There is a predisposition among American males to take their subject of interest and turn it into a competition.
This is very true of fishing. Whether it is a group of friends out for a day on the water or an organized event, guys are driven to outdo the other fellow.
I have always thought about entering a fishing tournament, and this winter I signed up to enter a team in the Kokanee Power, Shasta Lake Trout Derby.
I wanted to promote my trolling flies, and I sponsored the team via my website, trollingflies.com.
Once I had chosen to enter, the next step was to assemble a team. It was essential to include an excellent trolling angler with knowledge of the lake and experience competing in derbies.
My first choice was Keith Kerrigan, a veteran of a number of trout fishing derbies and frequent angler on Lake Shasta.
My next choice of a team member was Wilfried Wietstock, professional photographer and avid angler, who can be relied upon to chronicle the effort in pictures.
The final member of the team was chosen to provide luck. The luckiest fishermen I know is my son, Colin, not strong on strategy, but you don’t need that if you have luck.
The competition was on Saturday and Sunday with a weigh-in both days. The target species was rainbow trout but one brown trout and one king salmon were allowed in each day’s weight. There was a side pot for the largest fish in each of the three species.
Keith met us at the dock in Packer’s Bay late afternoon Thursday. It was the second day of pre-fishing for him, and he gave us the run down on his scouting and his best estimate of where we should be fishing.
To win, a team would have to weigh in a brown, a king and three rainbows each day to maximize the total weight.
The problem is these three species tend to inhabit different locations and depths around the lake. In a small lake like Donner or Scott’s Flat, the distances are not great.
Until you have been on Shasta, you do not have a grasp of how large that lake truly is. It is formed by the dam just below the confluence of three rivers, flooding many miles up each of the three river arms.
Each river runs at varying flows and each has a different water temperature flowing into the lake. Add into the mix very strong north winds through the preceding week, and it was a tough puzzle to solve.
Another variable was a weather front arriving late Sunday morning bringing showers and a south wind. It was going to take experience on this lake and a good dose of luck to win this tournament. Hopefully we had the team to pull it off.
Friday morning, we were on the water at the crack of dawn to pre-fish.
Our goal was to locate fish with the electronics and then show them a variety of trolling flies, spoons and shad minnows to determine what they will take. This process will determine the tactics and locations for Saturday’s effort.
We set up camp at Holiday Harbor near the mouth of the McCloud River arm of the lake. This gave us quick access to the main body of the lake and put us in striking distance of the upper McCloud River arm. The plan was to target a good-sized brown trout on the McCloud Saturday morning, move down the river arm searching for rainbows by late morning. If time permitted, we would end the day by the dam fishing deep for king salmon.
Hopefully we would weigh in three rainbows, a brown and a king by close of weigh-in at 5 p.m. 20 minutes north on I-5.
We were up at 4:30 a.m. and launching the boat by 5:15. A 35 mph run up the lake by the light of a quarter moon had us on our spot 20 minutes before the official start time of 6 a.m.
Keith set the boat idling in a large slow circle while he fired up the Coleman stove and brewed us some fresh coffee. It was a nice touch.
At 6 a.m. sharp, we had a fly, a spoon and a rolling shad minnow in the water trolling as close to the steep rocky bank as we dared to get. The first fish we hooked up was a rainbow that hit the spoon, half an hour into the day.
The second fish hit a bright yellow and orange fly I had tied for the trip. It felt heavy on the 9-foot fly rod I was using, and it looked like we were on a roll.
We were disappointed when it turned out to be a bass that did not do us much good in a trout derby.
As we worked down the river arm, we went from one of two boats in sight to one of eight as we approached some deep holes that had produced big browns in the past.
By midmorning, we had no more fish on ice, and we went to the lower McCloud in pursuit of rainbows. In the open water, the north wind was putting white caps and waves on the lake, and boat control became as important as lure selection and depth. We ended the day with three rainbows and a brown to weigh in.
Our gross weight almost reached 5 pounds, which was far below the leading team with more than 11. Saturday evening featured a dinner at the Lake Head Lions Club with the requisite banter among contestants and early back to camp for a few hours of shut eye.
We were up by 4 Sunday to break down camp and drive to Packer’s Bay to launch.
Sunday’s strategy was to fish the main lake body hoping for rainbows and kings. The day dawned with clear skies overhead but clouds on the eastern horizon. The north winds had calmed overnight, but by midmorning, a storm was building, and with it came south winds.
Our typical tackle spread was six rods trolled out the back of the boat. The four center rods were at varying depths on down riggers, and the two outer rods were “long lines” targeting the top of the water column with trolling flies 150 feet behind the boat.
On Sunday, the deep lines had all of the action before the clouds rolled in. We picked up a mix of rainbows, kings, one brown and some bass at depths from 50 to 100 feet. Rolling shad minnows again produced the most action. When cleaned later, both the bass and kings had crawdad parts in their stomachs.
As the rain squalls swept over us on the lake we motored back toward our launch site in anticipation of lightning, which did not materialize. We continued to fish, and the final rainbow of the trip hit a black Matuka trolling fly near the surface under dark gray skies.
We packed it in early enough to make the weigh-in well before closing. Again we came close to 5 pounds for the days catch.
This was too far back in the field to be of any consequence. The winning team came in with 20.72 pounds followed by local angler Brett Brady and partner with 17.42 pounds. Congratulations, Brett.
I came away from my first competitive experience with a better appreciation of how difficult it is to win these events.
On the positive side of the ledger, we got our first camping trip of this season with three nights out. We put in three full days of non-stop fishing and came home with a lot of fresh fish. Not a bad start to our summer plans for 2013.
Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at www.fineflies.com.