colors. Twin Lake Resort Photo

A quick snowstorm came and went Saturday, making life miserable most of the day at upper elevations, but still the anglers came and the fish bit, and then by Saturday afternoon the melt was on, and by Saturday night and Sunday morning, the blanket of snow was peeled off and the sun came out for a perfect second day.

As everyone knows, the state and the Eastern Sierra is in a brutal four-year drought with low snowfall, The one good side of that is that Lakes Basin of Mammoth was wide open. Now, usually, you need an auger to drill the ice, and a snowmobile to get to the upper Mammoth Basin lakes.

This year, all the lakes of upper and lower Twin, Mary, George and Mamie were open, accessible, and planted before the opener and they had holdover Mono County-provided lunkers that had been put in after the season closed. Just waiting.There were at least 100 to 150 folks at Mary on shore and in 10 boats battling the wind (like me) and the other lakes, although the other basin lakes had no rental boats on the water, their shores were sprinkled with anglers, bundled up. Hooking fish, mostly on Power Bait.

I spent most of my time at Lake Mary in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, and Mary is an example of the situation, the Mammoth Lakes Basin being ice-free for the first time in 25 years, says Don Barrett, owner of the Lake Mary's s Barrett Landing, with boats in the water.

" The snowfall for the opener is the ultimate irony," said Barrett, but by Saturday afternoon the snow had stopped, and melted quickly away. By the evening, in Mammoth and the highway and everywhere but the upper Sierra elevations, it seemed as though the heavy snow was merely a dream. It was gone. But it was real. And real cold, the coldest I have ever been in 30 years of covering the opener for WON. I got three Lake Mary rainbows in an hour trolling and on PB from a boat and was more than happy to get to shore and start taking pictures of others' fish and taking notes. It was damn cold and gusts or blasts delivered snow sideways at times, making life miserable on the anchor.  

A lot of people took advantage of the open waters, but they hadn't counted on blizzard conditions, but they still fished and caught plenty. Then the snow melted and it warmed up, it was game on with a 7 1/2 pound rainbow by Mammoth Resident Jim Dessert from Upper Twin on an inflated 'crawler by the waterfall, which by my accounting here at WON was the biggest fish from of the Mammoth basin waters, but there were 5-fish limits galore laced with 2 to 3-pound fish being weighed in at Rick's Sports Center in Mammoth.

Rick  Flamson , owner of the iconic downtown Mammoth sports shop, added that Red's Meadow will likely be open by Memorial Day after some road work. That is not official, by any means, but it is close enough and that means the access to lakes Sotcher, Starkweather, the hike to Devil's Postpile, Rainbow Falls, and the backcountry trails at Red's Meadow will open months earlier.

Bad news is,  Flamson said, you will have one month to fish the San Joaquin River because that river, and any other flowing Sierra waters, will be trickles soon with this drought. "It will be definitely be the year of the Sierra lakes," said  Flamson.

HARD DAY FISHIN—A steady snowfall didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of opening day anglers at June Lake. The reeds on the west end of the lake continued to be a hot spot for both rainbows and cutthroat. PHOTO BY ERNIE COWAN


This is my first opener after two years of missing the action. Two hip surgeries are over and done with. Felt great to be back, despite the brutal Saturday morning weather. This area is so beautiful, and it feels great to be back covering the opener with the rest of the staff. Look for full coverage from Ernie Cowan, Mike Stevens, Bill Karr and Martin Strelneck in this week's issue of WON.

New blood, familiar faces
There is changing of the guard at the San Diego sportfishing landings. Rest assured, it is the kind of change that sportfishing on Scott Street is known for, bringing in new blood but building on decades of tradition.

When Capt. Bill Poole passed away in 2009, his wife and business partner Ingrid Poole controlled 50 percent of Fisher­man’s Landing, and 37½ percent of Pt. Loma Sportfishing and remains the second largest shareholder at Seaforth. Ingrid is now remarried, enjoying life in Montana, and is slowly moving on, selling her interests, thus far in Fisherman’s and Point Loma Sportfishing.

FRANK LOPRESTE, IS still majority owner of Fisherman’s Landing and Seaforth, but recently the port of San Diego ok’d his partnering with Capt. Tim Ekstrom of the Royal Star and Doug Kern of Fisherman’s Landing Tackle.

The new owners are all familiar names to customers and partners.

Ingrid Poole was at the recent Fred Hall Long Beach show, visiting booths, old friends and businesses she and Bill had built or helped over several decades. She is moving into a new phase of her life. Six months ago, she sold 17 percent of Fisherman’s Landing to Frank LoPreste, 17 percent to Doug Kern (who is partners with LoPreste and a new investor — and more on that later of Fisherman’s Landing Tackle) and another 17 percent was sold to Capt. Tim Ekstrom, one of three owner/operators of the Royal Star. The San Diego Port Commission last month approved the transfer.

LoPreste told WON on Friday that soon another 16 percent owned by his ex-wife will be sold to the trio, 7 percent to Ekstrom, 7 percent to Kern and 2 percent to Frank.

“Tim and I will eventually have 24 percent of the landing and Frank will have 52 percent,” said Kern. “He’s the majority owner and he’s still the man. He and Bill built this whole thing at the landings and it’s time he’s the No. 1 guy. We’re minority owners, and I have to say we’re grateful for him to be here, and a chance to mentor us, because there’s a lot for us to learn about.”

DOUG KERN AND his equal partner Frank LoPreste in Fisherman’s Landing Tackle sold shares to longtime Tackle Manager Rick Maxa in January. Kern recently joined LoPreste and Tim Ekstrom in part ownership of the landing.

LoPreste said he didn’t make his majority ownership in Fisherman’s a key issue. Kern and Ekstrom requested it. “I could not be happier with the agreement,” said LoPreste. The three of us complement each other. Tim and I are ‘go out and get ’er done’ types, and Doug is more of the ‘Let’s write it down and think about this a little bit’ kind of guy. I don’t think we will ever have a disagreement, and if we ever do, it won’t stay that way. We’ll just sit down and revisit it.”

Kern is greatly respected and well-liked in sportfishing circles. He understands there is a calm transfer of power going on. There’s no room or time for internal struggles, outsiders and takeovers.

“What we’re seeing is an infusion of new blood, with people who care about the industry and the San Diego landings. We’re really unique; we’re three combined landings down here. It’s a changing of the guard, but it’s with people who know how it’s done, with integrity.”

Ekstrom was just heading out on a trip and told WON the opportunity has been there before, well before this year.

CAPT. TIM EKSTROM, one of three owner operators of the Royal Star, was recently approved by the San Diego Port Commission as part owner of Fisherman’s Landing with Doug Kern.

“I vacillated the first time years ago, but when opportunity finally did knock again, the opportunity to share ownership with Doug Kern was the principal reason I joined the Fisher­man’s Landing ownership team,” Ekstrom explained. “The respect I have for both Frank and Doug is directly tied to their contributions and dedication to sportfishing. Their history as successful proponents of our fishery speaks for itself. My role in the team is to bring the dock perspective into future management decisions. A strong rapport with my colleagues (boat owners and veteran crewmen) will provide them a direct conduit to landing management and ownership.”

“There have been many-a past misunderstanding between vessel owners and landing management simply due to a lack of perspective on both sides. It is my goal to bridge the divide when future challenges arise. I will advocate for the vessel owners and work to achieve landing objectives at the same time. Ultimately we aspire to be the landing that every vessel owner wants to operate from and every angler prefers to patronize which already been established in many respects.”

“Fisherman’s Landing is the premier sportfishing facility in Point Loma to be certain, but there is always room for improvement… where we will focus in the upcoming season.”

RICK MAXA, LONGTIME Fisherman’s Landing Tackle Manager is now part owner of Fisherman’s Landing Tackle with majority owners Doug Kern and Frank LoPreste. “It’s a dream come true,” said Maxa.

The transition of landings ownership in San Diego doesn’t stop there. Paul Strasser and Mark Pisano, who own 22nd Street Landing and San Pedro Bait Co. and keep their long range sportfisher Independence at Point Loma Sportfishing several months of the year, bought into that landing when Ingrid Poole sold 38½ percent of her shares, the same held by LoPreste. Capt. John Klein holds the remainder of the shares.

The landing is great hands,” said LoPreste. “I just love Paul, he’s the absolute greatest guys, and that Mark Pisano, he’s a hard working son-of-a-gun. I see a really bright future for that landing. The Sea Adventure is moving over from H&M and the Dominator is back on line.”

LoPreste, then, is the man in San Diego sportfishing. Owner­ship in the tackle, Fisherman’s, Point Loma and Seaforth in Mission Bay where he controls 53 percent The next largest shareholders are Ingrid Poole and the landing’s longtime manager John Yamate. One thing is for sure, rumors of LoPreste stepping back and relaxing at his ranch up north with wife Kathy, who loves fishing more than anyone in the industry, are partially true. Retiring?

Not a chance.

“I love the sportfishing business too much to stop,” said LoPreste. “I run the boat (his Royal Polaris) 75 days a year, and I’ll keep doing that as long as I possibly can. As for the landings, I plan to be here for a long time. I just love to work too much to quit. Yes, I do love being at my place up north, but every morning I check in with all three landings. And I’ve told my managers, as long as you do your jobs, that will enable me to keep going up there.”

Of course, H&M Landing celebrated its 80th anniversary as the oldest San Diego Sport­fishing landings with its own changing of the guard. Part owner Phil Lobred, after 37 years guiding the landing, recently turned over the management reins to Frank Ursitti, a prominent and experienced sportfishing industry veteran who has operated the boats Ranger 85, Coral Sea and Constitution from H&M Landing in the summer months and CISCO’s Landing in the winter. As part of the transition, Ursitti bought a 25 percent ownership of the business from another partner. Lobred retains his part ownership in H&M, however.

PHIL LOBRED, RIGHT, has turned over the managerial reins of H&M to Capt. Frank Ursitti. Lobred is retiring, but retains his part ownership in the landing, while Ursitti obtained 25 percent from another partner.

On a lesser, but no less important scale, Rick Maxa, who started working at the landing at age 16 and is now the Tackle Manager of Fisherman’s Landing Tackle, has bought into the tackle shop. Kern and LoPreste have equal and majority shares at the shop. Kern bought into the ownership in 1992, and hired Maxa, who is also co-host of Let’s Talk Hook-Up radio show on weekends. Maxa and Kern are also a bay bass fishing team, always in the top echelon of the San Diego Anglers Bay Bass open Tourna­ment held in January.

For Kern, 57, bringing in Maxa, 33, was a no-brainer, rewarding loyalty and hard work.

“It happened the beginning of this year and it’s the natural progression for our operations, and he’s been involved in every aspect of the business, and he’s one of the savviest guys in the tackle industry,” said Kern of Maxa.

Maxa weighed in on his new role as owner at the tackle shop where he started as a teenager. The industry has literally seen him grow up, in person, on the water, at fishing shows and in the shop, and of course on the air, on the Saturday and Sunday 2-hour morning radio shows. The opportunity and timing of new status as part owner in the tackle shop are not lost on Maxa.

“It’s crazy. I would say it’s a dream come true. I started in started in high school tying albacore feathers when I was 16, and here I am 17 or 18 years later. It doesn’t seem real. I’ve been here at the shop longer than I’ve been around.”

He said timing of the deal in January was perfect. “There’s not a better group of guys to work for, and we are in for a really good season, so it’s not a bad time at all to own a tackle store.”

Kern is equally excited about this season. Did the fishermen blow their wad last year in that amazing season? Is there some left for another one that might be even more epic?

“Fishermen find the money when the fish bite,” said Kern. “That has never been a problem.”

tuna time in SoCal
Yellowfin! Here's the photo, details

The photo below is a shot of the crewman on the yacht Alure on it way to Cabo April 1. Jeff Gaebel sent his father, John, the photo yesterday after the boat got to Cabo. The fish, and 17 others this size, were caught seven miles west of the Lower 500, within one-day range of San Diego, in an area that was corroded with these yellowfin, a 12-mile area. The fish was caught April1  (no prank, I assure you).   

Bluefin being caught at several local banks, as close as the 9 Mile Bank last week and over the weekend before weather turned scout, and now reports are coming in of yellowfin tuna, a wide swatch of 10 miles of them being spotted. It appears the yellowfin are headed out way on the freeway of clear, warm water loaded with bait.

 John Gaebel called yesterday, Tuesday, as I was heading home after putting the paper to bed, and he said his son Jeff was taking a boat to Cabo and called in to say that he caught yellowfin within one-day range, 25 to 35 pounders, at the Lower 500 area, and now other reports are filtering into WON about yachts coming north, as well as long rangers and sport fishers, saying there is little life south of Cedros but from Cedros north through waters off Ensenada, bird schools are everywhere with tuna under them. 

The best news is that it's yellowfin. There's no moratorium on them in Mexico like bluefin.

On a sad note, former WON Editor Bill Rice, now retired in Oregon, and recently inducted into t he National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, called Monday to say his wife, Anne, had passed away. Our condolences from everyone here at WON. 

In another bit of bad news, the sportfisher Sea Angler based at Patriot Sportfishing caught fire Sunday night at anchor  in San Luis Harbor. No one was injured, but the boat looks like a total loss. Naturally, the WON  Sept. 10 charter on that sportfisher will be moved to another vessel if possible.

The news link

Finally, the brazen piniped devils are getting worse. Over the weekend angler Daniel Carlin was on his boat the Dive Inn at a dock in San Diego and filleting fish, when a 300-pound plus seal bit   Carlin and pulled him under, reportedly, 20 feet below, before Carlin (a diver), got away and resurfaced. 

40 amazing years for Marina Del Rey Halibut Derby
Proceeds go to finding the club’s successful kids fishing program and growout facility and this year’s event has been ramped up

MARINA DEL REY — The Marina Del Rey Anglers is back at it again, raising funds for its annual kids fishing program by holding the 40th Annual Halibut Derby taking place on April 18 and 19 at Burton Chace Park.

Last month this writer was invited to speak at the club’s annual meeting and came away impressed by the gathering. This is one very involved and fervent club membership, motivated by enhancing fisheries and getting kids on the water. It’s all about the future.

Over the past years a primary focus for the club’s legion has been funding and operating its white seabass growout facility, and taking kids fishing. It is not widely known with Friends of Roillo getting a lot more publicity these days with it’s successes, but between 400 and 600 kids are hosted by the club on charterboats each year depending on the funding available. The tournament is the main source of funding for that. The growout faciolity, in it’s 18th year, is getting a complete rebuild, and the tourney’s funds will be needed to finance that.

Looking at the outstanding halibut catches on the coast, this year’s MDR Halibut Derby looks like there should be some monster fish being weighed in. And, the prizes for the top teams are much more impressive than recent years as the tourney — that has been run as a more casual event the past three years — will be beefed up on all levels. More people, more fin, more funds for those ambitious and important projects.

“Four years ago we took off a year from holding the derby because we all felt the the Santa Monica Bay halibut fishery was not in good shape, and made some changes in the weigh-in to mitigate that when we brought it back three years ago,” said tourney chairman John Szymura.

But when they did bring it back after that one year hiatus, the tourney was run as more of a small, invitational tourney just to keep its legacy, he said.

“But as a club we decided that if the tourney is going to be held, and we want to keep funding and expanding the kids and growout program, we needed to put more effort and money into it to get it back up to what it was in participation and sponsorship. We’ve done that, it will be a much bigger event and our generous sponsors are helping to make this one to truly remember,” said Szymura.

The top 4 prizes are as follows:

1st Place – 3 Days + 4 Nights + Airfare to Sitka Point Lodge, Alaska

2nd Place – 5 Days + 4 Nights + Airfare to Tailhunter International Sportfishing, La Paz

3rd Place – 3 Day Tuna Trip Aboard the Vagabond, San Diego

4th Place – 2.5 Day Tuna Trip Aboard The Eclipse Aug 13-16, San Diego

5th Place – 1 Day Guided Coastal Trip with Fishing Pro Benny Florentino

“In addition to the individual competition there is an optional team cash jackpot competition for entrants to compete in,” said the event chairman. “All entrants receive a commemorative 40th anniversary t-shirt and an awards ceremony dinner catered by El Tapatio restaurant.” Make sure to bring your cash for the post awards Mega Raffle where we will be giving away thousands in prizes.

Again the tourney’s profit go to a pair of great projects. the Marina Del Rey Anglers Youth Fishing Program, and the club’s white seabass growout facility one of 12 on the SoCal coast and one of the first ever developed in the program.

“Every year the Marina Del Rey Anglers take over 500 children fishing and release over 5,000 juvenile white seabass through these programs,” said Szymura. We’re pretty proud of that record and we’d like to continue these projects, giving back to the fishery. We are also working with the DFW as it moves toward a hatchery program for calico bass and halibut.”

The derby is a fun way to contribute. All entrants are encouraged to attend the Pre-Derby Seminar which starts at 7 p.m. on the preceding Thursday, April 16 at Burton Chace Park. The seminar will feature local guru Dick Schafer speaker giving tips on fishing for halibut in the Santa Monica Bay.

For more information contact John Szymura at or (424) 229-1890. See the website at





THE KIDS FISHING PROGRAMS, the growout facility and the Carlsbad Hatchery program’s evolving plans to raise halibut are the funding emphasis for the Marina Del Rey Halibut Derby that is being ramped up on prizes and participation. The growout facility, and all-volunteer MDRA project, is undergoing a rebuild after 18 years and the tourney funds are especially needed. So, compete and contribute.

Big Bluefin at Butterfly, lower 9 mile bank

It's been a crazy, mild and very fishy winter,  now it's spring with even warmer waters, and best of all, it's loaded with bait and perfectly clear and blue, and this this freeway for pelagics is drawing some bigger customers.


There are sightings of marlin at San Clemente Island over this past weekend, but now  bigger bluefin have been taken.  On Monday the Josie Lynn, a six-pack sport fisher, reported in last night (Monday) to Bob Vanian of that they lost a few 100 pounders, caught a 70 pounder, and some smaller grade bluefin at the Butterfly Bank, and saw breaking fish that were bigger. And on the way back to San Diego, the anglers spotted blouefin of a smaller grade breaking the surface the lower end of the 9 Mile Bank.

Previously, the only bluefin have been from the Tanner and Cortes banks, about 90 miles from any port, and that was freakish enough. But last week that bite went on the wane a bit, but most captains on sport fishers and private boats say the fish are still there, but were off the bite. Now this, bluefin in a bigger grade within 50 miles of San Diego, and and an unknown quality of bluefin as close as nine miles from San Diego. 

see the Jose Lynn Facebook site and the shots at

Keep in mind, even if the Josie Lynn  wanted to target  those breaking fish at the Lower Nine Mile Bank, they could not have legally. Bluefin take in Mexican waters is currently prohibited. But the Butterfly and anywhere above the border in U.S. waters? Fair game. And the fact they are better grade and closer in than the Cortes Bank has people fired up to go after them on the Butterfly. There's a hefty swell hitting us right now, and some wind, but  according to the Fisherman Weatherman Chris Dunn (see his blog on this site), that wind will settle until Friday, and then outer waters will get hammered again on the weekend. So, Thursday and Friday are the best days to head to the Buttertfly. No question about it.   

Meanwhile, yellowtail fishing is going off at the Coronados, Catalina and San Clemente, and on the high spots on the coast as we have had all winter, and what is truly crazy (as if the bluefin isn't wild enough!) the internet is rife with photos of striped marlin spotted in waters just off San Clemente Island.  A friend and WON contributor, Capt. Bob Woodard fished the Coronados over the weekend. Here is his report and it protends the tuna we are now seeing caught at the Butterfly and the lower Nine Mile Bank.

Said Capt. Woodard, "This just keeps getting better down here at the Coronados. The water we had yesterday was from 65 to 67 degrees! The real news however is that all of the signs of an offshore season coming soon are happening right now at the Islands. We are seeing good volume of small barracuda along the kelps, The calicos are up on the surface and biting on the plug and in the foam and the yellowsare at times full speed. Also of note a commercial boat coming in from outside located a paddy full of yellowtail just outside the 60 mile bank. In the past when I have seen all of these conditions come together the tuna have arrived within a month. 
"Unless something changes drastically I think we will see yellowfin by late April or early May! Yesterday we had a triple as all three of us on the boat hung surface iron fishing one of a couple flurries. We ended up with15 yellows yesterday fishing North Island and the middle grounds."


The Del Mar Fred Hall show just ended its four-day run. Great crowds. The number of people will never rival Long Beach. That is a crazy, buying frenzy, but it's a great show in its own right. In this spot last week, I set up a link to a great vimeo of the DFW's Public Panel Discussion at Long Beach that was videotaped. Great stuff. Great video. here it is.



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