SILVERADO — In the four years since Western Outdoor News began hosting the Southern California Trout Opener at Irvine Lake, the event has grown to become one of, if not the most popular trout fishing tournament in all of Southern California. And truly, the reasons for the event’s immense popularity couldn’t be simpler. First and foremost, the SCTO is a family-oriented tournament, designed for anglers of all ages and skill levels. Thus, its appeal is across the board. Secondly, the raffle prizes and divisional awards are substantial to say the least (each year, one lucky raffle winner invariably returns home with a brand-new boat/motor combo). And last, but certainly not least, both Western Outdoor News and Irvine Lake join forces to stock the lake heavily, and with both trophy fish and tagged fish worth various prizes, just prior to the event. All of these elements combine to create a fun-filled event in which, literally, anyone has a chance to emerge a winner, either on or off the water.
At this year’s event, which took place this past Saturday, April 14, anglers not only managed to score big while targeting Irvine Lake’s trout via boat, kayak, float tube or from shore, but they also returned home laden with swag in the form of goodie bags and ample raffle prizes thanks to our fine sponsors: Mercury motors, Gregor boats, Quality Performance Marine, RW’s Fishing & Big Eddy Resort, Global Fish Mounts, Panther Martin and Sea Eagle, YUM, Thomas Buoyant, Seaguar, Rapala, Yo-Zuri, Plano, SNUGTop, Sport Chalet, Wiley X, Okuma, Seeker rods, FoodSaver and Sam’s Outdoorsman (MiniFighter rod holders).
RAFFLE PRIZES were abundant, and here, 10-year-old third-place Junior winner C.J. Walker holds some free swag courtesy of Yo-Zuri and Seaguar.
While the raffle prizes and divisional awards courtesy of the above sponsors certainly made for happy trouters, the fishing didn’t disappoint; especially when considering the conditions. The day prior to the event, Mother Nature unleashed her fury on all of SoCal; slamming the region with heavy rain, lightning and thunder, and intense wind. Irvine Lake photographer and WON hunting columnist, Jim Niemiec, said, “It was blowing 70 mph at the dam yesterday.” And lake staffer Jimmy Getty added, “We had about two solid hours of heavy rain; so much so that the parking lot flooded and we even had water coming into the tackle shop.”
It remained anyone’s guess as to what conditions would prevail during the tournament, as weather forecasters were calling for clouds and possibly scattered thundershowers. Fortunately, only the former made an appearance, as not a single drop of rain fell during the entire event. I must admit, however, I was a bit apprehensive when I left my house in San Diego Saturday morning to make my way northward to cover the event… Winds were gusting up to 60 mph on my drive to the lake. Alas, they, too, were absent upon my arrival.
In short, it was nothing shy of a gorgeous day on the water, and aside from shore anglers having to navigate a bit of muddy terrain, the weather of the day prior was nothing more than a distant memory.
From the get-go, it was clear this was going to be a big-fish event. In fact, there were three double-digit trout caught before 9 a.m. One of the first, and heaviest fish of the day hit for Dan Coll of La Habra at around 7:30. He was trolling a pink Owner Mira Shad at the Santiago Flats when a 12.95-pound rainbow slammed his bait.
Jason Mullen of Orange struck next with a massive 13.04-pound fish that took a perch-patterned Rapala at the same locale. “We were cleaning up back there [the Santiago Flats] all day,” Mullen remarked. And Tim Lunsford also trolled a Rapala for a 10.06-pound steelhead.
THE 2012 SCTO at Irvine Lake produced a trio of heavy trout, the biggest of which was this 13.04-pound rainbow landed by Jason Mullen of Orange. The fish fell for a perch-patterned Rapala at the Santiago Flats, and was not only good for a massive trophy and prize package, but also an Alaska fishing trip with RW’s Fishing & Big Eddy Resort, AND a $400 Global Fish Mounts certificate.
But there remained plenty of time left for the hundreds of other anglers to have their shot at landing on the leaderboard, as thousands of pounds of tagged fish, not to mention three divisions (Adult Male, Adult Female, and Junior), offered plenty of opportunity to earn a trophy.
Tagged fish were plentiful at this year’s event, to say the least, as by the end of the day, roughly two dozen of the specially-marked trout had been turned in. Those fortunate anglers were awarded Okuma rods, Okuma rod and reel combos, or Rapala lure kits on the spot. There were too many to keep track of, as the scales were bustling for most of the afternoon.
Connor McCrary of San Bernardino was trolling a Rapala first thing in the morning when his tagged fish bit. Tom Brook of Los Alamitos also used a Rapala (Firetiger pattern) for a trout worth an Okuma Safina rod and reel combo. Eight-year-old Jeremiah Marquez of Garden Grove caught not one, but two tagged trout worth a pair of Okuma rod and reel combos. And 11-year-old Leilana Hsu of Lakewood celebrated her birthday with a tagged fish good for her very own rod and reel. She used “kitchen sink PowerBait,” as her father put it, to make the catch. In essence, she molded various PowerBaits together to create her own (obviously successful) concoction, and “added three different scents,” her father noted with a smile.
TAGGED FISH PRIZES were beyond plentiful, as shown here by 8-year-old Jeremiah Marquez of Garden Grove, who had not one, but two tagged trout worth a pair of Okuma rod and reel combos.
LEILANA HSU of Lakewood celebrated her birthday at the SCTO, and wouldn’t you know it… the fish gods smiled down upon her with a tagged fish good for this Okuma rod and reel combo.
The leaderboard for all three divisions changed significantly throughout the afternoon, as anglers arrived at the scales with heavier fish; assuming the places of previous top-five anglers. The top three spots in the Adult Male Division, however, proved to remain steadfast, as no other anglers could break the double-digit mark.
That didn’t mean there weren’t plenty of fish brought to the scales, as most anglers returning from the water had full stringers. Rapalas were the lure du jour, but for those opting to soak bait, YUM Troutkrilla was indeed hot, as were a variety of other dough baits, with or without added scent. The free Panther Martins and Thomas Buoyants included in everyone’s goodie bags also proved their efficacy; the former lure accounting for the first-place fish in the Junior Division. That trout was a 3.53-pound rainbow landed by 12-year-old Alisun Fuchs, who caught the winning ’bow while trolling her ‘freebie’ spinner.
FIRST PLACE IN THE JUNIOR DIVISION went to 12-year-old Alisun Fuchs for this 3.53-pound rainbow. She caught the fish trolling the Panther Martin spinner she’d received free in her goodie bag.
The scales officially opened for business at noon, however, as is usually the case with most tournaments, the weigh station didn’t get truly busy until around 3 o’clock (all fish needed to be weighed by four).
At that point, it became abundantly apparent how good the overall bite really was. Nearly everyone had a limit of rainbows; some, as staffer Jimmy Getty noted earlier in the day, even returned to the tackle shop to purchase second-limit passes. The SCTO, however, unlike WON’s Big Bear Lake TroutfesT, is a big-fish event, with only the largest trout counting towards the divisional awards. Thus, if an angler didn’t have a fish matching or exceeding the fifth-place weight in any of the three divisions, it wouldn’t count towards the contest. The tagged fish and raffle prizes give everyone the opportunity to return home with a little something extra, even if they didn’t manage to land in the top five.
And there was plenty extra to dole out at the awards ceremony, which began at roughly a quarter to five (the scales officially closed at four). Before getting into the divisional awards, Tournament Director Billy Egan set about giving away tons of free swag in the form of Plano tackle boxes, Okuma rod and reel combos, Sam’s Outdoorsman MiniFighters, Wiley X sunglasses, Seaguar fluorocarbon, Rapala lure kits, Seeker rods, Yo-Zuri lure kits, and even a Sea Eagle 285fpb (frameless pontoon boat).
Of course, there was a bit more fanfare with the raffling off of the Sea Eagle, as it’s always a highlight of any SCTO. This time around, however, it was Chris Caldwell of Moreno Valley who became the proud owner of the exceptionally versatile (and easily transportable) rig. Presenting the boat was Bruce MacDonald of Sea Eagle Boats.
WINNER OF THE SEA EAGLE 285FPB was Chris Caldwell of Moreno Valley, right. Pictured with Caldwell is Bruce MacDonald of Sea Eagle Boats.
Also a fan favorite at all Trout Openers is the popular Okuma Casting Contest, and this year’s event proved to be no different. While anglers weighed their catches, those who’d already hit the scales had the opportunity to test their casting mettle using Okuma rod and reel combos to make a cast into a designated target area. A number of anglers succeeded at the task, and for doing so, they were entered into another raffle exclusively for Okuma SST trout rod and reel combos. Of those entered, three were plucked from the bunch, and this year’s winners were 8-year-old Jason Taylor, Martin Gutierrez and 10-year-old Joseph Fuchs (brother of first-place Junior, Alisun Fuchs).
THE CASTING CONTEST WINNERS, from left to right, were 8-year-old Jason Taylor, Martin Gutierrez and 10-year-old Joseph Fuchs (brother of first-place Junior, Alisun Fuchs).
THE OKUMA CASTING CONTEST, as always, was a popular event.
After awarding the Okuma Casting Contest combos, Egan dove into the Junior awards; and, as previously stated, the first-place trophy and prize package went to 12-year-old Alisun Fuchs for her 3.53-pound rainbow. In second place was Seth Sanchez with a 2.77-pound trout. Third went to C.J. Walker and his 2.23 pounder, while Vincent Diaz took fourth with a 2.19-pound fish. Rounding out the top five was Max Sierra and his 2-pound, 10 ouncer.
JUNIOR WINNERS, from left to right, were Seth Sanchez, second place, 2.77 pounds; C.J. Walker, third place, 2.23 pounds; Alisun Fuchs, first place, 3.53 pounds; Vincent Diaz, fourth place, 2.19 pounds; and Max Sierra, fifth place, 2.10 pounds.
Next up were the Adult Female awards, and no stranger to the winner’s circle in any of Irvine Lake’s fishing events, Elaine Dickerhoof took top honors for her 3.81-pound trout. Locking down second was Malina West for a 3.31 pounder. In third was SCTO and Irvine Lake regular Angelina Daquila with a 3.29-pound fish, and Thelma Root landed in fourth place with a 3.06 pounder. C.J. Smith took fifth for her 2.90-pound ’bow.
FEMALE DIVISION WINNERS, from left to right, were C.J. Smith, fifth place, 2.90 pounds; Thelma Root, fourth place, 3.06 pounds; Elaine Dickerhoof, first place, 3.81 pounds; Angelina Daquila, third place, 3.29 pounds; and Malina West, second place, 3.31 pounds.
The Adult Male awards were essentially a foregone conclusion… Well, at least the top three slots. Jason Mullen easily took the first-place spot and overall big fish award for his massive 13.04-pound rainbow. And not only did he win the first-place prize package and trophy, but because his fish was also the largest overall, he also earned a fishing trip to Alaska with RW’s Fishing & Big Eddy Resort, AND a $400 Global Fish Mounts certificate. Not far behind him in second was Dan Coll’s 12.95 pounder, and Tim Lunsford had an easy lock on third with his 10.06-pound steelhead. Fourth and fifth places went to Nathan Niculae (4.08 pounds), and Jeff Caprine (3.95 pounds), respectively.
MALE DIVISION WINNERS, from left to right, are Tim Lunsford, third place, 10.06 pounds; Dan Coll, second place, 12.95 pounds; Jason Mullen, first place, 13.04 pounds; Nathan Niculae, fourth place, 4.08 pounds; and Jeff Caprine, fifth place, 3.95 pounds.
With the divisional awards handed out, there was only one thing left to do: award the grand raffle prize of the Gregor boat and Mercury motor package.
Egan wasted no time in enthusiastically pulling a ticket from the bin, and when he read the final ticket number over the p.a., a scream shot from the crowd just to the right of the stage. That yelp came from none other than Danielle Wright of Fullerton, who sprinted to the stage, ticket in hand.
As the crowd dispersed, Wright happily posed for a few photos with her new rig. “I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack!” she exclaimed as she took a seat at the bow. “I’ve always wanted a boat… I just never had the money to get one.”
THE SCTO GRAND RAFFLE PRIZE WINNER was Danielle Wright of Fullerton, who earned this Gregor boat/Mercury motor package for holding the lucky raffle ticket. “I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack!” she exclaimed upon realizing she’d won.
And thus concluded another successful chapter of the Western Outdoor News Southern California Trout Opener. I know at least one familiar face we’ll be seeing next year… this time cruising the lake in style.