Every winter, at least one good-sized brown trout is landed at Scotts Flat Lake. On Jan. 19, Bob Sanchez of Cascade Shores caught and released a brown estimated at 28 inches and well north of 5 pounds. This is the first brown of this winter that I have been told about.
To catch a big brown involves persistence and a theory to base your tactics around. Some of the factors that go into a theory include the habitat and the annual weather cycle. In winter, the water has reached the low temps for the year, and the trout can find tolerable conditions anywhere in the lake. During the warm weather months, cold-water fish are confined to the cool depths. During the winter season, they are scattered throughout the lake.
Another factor in the pursuit of the elusive big brown is their appetite for modest-sized “planter” rainbow trout. A study was conducted years ago that suggested that 40 percent of all trout planted in the Sierra are eaten by larger fish. One theory on pursuing browns is: “Find their food and you will locate the fish.”
In my last article, I related a report of rainbow trout breaking the surface occasionally during the day, yet trolling a variety of lures near the surface produced no results. The rainbows that were caught came from the 20-foot depth under bright skies and a smooth surface to the lake. I checked with Scott Bartosh (Miner Moe’s Guide Service) who lived at Cascade Shores and has trolled the lake for many years. In his multi-year quest for big browns on Scotts Flat, he never caught one at the top of the water column long-lining with rainbow-imitating plugs or swim baits. He made numerous sightings of planter rainbows coming to the top followed by huge swirls, which he assumed were big predators, most likely browns chasing a meal.
Based on his years of experience, Scott believes that the browns are not swimming near the surface to hunt. Rather his conclusion is that the browns are in the depths and will attack their prey from below. The rainbows will swim up to escape and get trapped at the surface.
Scott’s largest brown came from the depths of Scotts Flat in the summer of 2001. He was fishing for kokanee with a 1-inch long spoon. A brown hit the spoon. When it was finally landed on light kokanee gear it tipped the scales at 14 pounds, 7 ounces.
About a year ago, I fished Scotts Flat with Jim Bringhurst, a brown trout angler of some renown. Jim’s tactic is to fish the circumference of the lake targeting the contour line of 10 to 20 feet in depth. He decribed the depth contour as, “Being able to see the bottom on the shore side of his boat and only seeing the green/blue depths off the opposite side.”
Jim fast-trolled Rapala plugs painted in a rainbow trout color scheme. He sweeps his rod forward to increase the lure speed and lets his rod drift back to make it pause. Typically he is presenting his lure four to eight feet off the bottom.
A totally different approach is used by Mike Pumphery during the cold conditions of winter. He targets the 40- to 50-foot depths using his electronic fish finder as he moves his boat very slowly. He has had success spotting solitary big fish suspended just off the bottom. He then positions his boat over the fish and lowers a soft plastic minnow, which mimics a pond smelt, on a jig head. Mike is putting an imitation of a local baitfish right next to a predator and works it there until the large fish strikes out of anger or hunger. This is a slow patient technique, but I have seen it produce both browns and smallmouth bass in winter.
Bob Sanchez had his own spin on hooking a brown. Bob fishes lead-core line at a modest speed so that his line is near to or dragging on the bottom in the 20- to 25-foot range. He is trying to present his lure along the bottom. His theory is that as his lure goes past a rock or a stump, there will be a brown lying in ambush and he will get hit. He has two favorite rigs. One is a Rapala minnow plug, and the other is a flasher/night crawler combination. On the Saturday in question, Bob had combined both rigs with flashers followed by a Rapala and a crawler hung from a hook on the plug. He was pulling it along the bottom when it stopped and then started to head out in another direction. After a long tussle, the brown was in the net and on board the boat.
Bob’s companion in the boat videoed the fight, the landing of the fish and, yes, the release of the brown back into Scotts Flat. This brown lives to fight another day.
I do not begrudge another angler for keeping what might be the fish of a lifetime to mount or to eat. I have a largemouth bass caught with a handmade cedar plug on a wall in my home. But it is very satisfying to see an angler put back the biggest brown he has ever caught. Thank you, Bob.
The new Department of Fish and Game policy is not to plant browns in California because they are not native to the state. The future of our brown trout fishery in now left up to nature and anglers releasing them back into the lakes.
A little higher up
Tresa Kennedy of Tight Lines Guide Service in Grass Valley also shared a story of a memorable brown trout catch recently in Lake Tahoe. The Kennedys took their boat up to the lake for the day to get it inspected and pre-fish for upcoming trips. Their 7-year-old granddaughter, Brooke, accompanied them. After the inspection was complete, they launched at Cave Rock and started fishing.
“We pulled some spoons and stickbaits for a couple hours without a touch. A friend had given me a Bass Pro XTS Speed Minnow at the ISE show in January. He had good luck with it on some foothill lakes,” Kenndy wrote to The Union. “I had a couple G-Loomis CR 842-2 Kokanee rods with 8 lb P-Line CXX on them sitting idle. I tied this XTS lure on, put some Pautzke Krill on it and let it our about 50 yards. Within about 15 minutes, Brooke landed a 10.5-pound brown. Brooke is 7 years old. She had the time of her life bringing in this fish on that light rod. What a great day and wonderful memories!”
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