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Mike Stevens – KNEE DEEP

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017
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Friday, April 13, 2018
Sierra Opener X-factor

Trout truck chasers
We’ve all experienced that euphoric rush that arrives when you are pulling in to a trout hole and you see the stock truck leaving. The feeling is akin to winning the lottery, scoring a whole row for yourself on a cross-country flight, or getting your slice from the Costco Food Court from a pizza fresh out of the oven.

Back in the day, it happened by accident. Dumb luck. The perfect storm of planetary alignment and your day off. These days, the magic can be planned for via the bare minimum of internet leg work. Once one guy finds that “X” on the hatchery trout treasure map, a spark is created. That spark becomes a drifting ember as word trickles down the digital-chain, and that ember soon becomes a small blaze. By the time these poor pellet-fed salmonids hit the water, the wildfire is there to greet them in the form of competing SoCal-trout-mafia factions.

Complete with color-coordinated minijig-company regalia and a searing desire to out “slay” (they say “slay” a lot) competing jig-packing mafiosos in a fish-in-a-barrel free-for-all, those with the biggest stringers when the dust settles secure the spoils of social media glory, albeit, after a predictable and admittedly entertaining comment war between these jig purists, featuring accusations of snagging, PowerBaiting, nightcrawlering and so on. The firestorm then calms until the next 1,000-plus-pound stock day at another lake.

Yes. At least they are fishing and doing so passionately, at the gate hours before opening to get the jump on everyone else on securing the top spots, meticulous about their gear and out there as often as possible. There are certainly worse things they could be doing.

I’m a trout guy, more of the Eastern Sierra variety, but I do throw minijigs and sometimes exclusively, and I grew up fishing Dixon Lake, where I saw the early stages of the phenomena starting in the mid ’90s. I don’t have anything against hatchery trout, fishing in ninja masks or getting some exposure for a bait company I choose to support (I do question the need for naming my fishing “crew,” however, especially if said name has Z’s where the S’s should be. That might be where I draw the line). I certainly don’t go to extreme measures to make sure I am in primo position to tee off when the truckload of trout just dumped in the lake wolfpacks into my cove.

The thing is, they are excellent trout anglers. They wouldn’t be given hefty care packages full of jigs and branded jerseys and hats if they weren’t able to “slay” at a high level and show the world what baits did it through on-the-water social-media posts. Most of these lure makers (and lure renamer/repackagers, but that’s another story) do not have their products in shops, and this is their marketing campaign.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason for chasing the stock truck. It’s the best way to get “digital assets” for posting, and keeping up with the other guys. Can they only find success within a day or two of the plant? Absolutely not. I know several that are still consistently sticking trout in July, months after trout plants came to an end, just because they know their lakes and how to attack them THAT well.

Last year, I wrote a column suggesting heavily-planted lakes stop announcing dates for trout plants altogether. Staffers (rangers) dug the idea, but I’m sure they knew higher up the ladder it would be a tough sell, because there obviously has to be a spike in permit sales on those days.

There might be a middle ground, though. Maybe do it like the DFW does and only say what week there is a stock scheduled, rather the day. Get loud about the fact that you’ll be stocking 30,000-plus pounds of trout this season, so anglers know there will always be trout in the lake to catch, but be stealthy about the deliveries so they can have a chance to circulate. Some lakes already shut fishing down for a couple days after stocks prior to derbies so everyone has a good shot at them. The stock-day jig mob isn’t going to catch them all regardless of how mightily they slay, but they do put a dent in the population and squash the bite for the days that follow, especially since catch-and-release is not an option.

How would they be affected? Well, they wouldn’t have to pile elbow-to-elbow into the same historically-productive shorelines and tiny coves to get into fish for one thing. They’d spread throughout the lake, looking for schools of new arrivals or probing other areas for holdovers. It would be an even — and much bigger — playing field, and since it would assuredly still be important, it would be a truer measure of who the top angler (or angler gang, as it were) is on a given day. The cream would rise to the top, and the digital glory that followed would be that much sweeter. But it’s on them to make the call. I think being the first group of jig minions to proudly SLAY a week after stock day would get some serious respect.

And for all you big-bait chuckers looking for wallhanger largemouth and stripers, you go ahead and chase that stock truck all winter long. I got no beef with you.

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