California Sportsman Magazine - May 2021

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Sportsman Your LOCAL Hunting & Fishing Resource

Volume 13 • Issue 7 PUBLISHER James R. Baker GENERAL MANAGER John Rusnak EXECUTIVE EDITOR Andy Walgamott EDITOR Chris Cocoles CONTRIBUTORS Scott Haugen, Tiffany Haugen, Brandon Honig, Todd Kline, Bill Schaefer, Dr. Donnelly Wilkes SALES MANAGER Paul Yarnold ACCOUNT EXECUTIVES Mamie Griffin, Jim Klark, Mike Smith DESIGNER Lesley-Anne Slisko-Cooper PRODUCTION ASSISTANT Kelly Baker DIGITAL STRATEGIST Jon Hines ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT Katie Aumann INFORMATION SERVICES MANAGER Lois Sanborn ADVERTISING INQUIRIES CORRESPONDENCE Email Twitter @CalSportsMan ON THE COVER Now that bass have finished spring spawning, anglers may experience what’s known as “postspawn blues.” But stealthy anglers can still find plenty of good largemouth fishing in late spring. (TODD KLINE)

MEDIA INC PUBLISHING GROUP 14240 Interurban Ave. S., Suite 190 Tukwila, WA 98168 (800) 332-1736 • Fax (206) 382-9437

8 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |







Growing up in the Northern California outdoors hotbed of Placerville, Donnelly Wilkes was part of an active family that enjoyed hunting trips together. But his family also has a proud military tradition that Donnelly followed as well. After finishing medical school on a Navy scholarship, Dr. Wilkes, who now runs a medical clinic in Thousand Oaks, served multiple deployments in the Iraq War. Check out an excerpt from his memoir and also our interview with him, in which he discusses the horrors he witnessed in battle and the passion he has as a sportsman.



“In my field, wetland science, there appears to be more women than men now, so it was really interesting to be at a wetland conference and have someone question, ‘You do field work?’,” Vanessa Tobias says of an example of the subtle sexism she’s faced in the past. She’s one of several female biologists that Brandon Honig of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Southwest region features who have risen above it and are working hard to protect the state’s crucial and native Delta smelt.



Scott Haugen is a wily angler when it comes to catching trout on West Coast rivers, so you should probably heed the advice he gives in his and wife Tiffany’s From Field to Fire column this month. From how to side-drift to knowing the best back-trolling bait and fly presentations, Scott has caught plenty of fat rainbows using these methods. And what to do with that stringer of fish? Try Tiffany’s “pretty revolutionary” stuffed baked avocado and fish recipe!

DROUGHT BE DAMNED: COLLINS LAKE TRUDGES ON After COVID-19 cost popular Sierra foothills fishery Collins Lake three weeks of usual prime spring trout fishing last year, the lake’s operators were anticipating a more normal season in 2021. And while what is becoming a new drought crisis in California has Collins at its lowest level since being filled in the 1960s, for now, the lake is welcoming anglers – such as San Jose’s Lynn Culver – who should enjoy some great fishing this month. Editor Chris Cocoles shares hot tips and more! (COLLINS LAKE)

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE 13 14 17 19 61 65

The Editor’s Note: Memories of Mom The Adventures of Todd Kline Photo contest winners Outdoor calendar Cure for postspawn bass fishing blues Offseason training tips for your gun dog

Read California Sportsman on your desktop or mobile device. Go to California Sportsman is published monthly by Media Index Publishing Group, 14240 Interurban Avenue South, Suite 190, Tukwila, WA 98168. Annual subscriptions are $29.95 (12 issues). Send check or money order to Media Index Publishing Group, or call (206) 382-9220 with VISA or M/C. Display Advertising. Call Media Index Publishing Group for a current rate card. Discounts for frequency advertising. All submitted materials become the property of Media Index Publishing Group and will not be returned. Copyright © 2021 Media Index Publishing Group. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be copied by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording by any information storage or retrieval system, without the express written permission of the publisher. Printed in U.S.A. 10 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |


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The editor’s mom Betty wasn’t exactly the most outdoorsy woman, but she tolerated her son’s passion for fishing when they traveled together. (BETTY COCOLES)


e have stories in this month’s issue that honor both women and veterans – timing that is not so coincidental with Mother’s Day on May 9 and Memorial Day on May 31. Brandon Honig of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Southwest Region features some badass women who work in various federal fisheries biologist jobs in California (page 34). And we also have a book excerpt and an interview with Thousand Oaks’ Dr. Donnelly Wilkes, who wrote a memoir about his time as a U.S. Navy doctor during the Iraq War (page 20). Both stories led me to think about my mom. My parents are gone now and I loved them both. But you’ll rarely hear me talk of them together. They divorced when I was 10 and, frankly, I don’t have any memories of them getting along. So when I’ve written about them in this space it’s usually been individually. And I think they’d be OK with that! I can remember Mom finding a shady spot to sit while my tween self would cast spinners in the Merced River during a mother-son getaway to Yosemite National Park. We’d sometimes chirp at each other on these trips because she wasn’t super outdoorsy and had her own ideas of what we should be doing, but looking back I can admire her patience! My mom also loved watching old war movies – one of her favorites was The Bridge on the River Kwai – and that’s actually something both my parents did have in common. Me too! So Memorial Day – Wilkes’ book chronicles some of the moments he endured trying to save the lives of soldiers wounded on the Middle East’s front lines – is a chance for me to honor not only our fallen heroes but reminisce about both my mom and (Navy veteran) dad. Happy Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, everyone. -Chris Cocoles | MAY 2021 California Sportsman


s e r u t n e v d A W

Some of the Lake County locals came by to say hi.

e’re not ashamed to admit it: Todd Kline has the kind of life we wish we could experience. Kline’s a former professional surfer, a successful co-angler on the FLW Tour and a Southern California bass guide, plus he gets to travel the world as a commentator for the World Surf League’s telecasts. Todd has agreed to give us a peek on what he’s up to each month. For more on Todd or to book a guided fishing trip with him, check out, and you can follow him on Instagram at @toddokrine. –The Editor


I love this view of Mount Konocti, which presides over this huge lake in Northern California where any cast can mean a big fish could bite your bait. (TODD KLINE)

I caught tons of fish at the tournament, but I was just unable to land the big bite. Thankfully I was able to cash a check and finished in 32nd place out of 220 entrants. (TODD KLINE)

I had a blast at the California Open event at Clear Lake. Here we are launching for a day on the water at this premier bass fishery. (TODD KLINE) 14 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |

And I was able to see some friends and we stayed at Blaine’s Bass Camp for the Clear Lake tournament. Great times. (TODD KLINE)

April was a good guiding month for me. (TODD KLINE)

I love the reaction of the kids and kids at heart who catch some big bass on our trips. (TODD KLINE)

Seeing more happy clients breaking personal bests multiple times makes it all worthwhile. (TODD KLINE)| MAY | MAY2021 2021 California Sportsman



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Brandon Jewett is the winner of our monthly Fishing Photo Contest, thanks to this pic of daughter Jolie Bruton-Jewett and her rainbow, caught at the family’s longtime fishin’ hole. It wins him gear from various tackle manufacturers!

Mike Huwaldt Jr. is our monthly Coast Hunting Photo Contest winner, thanks to this pic of his dad, Mike Huwaldt Sr., and the duo’s first ever turkey. It wins him a knife and light from Coast!

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For your shot at winning hunting and fishing products, send your photos and pertinent details (who, what, when, where) to ccocoles@media-inc .com or California Sportsman, 14240 Interurban Ave. S., Suite 190, Tukwila, WA 98168. By sending us photos, you affirm you have the right to distribute them for our print or Internet publications.


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NorCal Trout Challenge, Lake Amador; 1-2 Shasta Lake Team Kokanee Derby; 1-2 Bass Lake Trout Derby; 1-JUNE 12 Round-Up at the Lake Spring Fishing Derby, Convict Lake; (800) 992-2260 2 Last day of general spring wild turkey season 3-16 Archery-only spring wild turkey season 3-16 Additional junior wild turkey season 22 Lassen Sportsmen’s Club Junior Fishing Derby, Susan River; 29-JUNE 26 Crowley Lake Perch Derby; Crowley Lake; (760) 935-4301

JUNE 11-12 Finest Annual Trout Invitational Tournament, Crowley Lake; 12 Kokanee Power Team Derby, Don Pedro Reservoir; 26 Bridgeport Fish Enhancement Foundation Trout Tournament;

Note: Check with local contacts on events that could be postponed/cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For a list of upcoming bass tournaments, go to default.aspx.

The Round-Up at the Lake Spring Fishing Derby takes place at Convict Lake in the Eastern Sierra starting May 1. (MONO COUNTY TOURISM) | MAY 2021 California Sportsman





hen he was entering his fourth and final year of medical school, Donnelly Wilkes was excited about his future as a doctor and an ensuing career in the United States Navy. But when terrorists hijacked four planes on Sept. 11, 2001, causing thousands of deaths and sent a reeling nation into mourning, Wilkes’ euphoria turned to uncertainty and fury. “The United States has been attacked! I’m astonished at the sight of the burning buildings, bewildered at how such a thing could happen to us. A feeling of dread comes over me as I stare at sobbing, terrified New Yorkers running through ashen streets,” Wilkes writes in his memoir. “My sadness quickly turns to anger, and all I can think of is ‘Oh God, what can we do now, what happens next?’” Wilkes grew up in Placerville, which is about 50 miles east of Sacramento, in a family with plenty of military ties and that also had a love for hunting and the outdoors (see our interview in the following pages). Wilkes did his undergraduate work at Orange County’s UC Irvine and attended medical school at Tulane University’s School of Medicine in New Orleans on a full Navy scholarship. Dr. Wilkes graduated from Tulane and embarked on his service as a lieutenant commander in the Navy, which would eventually take him on seven years of active duty, including two combat tours in Iraq as a field doctor in 2004 and 2008. He would be awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with Valor for his actions in the Battle of Fallujah in April 2004. These days, Dr. Wilkes runs a clinic in Southern California and still enjoys outdoor adventures in his home state and throughout the West. His book details the highs and lows of his time in combat, where he and colleagues worked tirelessly to save the lives of soldiers wounded in combat during the Iraq War. The following is excerpted from Code Red Fallujah: A Doctor’s Memoir at War by Dr. Donnelly Wilkes and published by Post Hill Press/Simon & Schuster. 20 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |

Growing up in Placerville as part of an outdoors-loving family that also had military bloodlines, Donnelly Wilkes had a pretty good idea what he wanted to do. He became a Navy doctor and in his new book, Code Red Fallujah: A Doctor’s Memoir at War, he chronicles his experiences in Iraq. (DR. DONNELLY WILKES)

HUNTING | MAY 2021 California Sportsman



During one convoy ride to an Iraqi police station , Wilkes (far right with his siblings and father, Mike), put in a dip of tobacco, which was “something I reserved for hunting trips and ‘male bonding’ with my brothers; Iraq brought back the indulgence.” (DR. DONNELLY WILKES)

By Dr. Donnelly Wilkes


hroughout the deployment our battalion worked closely with the Iraqi police, training them and conducting joint missions during offensive operations. This is in preparation for when Iraqis will eventually take over security enforcement of their cities and ultimately their country. It is an extremely time-consuming, frustrating and difficult task for the Marines. There are only a few Iraqis with meaningful experience in law enforcement, and those who have the training use unorthodox techniques, tactics, and procedures. They are ill equipped and underpaid, making retention extremely precarious. All these problems are inherited by the Marines. Throw in cultural and language barriers, and it becomes a slow and endless dance of two-steps-forward, one-step-back progress. Despite this, our men work diligently with the Iraqis towards their sovereignty, committing money, uniforms, weapons, and hours of

blood and sweat to the cause. Corruption and thievery are rampant among the Iraqi ranks, and when caught it is important to call out and punish these individuals to deter this behavior. On June 7 [2004], I attended a staff meeting outlining a plan to detain and prosecute five criminal individuals discovered among the Iraqi police. Our battalion commander plans to arrest and parade them in front of fellow Iraqi police members, sending a message that corruption will not be tolerated. The plan is to take a team of Marines to the Iraqi police station in Al-Garma during what should be a routine payday for the Iraqis. I will join the mission with five corpsmen to perform brief medical exams for each Iraqi officer as a gesture of good will and as a diversion tactic. After the corrupt members are paid and complete their medical exam, they will be placed in handcuffs and escorted in front of all other policemen, sending a message that corruption will be dealt with seriously. The remaining Iraqi police

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will be paid promptly and thanked for their service. This mission is named “Operation Silent Switch.”

OUR BATTALION LAWYER IS Capt. Jamie McCall. Among many nontraditional duties you might expect of a lawyer, his job is to pay the Iraqi police. For the Al-Garma mission, he will take thousands of dollars in cash to pay each member of the Iraqi police. After learning about the medical role in the operation, I suspect we will be working closely together. Jamie and I first met in Okinawa before leaving for Iraq, and over the past couple months we became fast friends. He attended law school at Penn and shortly after joined the Marine Corps. I saw a lot of myself in him; his passion for life and commitment to duty as a Marine Corps officer inspired me. We bonded quickly, in part because we both chose professions sometimes perceived by society as those of opportunity, yet we found ourselves amidst war, executing our vocations in a capacity we never truly imagined.


Of his experiences in Iraq and what inspired him to write about it, Wilkes (left) says, “My writing helped me put my thoughts on paper and work through some tough memories from Fallujah. It also helped me express the importance of my faith – and its ability to help us endure.” (DR. DONNELLY WILKES)

During deployment, we killed time in the gym tent or jogging around the base, discussing our lives as young men, and dreaming of the life awaiting us upon return to the states. In the evenings we played Ping-Pong, watched movies on a laptop, or hunkered down with [Lt.] Cormac [O’Connor] and the chaplain for a competitive game of spades or Scrabble. Mid-deployment, Jamie developed an infected cyst in an unfortunate region requiring minor surgery. It was this event that propelled our friendship closer than either of us ever intended! In a second medical

mishap, Jamie headbutted an air conditioning unit; he laughed it off with grace as I closed his scalp with seven sutures.

IT’S SATURDAY, WE’RE 174 days into the deployment, and Operation Silent Switch is a go. In the back of my head, I’m telling myself, “Don’t do anything stupid; you’re on the home stretch.” Capt. McCall walks in the BAS [battalion aid station] with a friendly greeting and reminder of the fun and adventure we will have spending the day in Al-Garma. I assemble a crew of five corpsmen, and we pack a few medical bags for basic exams, mostly

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for show as a diversion tactic. Jamie and I hop in the back of a Humvee, and our convoy heads out at 8 a.m. It’s already getting hot, at least 90 degrees, and I suspect we’re in for a long day of travel. Per protocol, we stop just outside the gate, exit the vehicles, and load our weapons. Facing away from the Humvee, I insert a clip into my 9mm pistol, pull back and release the slide, chambering one round. I flick the safety up and I’m ready to go. The convoy lurches forward together, turning west onto the main highway for a short distance, then exiting on an unmarked dirt road I only halfrecognize from a previous convoy. Our routes constantly change, using back roads and making our own paths to avoid predictability, ambushes, and IED attacks. I tuck a bit of chewing tobacco in my lower lip for the road trip and peer out the window at the barren desert terrain that distracts me from our destination. Before Iraq, this habit was something I reserved for hunting trips and “male bonding” with my brothers; Iraq brought back the indulgence, since nearly every other marine carries chewing tobacco in his front pocket. We bump along the dusty roads, passing muddy, sewage-filled canals. Three weeks ago, one of our Marines drowned in this canal. While swimming across to span an electrical conduit, his feet became entangled in weeds and rescue attempts failed. On dirt roads, we travel through miles of crops and fields inhabited by the occasional farmer. Small farm towns punctuate the long stretches, most of them poorly constructed clay huts or rock structures, with dirt-caked walls. Children run in the streets, waving to us as we thunder by. I marvel at their acclimation to the war all around them and the fragility of their daily life. Marines wave back, throwing soccer balls and other trinkets brought just for this occasion. We arrive in Al-Garma before noon, linking up with Bravo Company Marines stationed across from the




e chatted with Dr. Donnelly Wilkes, who served multiple deployments in Iraq with the U.S. Navy, about his experiences in combat (including a desperate attempt to save a wounded serviceman, Lt. Jackson, which appears in Wilkes’ book), his love for the outdoors while he grew up near Sacramento, and his Thousand Oaksbased Summit Health Group, of which he’s president and medical director.

Chris Cocoles Congratulations on a really compelling book. What inspired you to pursue this project? Dr. Donnelly Wilkes After returning from my deployment and as the Iraq War dragged on, I realized what an important event the battle of Fallujah had been, and how it had changed me. There were only a handful of physicians as close to combat as we were in Fallujah. Moreover, the Battle of Fallujah proved itself to be the premier and most violent event of the entire 10-year Iraq War. Three years after Fallujah, I found myself in desert boots once again, heading back to Iraq for another deployment. Memories and emotions from Fallujah were stirred. I needed something to help get me through another deployment, and I felt a calling to tell my story from Fallujah. It was then that Code Red Fallujah came to life. My writing helped me harness the positives from my combat deployments, release emotional strain, and evolve as a physician. CC And considering some of the horrors of war you witnessed in Iraq, was writing this book a bit cathartic for you? DW Yes, it was. As my second deployment commenced, it stirred up emotions from the Battle of Fallujah. My writing helped me put my thoughts on paper and work through some tough memories from Fallujah. It also helped me express the importance of my faith – and its ability to help us endure. CC You have a lot of military connections

in your family – your grandfather fought in World War II and Korea and only an injury prevented your father from enlisting during Vietnam – so was pursuing a career in the Navy something you always thought about along with going to medical school? DW The culture in my family has always been one of patriotism. America is our beloved home team, and whether up or down I learned to support and root for our nation’s endeavors. Service to our country was frequently celebrated at family gatherings. I knew at a young age I would follow suit in some capacity but wasn’t sure how. I let my passion for education and adventure drive this ship, so when the Navy offered me a full scholarship for medical school, that ship set sail.

field aid station. Jackson’s death put me over the edge, and I felt myself bursting at the seams. The spiritual reckoning I write about is what turned the battle in my favor, and I have never forgotten that lesson. In my personal and professional life, I have drawn on the strength I gained over and over again. I have the good Lord’s strength on my side, and with this, I cannot fail. The trials of life still wound me, but they don’t inflict as much pain and I bounce back quicker. I have more empathy for my patients, and I see their struggles and rough sides through a softer lens. My temper has softened, and my ability to find time for the simple love of life has evolved. I am a better doctor, husband and American because of that night.

CC How much did the Sept. 11 attacks

CC You grew up around Sacramento [Pla-

impact you as a young man in the armed forces? DW When the [World Trade Center’s] Twin Towers came down, I was in my fourth and final year of medical school – on the cusp of fulfilling my dreams as a medical doctor. That day, I sensed my career as a Naval officer would be much different. The tide had turned, and I felt an even stronger pull towards active duty. I felt edgy about what it might mean to go into harm’s way but pumped up to be a part of the best fighting force in the world. By this time, I had attended officer training school in Newport, Rhode Island, and I was ready to don the uniform and jump in the ring. CC I was so moved by your experience trying to save the life of Lt. Jackson. You write about how much that moment affected you spiritually. Looking back, how much did that shape who you are now? DW This event truly altered my evolution as a physician, Naval officer and Christian man forever. That night was a turning point in my deployment. I was really struggling with the intensity of combat trauma and incoming mortars and rockets we were receiving at our

cerville]. That’s such a great outdoors mecca. Is that where your love of hunting evolved? DW Yes, I learned to hunt in the oak treelined foothills of our home in El Dorado County. We started with pellet guns hunting rabbits and quail right in our backyard. My father taught me the camaraderie found in hunting and the love of nature. He taught me to clean our kills and we always ate what we hunted. We moved on to hunting deer outside Placerville in the Sierra Nevada, and then finally to bigger hunts out of state.

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CC Can you share a California hunting memory?

DW This story comes straight from my father, Mike Wilkes: “Donnelly and (brother) Riley were 8 and 9 years old and excited for our annual deer hunt. It would be the three of us and another hunter friend of mine. Typically, my friends left their kids home but not me. Our destination was halfway between Placerville and Lake Tahoe, 20 miles north of Highway 50 in the Sierra Nevada. We drove in on dirt roads as far as we could go. Then all of us loaded up with backpacks and hiked over 4 miles


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HUNTING Hunting with his dad and brothers has always been a big part of Wilkes’ life. “My father taught me the camaraderie found in hunting and the love of nature,” he says. (DR. DONNELLY WILKES)

to make our camp.” “In those days, money was tight, and I did not bring good equipment for myself or the boys. It started to lightly snow at dinner time on the first night. Initially, we thought it was great, but before long the light snow turned to rain as we were still cooking on the campfire.” “Eventually, we had to retreat into our tents. Thus, it began the most miserable night I have ever had. Our tent was a joke – not only did the rain seep right through the top, but it also ran like a river down the seams of the floor, soaking everything in its path. Riley was the only one who had an air mattress and stayed dry in his sleeping bag. Donnelly and I were doomed as the streams below the tent floor blossomed and soaked our sleeping bags. Donnelly was freezing and climbed into my bag. Huddling skin to skin was all I could do to keep him warm. I stayed awake the entire night, hating myself for getting us into such a horrible situation. Thankfully, Riley slept soundly on the air mattress!” “Before dawn, I escaped from our water-drenched tomb, packing all our gear in the dark. At first light, we were ready to hike out of the snow-crusted forest. We made it down the mountain in record time, bringing a safe end to our adventure. I can say without a doubt it

was the worst night I have ever spent, and I vowed to never skimp on gear or go hunting unprepared ever again!” CC My dad was in the Navy and he’d talk to me a lot about the brotherhood of those you serve with. Did you feel that even more about those you not only worked with but those wounded warriors you treated? DW Yes, when you have a wounded man or woman under your care, you feel the ultimate responsibility to care for and protect this person who has been wounded. Throw in combat in the background, and this event or moment becomes crystallized in your memory. I remember the details of their wounds and the vulnerability in their eyes. Some persevered gloriously, while others succumbed to the ultimate fate. Each of them had a deep and lasting impact on me.

CC Are we doing enough for our veterans after they come back from combat?

DW During and since my service the care for our veterans has come a long way. But like [actor and veterans’ activist] Gary Sinise says, “We can always do a little more.” As a physician and a patient, I have personally provided and received medical care in our VA system and can attest to the vast improvements over the

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Iraqi police station. They live in a large open bay structure with an aluminum metal roof and block wall perimeter. I enter the building headquarters and see to my left a few folding tables with laptop computers, maps, and field telephones. The remaining open bay is filled with a maze of sandbags, field gear, ammunition, and green mesh cots with silver aluminum legs. The latrine is just outside the main entrance, consisting of a dirt hole and boxes. Overheated from the journey, we unload our gear, wrestle off our helmets and flak jackets, and grab some water. Jamie and I sit side by side in metal folding chairs, waiting to hear when to depart to the police station. We open magazines to pass the time. Jamie picks up a copy of

last 20 years. Now that we have made great strides in the access and delivery of medical care for our veterans, we can continue to refine and improve all services offered. I want to personally bring attention to the following mental health services: The National Center for PTSD (ptsd., which has free consultation for any provider treating veterans for PTSD or related issues. PTSD Coach App: an evidence-based app with information for family, friends, or patients on symptoms, screening tools, links to support, and treatment options. CC You’re a dad now. What would it mean to you for your kids to follow in your footsteps of pursuing a career in medicine or the military, or both? DW I am an all-girl daddy, and we frequently talk about Dad’s adventures in New Orleans, the Navy and beyond. Admittedly, sometimes my stories may get a bit “inflated.” It gets harder and harder to impress them as they grow! The Wilkes household frequently celebrates the stars and stripes, posting our flagpole together for honorary holidays. With all the opportunities blossoming today more than ever for women in medicine and the military, I would sup-

HUNTING port any choice they made to follow in my footsteps. CC It sounds like you’ve done a lot of hunting in different areas of the country. Is there a hunt that’s on your bucket list? DW I would love to go on a big game hunt in Montana or South Dakota. This vast and somewhat untamed part of our country holds amazing beauty. My dream would be to set out on a weeklong, horse-guided hunt with my dad and four brothers into the high country for elk or mule deer. CC How satisfying has it been to be a doctor – both while deployed and now as the director of Summit Health in Thousand Oaks? DW I love being a doctor. The life suits me well. My book tells stories of hardships

and challenges that tested my will, but the truth is I sought out an adventurous life, and it sought me right back. My journey took me where I was meant to be and molded me into the physician, husband and father I am today. The skills I learned and refined as a military doctor gave me the foundation I needed to successfully start and grow a private medical practice in an incredibly challenging environment. I love sharing my history with my patients – especially the veterans under my care. I am also proud to employ two former military members and am always looking to hire more!

has a unique story worthy of telling. My story is one of many passed down by the

grace of God, and I feel fortunate to share it. Untangling the mystery of life is the ultimate adventure. Finding peace on that journey is the ultimate challenge. At the end of my journey, I have a treasure chest to share, and I have a seminal message. Don’t wait for your life to come to you. With the right training, you can do great things. Among them, these three key elements: Get your heart and mind balanced, get your body fit, grab a fist full of courage, and go after it! You are the most important person you will ever meet – don’t be late to the meeting. Take calculated chances, but expect things to go wrong and that you will make mistakes. These are not failures, rather opportunities for improvement. Learn to forgive and love yourself first, then you are ready to be a light to the world. -CC

Field and Stream; pointing at a large fish, he fondly describes a prior catch, and I share in the spirit with my plans for an elk hunt in October with my dad and brothers.

outside. I lurch forward to reach for my helmet at my feet. As I strap it to my chin, three more rounds pummel the earth, closer than the last. Boom, Boom! I search frantically for my flak jacket as others race for cover, but it’s not where I set it down. Bodies rush past me on all sides. Frustrated, I scramble to crouch

against the wall as the impacts continue. They cease a few moments later, but I remain still, heart pumping and lungs heaving with adrenaline. After a minute, I tentatively stand up to look around. No one seems to be hurt, and there are no direct hits on the building. I look over at Jamie. We both sigh with the same

KA, KA, KA-BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! We’re violently jerked back to reality when multiple mortars crush the ground

CC What do you hope people take away from reading your book?

DW The first takeaway is that everyone

“I love being a doctor. The life suits me well,” Wilkes (far right) says. “My book tells stories of hardships and challenges that tested my will, but the truth is I sought out an adventurous life, and it sought me right back.” (DR. DONNELLY WILKES) 30 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |

HUNTING air of exasperation, as if to say, “Same story, different day.” I walk over and jokingly thank him for inviting me to such a memorable outing.

TWENTY MINUTES LATER, WE load up the vehicles with our gear. We head across the street to the Iraqi police station. Once there, we enter a building where the Marines have gathered a couple hundred policemen. Once lined up, the herding of bodies begins. I’m positioned in a small dirty back room with two corpsmen and an interpreter. As each Iraqi comes in, the interpreter asks if he has any medical problems or takes any medications. My corpsmen document the answers, then check his blood pressure and pulse while I listen to his heart and lungs. The first five men are the policemen suspected of corruption, and as they exit the room, they are arrested and placed in handcuffs. Despite the meaningless nature

of the remaining medical exams, we continue the same process for every single Iraqi as a gesture of goodwill and an effort to support them. Most of them do not speak any English, but their faces and thankful expressions are understood. It is tedious, dirty, and hot and I’m anxious to head back to Camp Mercury upon conclusion. Our unit musters outside the compound, facing a formation of Iraqi police officers. The corrupt officers are escorted in front of the other Iraqis as a commander explains why these men have been arrested and that this fate will follow anyone participating in this kind of behavior. I meet Capt. McCall outside the compound, where we gather our gear and saunter back to the Humvees, sharing frustrations and triumphs alike. Despite the mortar attack, it’s a successful and motivating operation. We load up the convoy and head for home. Our armored convoy drives,

bounces, and bumps along highways, back roads, and no roads; some of it is familiar to me, while much is different from the way we came. I catch glimpses of abstract shapes, shacks, and shadows in the distance – a dead animal, an abandoned hut, a goat herder – all of it feeling suspended in time. The success of the day and journey back to the base have me feeling a pull towards home so powerful it feels as if my return is in the near future. The convoy rumbles on, leaving massive dust clouds in its trail. As we pass the outer limits of our base, two stout Marines coated in white powder dust wave us through. I feel the tension in my head decompress and the nerves in my chest unwind; we are at home base once again. CS Editor’s note: For more information and to order the book, go to simonandschuster .com/books/Code-Red-Fallujah/DonnellyWilkes-M-D/9781642938029.

32 California Sportsman MAY 2021 | | MAY 2021 California Sportsman



34 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |




By Brandon Honig


Stephanie Durkacz (left), a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supervisory fish biologist, and fellow members of the agency’s Enhanced Delta Smelt Monitoring, or EDSM, crew pause for a moment during their work in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. (CLAYTON MILLER/USFWS)

bout 15 years ago at a wetland science conference, Vanessa Tobias presented early results from her Ph.D. research into the leaf-tissue chemistry of wetland grasses. Tobias’ data, displayed on a poster next to her as she took questions in a conference hall, identified markers that could help land managers diagnose and address the causes of wetland loss. “A guy came up and asked me where I got the data,” she recalled, “and I was really confused, and responded, ‘What do you mean? I collected it.’” Tobias had taken soil samples, measured environmental variables, and built and installed elevated planters called marsh organs at sites across the Louisiana coast – all normal activities for a scientist in her field. “I didn’t know how to answer him at first, but through talking to him, I realized he didn’t think women could do field work,” she said. “In my field, wetland science, there appears to be more women than men now, so it was really interesting to be at a wetland conference and have someone question, ‘You do field work?’ … But that attitude still exists today.” Now a supervisory mathematical statistician for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tobias’ job doesn’t call for field work. Instead, she’s one of several women who design and manage one of the largest, most complex fish-monitoring programs ever undertaken in California, the Enhanced Delta Smelt Monitoring program. Since December 2016, the program’s field technicians have set out four mornings each week to gather information on the abundance and locations of Delta smelt in the upper San Francisco Estuary. Data on the small, threatened fish caught in their nets – they could be fatally caught or diverted by water-pumping systems – are reported the same day to help guide partners overseeing water operations that serve | MAY 2021 California Sportsman



WILD CALIFORNIA millions of Californians. “It’s exceedingly rare to have this real-time reporting component nearly every day,” said Stephanie Durkacz, supervisory fish biologist in the Lodi Fish and Wildlife Office. “I’ve never heard of or been a part of any scientific project like this. It’s historic.”

EXCITED BY THE CHALLENGE Smelt monitoring program crews take samples each week from up to 40 sites, which are randomly generated in advance from an area covering more than 700 square miles. In a typical week, sampling crews cover more than 2,000 miles over land and water. Catherine Johnston, who began working as a biologist in Lodi a few months before the smelt monitoring program’s launch and now manages it, said the Lodi office was well-prepared since it already ran the large-scale Delta Juvenile Fish Monitoring Program. But some challenges couldn’t be predicted until the smelt monitoring program was put into action.

Mathematical statistician Vanessa Tobias works with saltmeadow cordgrass while completing her Ph.D. in wetland ecology at Louisiana State University. (VANESSA TOBIAS/USFWS)

Durkacz holds a juvenile white sturgeon caught by her EDSM crew. (JUSTIN DUMMITT/USFWS)

38 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |

“For probably the first year and a half, we were figuring out what was needed as we were doing it,” Johnston said. “Denise Barnard (of the East Bay Municipal Utility District) was in my position when the smelt monitoring program began, so she was the pilot of the plane that was being built as it was flying. I can’t imagine the stress of that position.” To get it off the ground, the program needed more than 40 skilled employees and a variety of boats, vehicles and specially fabricated equipment. Establishing the program – and continually refining its sampling design, statistical models, data management, scheduling and logistics – required week-to-week adjustments, intense work and extra hours. Fortunately, Lodi was the right place for the job. “EDSM was very lucky to have gungho people who were ready for it,” Johnston said of the program. “It was new and challenging, but people were excited. I was excited by the challenge.”


WILD CALIFORNIA “WE’LL ALL GO FURTHER” Tobias didn’t set out to become a mathematical statistician. While completing her Ph.D. in wetland ecology, she learned complex statistical methods to apply to her field work and discovered her passion for working with data. “Working in wetlands, things are really complicated, so you need to learn more sophisticated statistical techniques to figure out patterns in the data,” she said. “It’s like a big puzzle every day, and I get to help solve it.” As children, girls are just as interested in math and science as boys are, Tobias said. But they don’t always feel welcomed in those fields in school or in the workforce. “There’s still an undercurrent,” she said. “People don’t know they’re doing it – it’s that unconscious bias thing. If you’ve been conditioned your whole life to think of the image of the scientist as Einstein, if that’s what you’re picturing in your head, it’s hard to see a woman as good at math and science.” Men’s views toward women in science are shifting for the better, Tobias said, and with that change has come increased opportunities and resources. Whereas women in previous eras had to compete against each other for limited positions, the Lodi team supports each other and lifts each other up. “We don’t worry about spots because we’re trying to be more inclusive and have more of a spirit of collaboration,” Tobias said. “It changes the way people think. We can all help each other, and we’ll all go further.”

THE WORK CONTINUES When Durkacz began working on the smelt monitoring program in early 2017, she was gathering data firsthand as a field technician, trawling for smelt for up to 10 hours a day. “It was a 6 a.m. start time, and there were lots of very cold, dark, wet mornings,” she said. “I remember sitting out on that boat in windy, crazy conditions while it was pouring all day, every day.” Despite the weather, she loved be-

Catherine Johnston, another USFWS supervisory fish biologist, drives an agency boat in the upper San Francisco Estuary, where EDSM crews trawl for smelt four times each week. (LAURA HEIRONIMUS/USFWS)

ing on the boat and loved the camaraderie. There was excitement about the new program, which the crews knew was getting attention from other agencies and conservation groups. As the smelt monitoring program progressed, the attention – and scrutiny – would only grow. “It was very unbelievable to me, in the literal sense of that word, that the president of the United States was (talking publicly about) something I was directly working on,” she said. “It was weird. You couldn’t have chosen a more politically charged topic than water allocation in California, which added to the pressure.” Durkacz accepted a supervisor role in July 2019 and initially enjoyed being a mentor and a leader of the program.

40 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |

After only eight months, though, her focus shifted to logistics and crew safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. While many other field operations were being halted, Durkacz said they had to find ways to safely continue the massive monitoring effort. The crews’ schedules were changed to limit personal interaction, and procedures were adjusted to minimize the chance of virus transmission. Then nearby wildfires made the air hazardous to breathe, grounding crews for the better part of six weeks in August and September. “I’m usually an ‘I can handle this, I take things on’ type of person, but it was an extreme challenge for me,” Durkacz said. “It was tough, and the pandemic did not stop impacting us either. But we’ve per-



Geena Fritzmann, a biological science technician, reaches for a Kodiak trawl net during an EDSM survey with Heather Benedict and Chris Hart in 2017. (USFWS)

severed through it, and I’m really proud of the program for that.”


Technician Brynn Pearles records data from an EDSM net tow in March 2017. (STEVE MARTARANO/USFWS) 42 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |

Years of hard work have refined the program. Mathematical statistician Ken Newman, who preceded Tobias, is recognized as the “architect” of the program, and former deputy project leader Matt Dekar was crucial in preparing it for launch. In the years since, the smelt monitoring program team has made a series of modifications to improve its efficiency. “There were a lot of challenges with EDSM, and I always felt like we were pushing to make the program more sustainable and resilient,” Johnston said. “We are finally reaching that point now, where things are more routine, and supervisors don’t need to be as hands-on with every aspect every day.” On the other hand, the Delta smelt itself has been on a downward trend. The number caught by the smelt monitoring program has dropped dramatically in recent years, and there are now fewer in | MAY 2021 California Sportsman




The Delta smelt was once one of the most abundant fish in the San Francisco Estuary, but their numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years and there are now fewer of this threatened species than ever before. USFWS is finalizing plans to supplement the population with hatchery-raised fish. (PETER JOHNSEN AND STEVE MARTARANO/USFWS)

44 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |

the wild than ever before. “The population is doing very poorly right now,” Johnston said. “It’s motivating, to keep supporting EDSM and keep the program the best it can be at this very difficult moment for Delta smelt.” USFWS is finalizing plans to supplement the Delta smelt population by releasing hatchery-raised fish into the estuary. That effort will raise complex questions for the smelt monitoring program, which the Lodi team is eager to answer together. “The women in our office are so smart, but sometimes we take for granted how much we know and how important it is that we have these skills,” Tobias said. “When we’re all in a room together, figuring something out, and everyone’s feeding off each other and ideas are flying, you can almost feel the sparks in the room.” CS Editor’s note: Brandon Honig is an external affairs specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For more on the Pacific Southwest Region, check out


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Diversity may be your best bet for spring trout success on California streams. A favorite spinner of generations of anglers is a Rooster Tail, something you’ll want to have in your tackle box. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

FROM SIDE-DRIFTING TO BACK-TROLLING, HOW TO SLAM SPRING TROUT By Scott Haugen ith spring upon us, now is the time to hit the water in search of rainbow trout. When it comes to targeting trout in rivers, diversity may be the key to success, and here’s a look at some of the most effective approaches.



When fishing from a boat and drift-

ing through long sections of water, side-drifting is very effective. It can also be applied in smaller streams or where short drifts can be made through small sections of prime holding water. In side-drifting, the oarsman holds the boat slightly slower than the flow of the natural current. Then the angler or anglers cast upstream at about a 45-degree angle, letting the terminal gear travel downstream with the

natural flow of the river. The terminal gear – the same as what you’d use when drift fishing – will move downstream about the same speed as the boat, maybe a bit faster. Use just enough weight to occasionally tick the bottom, as you don’t want it dragging and hanging up. Using split-shot sinkers will allow you to easily add and remove weight. Side-drifting is a great way to cover water and search for fish. Due to | MAY 2021 California Sportsman


FISHING Here’s a “pretty revolutionary” idea, in cookbook author Tiffany Haugen’s words: Stuff half an avocado with flaked smoked fish and then bake it. (TIFFANY HAUGEN)




pring fishing season is here, and whether you’re targeting rainbow trout, kokanee, salmon, bottomfish, bass or panfish, this is a great time to be on the water. With so many fish species to target this time of year, here’s a recipe that’ll fit them all. The fish used in this recipe is salmon, but you can use any fish you like. Rather than make a special trip to the store, I like to use ingredients I have on hand, and encourage you to do the same. If you want to make some substitutions, go for it. In my opinion, baking an avocado is pretty revolutionary, and what you top it with is basically just the “icing on the cake.”

Chop tomatoes – removing and discarding any seeds – and pat dry. In a medium bowl, gently mix cheese, fish, tomatoes, chilis and pepper. Halve avocados, remove pits and carefully remove from the skin if desired. Place avocado halves on a baking


Two ripe avocados ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese ½ cup flaked smoked fish 1/3 cup chopped tomatoes 1 tablespoon fire roasted diced green chilis ¼ teaspoon black pepper 48 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |

sheet and stuff with equal portions of the smoked fish mixture. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven 10 to 12 minutes or until cheese is bubbling. Serve warm with cilantro cream.


¼ cup sour cream or plain yogurt 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro 1 teaspoon honey Dash of salt Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor until thoroughly combined. Spoon onto servings. Editor’s note: For signed copies of Tiffany’s popular book Cooking Seafood and other best-selling titles, visit

FISHING Do not allow it to move downstream too quickly or this approach won’t work. The boat should move downstream at approximately half the flow rate of the river. In some fast-water situations the boat may be anchored in one spot, thereby letting the presentation work from that point. Back-trolling bait is simple. Luhr-Jensen makes a series of small divers that work great for this, or you can remove the hooks from a size 30 Hot Shot and turn that into your diver. Tie the mainline to a duolock swivel and snap it to the eye on the top of the Hot Shot’s bill. Tie a 30inch leader to the eye the hooks were on, add a size 6 worm hook or egg hook, bait, run the line out 30 to 40 feet and you’re set.


In the right settings, flies can be back-trolled from the bank or a boat. This rainbow couldn’t resist a purple Parachute Adams. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

water temperature and food funnels this time of year, once you find one rainbow, you can bet others will likely be near.

BACK-TROLLING BAIT When fishing from a boat, back-trolling bait is one of the most effective ways to catch rainbows. Back-trolling

is a very controlled presentation that’s often overlooked for catching trout. From fast-flowing riffles to current seams to deep, fast-moving water that separates a riffle from a hole, there are many settings where back-trolling a presentation can pay off. Once the target water is identified, make sure the boat is under control.

50 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |

Another technique that works well this time of year is back-trolling flies. Tailouts, especially shallow, clear and fast-moving ones, can be tough to fish, yet trout routinely hold in them. While baits and hardware can be swung by these fish with good success, avoiding hang-ups and controlling the speed can be a challenge. This is where offering a fly may be the best option. For bank anglers, simply wade into the target water and use care so as not to spook fish. You can often work your way across a large portion of a riffle and pick up fish as you go. If you’re not a seasoned fly angler, don’t worry; simply hop in a boat and backtroll the flies downstream. Due to the shallow water that’s covered in this approach, a floating line is all that’s needed. Four to 6 feet of leader tipped with one or two flies is ideal. A Muddler Minnow is tough to beat when it comes to trout. Tied to a 12-inch dropper midway up the leader, a beadhead pattern not only serves as an additional attractor, but helps keep the trailing fly down towards the bottom. When fishing a two-fly setup, it’s not uncommon to get strikes on both patterns.

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FISHING Back-trolling flies from a boat is just like doing so with plugs or bait. Position the fly where you want it, and in the case of wide riffles don’t be afraid to cover it all by working back and forth. Just drop slightly downstream with each pass.


Drift fishing is perhaps the most common way to catch trout, and the approach is basic. Simply tie a size 6 worm hook onto 4- or 6-pound test mainline, pinch on the desired amount of split-shot sinkers 24 inches or so above the hook, add bait and you’re set. Be sure to use enough weight so the terminal gear ticks the bottom with regularity. It doesn’t have to ride on the bottom the whole drift; rather, it just should be at the general depth where trout are holding. Drift fishing can be done from the bank or a boat, and because this technique allows you to cover so much water, it’s one of the most effective that anglers can apply. If fishing from a boat, dropping anchor and working target water is a good approach. Worms and single eggs are tough to beat when drift fishing for trout, though lures can also be used. Be sure to bring along a variety of baits, lures and spinners – both in color and size – for trout can be finicky biters from day to day. This approach works in semi-fast currents, riffles, eddies, pools behind rocks, along ledges, in deep holes, and along the faces of slicks, where the fast, smooth water dives into a riffle. This spring, head to the river prepared. Have all your gear in place and ready to go. Be sure to read the water and see which method best fits the conditions being fished. If no fish are biting, it may be a sign to try another approach. CS The author’s son Kazden Haugen backtrolled a worm behind a plug to fool this dandy planter rainbow trout. Removing the hooks from a plug is a great way to convert it to a diver, which adds movement and takes your bait deep. (SCOTT HAUGEN) 52 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |

Editor’s note: Signed copies of Scott Haugen’s popular book, Bank Fishing for Salmon & Steelhead, and many other titles, can be ordered at Follow Scott on Instagram and Facebook. | MAY 2021 California Sportsman



LAST YEAR’S COVID SHUTDOWN ALLOWED COLLINS LAKE’S CONCESSIONAIRE TO IMPROVE THE RESORT, AND WHILE DROUGHT IS NOW A RISING CONCERN, FISHING SEASON LOOKS STRONG By Chris Cocoles ike so many businesses that rely on visitors to subsist, the family who owns and operates Collins Lake’s recreation area was at the mercy of the COVID-19 pandemic. “2020 was certainly an interesting year to navigate through operationally,”


says Jacob Young of Collins Lake resort (530-692-1600; “We were shut down for six weeks from March into May, which is prime trout and bass fishing months, which is hard to not have the typical fishing activity we are used to seeing.” But if there was a silver lining to the prime fishing days that

54 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |

Collins, located an hour northeast of Sacramento in the Sierra foothills, lost, it’s that the lake’s concessionaires made use of the time off. “This time with an empty park allowed us to do maintenance projects and improvements that would be difficult with visitor traffic,” Young says. “We did some road repairs,



After enduring a year of COVID-19 restrictions, Collins Lake is expecting a little more normalcy this spring and summer. While the lake is very low due to drought conditions, there should still be some great trout fishing in the works this month. (COLLINS LAKE)

extended our fiber optic lines to broaden Wi-Fi network access, etc.” The rest of the 2020 high season brought “a huge wave of visitors that were eager to get outdoors after being in quarantine mode for a couple of months,” Young says. But as 2021’s spring season gets into full swing this month and a sense of normalcy begins to take hold due to COVID vaccine rollouts, Collins Lake and so many other similar fisheries around the state

cope with a new enemy.

DRY SEASON STOKES DROUGHT REDUX “Our main concern, as will be for much of California’s lakes, is the drought situation. We are forecasted to be down at potentially the lowest lake level since the lake first filled in the 1960s,” Young says. “This will have operational impacts, as we will likely lose access to boat ramps and day-use beach and fishing access by late summer or early fall. This

could also carry over to potentially spring 2022 if we do not have a wet upcoming winter.” It’s distressing for a state that in recent years had begun to work its way back to more normal conditions following a devastating drought through the mid-2010s. But a map of California on the United States Drought Monitor’s website shows most of the state as being in anywhere from moderate to severe to extreme drought (most of the area in and around Collins | MAY 2021 California Sportsman


FISHING was in the severe range). And because of the lack of snowfall and rain this year – between just 50 and 60 percent of winter averages – the increase of wildfires, which has ravaged parts of the state in recent years, will be a concern again. “As long as we have a wet winter we should be able to recover well,” Young says. “However, if there is another year or two of drought on the horizon, then it will be a significant impact – not just on our operation, but all lakes and California as a whole.”


Ken Lanham from Rio Vista landed this 6.3-pound Collins rainbow while fishing with veteran guide Cal Kellogg. Lanham caught the fish trolling at the mouth of the Narrows on a threaded worm behind a FHS Turbo Flasher. As water temperatures increase, trout will be headed into deeper water, so a boat will come in handy. (COLLINS LAKE)



ollins Lake hosted one of several NorCal Angler’s Trout Challenge 2021 events on April 24, and the lake will be the site of the championship round on Nov. 6-7. Pardee Lake in the Mother Lode area hosts another qualifying tournament on May 1. Collins Lake’s Jacob Young spoke to NTAC coordinators and was excited about the prospects of the April tournament, plus the championship round later this year. And with COVID-19 restrictions beginning to lift as the vaccine rollouts continue in California, a more traditional spring and summer of activities should return to Collins this month and thereafter. “We will be resuming most of our outdoor family events throughout this summer season. In addition to camping, fishing and our famous ice cream, there will be movies on the beach (nights), paint-and-sip events and even yoga on the beach sessions,” Young says. “There will definitely be ample opportunities for family fun and for guests to connect with each other and with nature while they are here.” CC

56 California Sportsman MAY 2021 |

Despite concerns about the pandemic, drought and fire susceptibility, there’s no other alternative but to trudge on, and Collins Lake expects to have a busy season as visitors target the lake’s trout, bass and catfish. California’s statewide trout season opened on April 24, but Collins has been open throughout the last month, with plenty of good production from its extensive rainbow stocking program. “As we shifted from weather in the 50s to weather in the 70s in late March and early April, it brought a huge uptick in activity. We went from seeing consistent nice catches of trout in the 5- to 7-pound range to consistent limits of trout caught,” Young says. Increasing air and water temperatures will begin to drive trout to deeper water, making it more of a challenge for shore anglers to be successful, but private boats and rentals available at the marina can continue to score fish with both bait and trolling lures such as Kastmasters, Rapalas in fire tiger, and various spoons. “We have been doing weekly trout plants since early February and will continue these weekly plants into May, in addition to releasing our net pens of trout raised throughout the winter,” Young says. “In total we will have planted over 30,000 pounds of trout into the lake over the spring 2021 season.”





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FISHING should offer bass anglers plenty of opportunities as well. “They are going up into the beds and have been active over the past week or so,” Young said in mid-April, adding that bass “will continue to be active through April and May.” Crappie and bluegill fishing should also be strong as the water temperatures continue to increase with summer on the way. As for Collins’ usual excellent summer catfishing, Young says the fish have been active throughout winter and anglers were having luck fishing by the marina, with various shoreline spots expected to churn out big cats as the season continues. “It will be an interesting season for bass and catfish, as the topography of the lake will be different with the lower lake level. For the bass, a lot of the typical beds are out of the water, so it will expose different terrain over the next month that we usually see

Vacaville residents Mya, Amy, Adam and Alana caught this 6-pound 11-ounce trout off the beach shoreline using shad and an imitation lure. Besides trout this month, bass, catfish and bluegill/crappie fishing will also be in play throughout the spring and summer. (COLLINS LAKE)

activity,” Young says. “For catfish, as the lake drops we will have the sediment build-up start to be exposed and more of the muddy shoreline throughout the peak of

summer. In late summer and fall we will run into issues with getting access to the water, but up until then there should be great fishing activity all around this season.” CS


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THE TOP RIG FOR THIS TIME OF YEAR THE POSTSPAWN BLUES MAKE IT TOUGH TO GET BASS TO BITE, BUT THERE IS A WAY By Capt. Bill Schaefer outhern California bass have gone through their spawn for the most part this year, with the exception of maybe a few stragglers, but the process will be ending soon. Water temperatures are rising and the bass are moving around and schooling up for their next feeding frenzy. Most of the fish are thinking about one thing right now: relaxing and going into the postspawn blues, as they are called. But you should still be able to get a few bass to bite.


DROPPING DOWN The drop-shot rig is the most fished type of setup this time of year. Usually, you’ll use a lighter rod with some give in the tip, like my Tatula 4-12-poundrated setup from Daiwa. The line and leader are kept down in size; I usually go with 4- to 8-pound Maxima Ultragreen. And then, if you wish, use a fluorocarbon leader to the bait.

ALL ABOUT THE FEELING A sensitive tip is the key to this type of fishing. It can be hard to feel the bite this way, but you can practice and ensure you’re making this setup one of your own. The tag end of the knot you tie to your hook is left long and then tied to the weight or just left straight. Leave about 14 inches or so. There are special drop-shot weights that can be used, but I tend to use a split shot on

After they complete their spawn, bass can be difficult to coax bites out of as they head to deeper water. You can still catch fish, though you’ll also need to avoid snagging all the vegetation at the bottom of Southland lakes. (BILL SCHAEFER) | MAY 2021 California Sportsman


FISHING Tom Buckalew admires a nice bass from San Diego County’s Otay Lake. Author Bill Schaefer says sometimes postspawn bass aren’t easy to catch, but stealthy anglers with the right rig can still have a good day on the water. (BILL SCHAEFER)

any situation – allow it to move around and attract bites without getting hung up. You might get the weight hung up on the bottom, but again, you can pull it off and squeeze on another one right away, which means you don’t waste any time retying your entire setup. The rig can be fished around any lake’s structure without worrying about hanging it up on rocks, docks, stickups, etc. This method can also be used year-round, as it is virtually the best thing you have in your arsenal. With the sinker on the bottom, if a bass picks up the lure, it doesn’t feel the heaviness of the weight, giving you that much more time to set the hook. Let’s say you are bed fishing for a late spawner – or any bass, for that matter – and the bass just sucks the lure in and then blows it off the bed. The drop-shot rig gives you a second or two longer to set the hook.


the tag end. The weight will pull off if you get stuck and losing it doesn’t cost you as much. The length of the tag end can vary with how much structure is around, such as wood and stickups. Maybe make it a little shorter than normal for pulling it through the stickups.

AVOID A MESS ON THE BOTTOM What is the advantage of having the

lure above the weight? A lot of the lakes in Southern California have moss or some other type of vegetation growing on the bottom. This rig helps you stay out of that mess. Because the fish might want a bait right on the bottom, it allows the lure settle on the vegetation and not sink into it, which it would with a Texasrigged worm. Twitching this bait can – in almost

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Sometimes female bass hang out in much deeper water, say, on the points leading into the spawning area. This bait still lets you fish deep as well. You may have to put on a slightly larger weight, but the effect is the same. A fluttering or darting lure looks much more natural to those big females, especially when they are spawning. This method has become so popular that there are companies that specialize in hooks and weights for it. Usually, a little smaller bait is used, as with shad or shiners, but you could go a little larger with creature baits. Most plastics become more enticing with this method. You can use it around docks, rocks, gravelly bottoms as well as other areas. Whether it’s deep or shallow, the list is endless.

A YEAR-ROUND OPTION Any time of year is the right time of year for this method. Getting set up is one thing, but once you have dialed in your favorite method for your local area, then you should do well dropshotting your way to the big ones in your local lake. CS

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The question is... Do you want to hunt ducks or be a duck hunter?

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pring is here, meaning warmer weather, increased daylight hours and plenty of opportunities to train your hunting dog. Personally, my spring training began in mid-March, immediately after the closure of late goose season. For others, spring training may have started later, once bird hunting preserves closed. Then there are the shed hunters who’ll likely be running dogs regularly through the end of this month, until the grass gets too tall and the ticks too thick for dogs to effectively and safely work. The worst thing an owner can do is leave their dog in a kennel once the season ends, letting it get overweight and out of shape. “If you’re serious about building a good gun dog, there is no offseason,” shares noted trainer, Jess Spradley of Cabin Creek Gun Dogs ( in Lakeview, Oregon, north of Alturas.

SPRADLEY TRAINS DOGS year-round, both his own dogs, as well as for clients. “You’ve got to keep these dogs in hunting shape all the time, and that’s done through daily workouts and getting them on a disciplined maintenance schedule,” he notes. “You want to feed the best food you can afford, avoiding fillers like corn and other grains. I feed the same food as during hunting season, just in smaller portions because the dogs aren’t burning as many calories, and the last thing I want is them getting

As explained by professional trainer Jess Spradley, a white bucket is great for sight recognition, and with three bumpers placed beneath it, it’s the perfect drill to teach your dog long-range retrieves. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

overweight.” For Spradley, his next step in spring training is based on what he learned over the past hunting season. “I like building on what my dogs did well, and starting over with things they need improvement on,” he states. “If my dog pushed back great to 200 yards, I want to extend that to 300 or 400 yards so they can retrieve that occasional crippled duck or goose that sails out there. If my dog didn’t hold point or started creeping forward, I want to set up drills to build their confidence to the level they’ll perform

well come hunting season. Pick two or three things you know need fixing and dedicate drills to resolving these issues before next season.” “If you have a new pup, you’ll have a lot to work on,” adds Spradley. “I like starting with simple bumper retrieves because it gets the pup motivated, allows clear lines of communication to be established and develops a trusting relationship between me and my dog. They need to know right away who the boss is and what you expect from them, and this can be done while teaching them | MAY 2021 California Sportsman


HUNTING Spradley works with a pudelpointer pup, getting it lined out for a bumper retrieve. Now is the perfect time to dedicate yourself to a training routine that will get your dog ready for hunting season. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

to fetch bumpers.”

ONCE YOUR PUP will sit – which they should be able to do at eight weeks of age – work with soft bumpers. Get them excited to play with it, and then toss it a couple feet. Once they grab it, praise them and quickly give the “hand” command (or whatever it is you’ll use to have your dog deliver and release an object to your hand). You’ll likely need to step forward and meet them, quickly taking the bumper from them before they run off with it, while issuing the release command. Once the bumper is released, praise them. Be patient, keep things short and remember, you’re teaching the pup your vocabulary and what you expect from them. Training with bumpers is something you’ll do as long as you have your dog. “There are many bumper drills, including back piles, ladder drills and more that encourage building distance retrieves,” shares Spradley. “And one I like is hanging a white bucket from a fence or tree about 5 feet off the ground so the dog can see it, and placing three bumpers on the ground beneath the bucket. The dog can’t see the bumpers, but it can see the white bucket from a long way. Dogs see white very well, and I train my dogs to an

object since they function on a mental sight picture, in this case, the bucket. They’re always cuing in on things that are out of place, thus the white bucket. As they grow to understand the bucket drill, you can take it anywhere and the dogs will work for you, be it hillsides, fields, even around water.”

SPRADLEY LIKES WORKING in threes when it comes to training. “When starting out with a dog that already retrieves bumpers, I might have the bucket 50 yards out, with three bumpers beneath it,” he says. “I’ll sit the dog next to me then release it to get a bumper, and when it brings it to hand I’ll repeat the process until all three bumpers are in. I’ll do this at least once a day, every single

If your dog is reluctant when it comes to water retrieves, try working in small creeks, shallow ponds or, as in this case, a field holding water. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

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day, extending the range as the dog proves it can handle it. As long as the dog shows desire and enthusiasm, I’ll keep pushing it – sometimes training twice a day, and often pushing dogs back 300 yards or more.” If you want to get your dog to cross water but it’s reluctant, Spradley suggests first implementing the bucket drill on land. “This helps establish a line of travel. Your dog can easily cover 100 yards on land, but in water you’ll need to shorten it up,” he shares. “When you get to water, place the bucket across a small, shallow pond, even a creek or field that’s holding water. Your dog should be so focused on getting the bumpers it won’t care about kneedeep water. As the dog improves, progress to deeper water.” If your dog isn’t fond of water, make sure it’s not too cold. If the water is cold, keep sessions short, maybe to only two entries, and train during the heat of the day so they can run and dry off. With just four months until the start of bird hunting seasons, don’t think of this as a time to take a break. Now is when your dog needs direction, consistent training and encouragement in order to physically and mentally develop, and it all starts with you. CS Editor’s note: To watch Scott Haugen’s series of puppy training videos, visit Follow Scott on Instagram and Facebook.


A Safe(r) Way To Display Guns P

icture it: You just plunked down a good chunk of change for the antique Springfield Model 1888 Ramrod Trapdoor Rifle you’ve been eyeing. It’s truly stunning; a work of art. So you polish it to a shine, show it off to all your friends, take 100 pictures and then … you carefully lock it up in your safe, not to be seen again until its next cleaning. This tragic scenario is exactly what inspired Sam Galler to start his company, In-

InvictaSafe products are a mix of brawn and beauty, securing your firearm behind 14-gauge steel and showing it off through ½-inch polycarbonate ballistic glass. (INVICTASAFE)

victaSafe, which offers gun owners a new way to store and display their firearms. “Many people own beautiful work-ofart firearms or very meaningful (emotional, historical or family heirloom) firearms, and these firearms are usually put in traditional black box safes, never to see the light of day unless one of their friends stops by, or they are cleaned, etc.,” Galler explains. “Now they can be displayed like the works of art that they are and done so safely so that children and unauthorized people cannot gain access to these valuable firearms. An owner can now look at their prized possessions and appreciate them within their home or office.” He adds, “Our customers like the fact they can appreciate their firearms on a daily basis and see them displayed in a manner befitting such a beautiful design or meaningful item. Also they make the perfect gift for the person that has everything.”

Made of 14-gauge steel with ½-inch polycarbonate ballistic glass, InvictaSafe is secure and displays your firearm like the piece of art it is. Choose from the Pistol safe or the newly-introduced Rifle/ Shotgun safe, and then customize it to your taste. Customers can select background color, texture, or even send in an image of their choice to serve as the background of the safe. The bigger Rifle/ Shotgun safe also has room to add mementos, pictures and more. “We want our customers to be happy and we are flexible to meet their wishes and requirements. Just call us!” says Galler. “Most importantly, our safes are built strong with more steel than many other safes and cabinets. If you want to display your firearm, do so safely and treat your firearm like the work of art that it is.” CS Editor’s note: For more information, visit | MAY 2021 California Sportsman