It probably won’t surprise anyone to read this, but I take my fishing gear everywhere. I’ve heard too many cautionary tales to not have some tackle within reach at all times.
“Oh man, you should have seen this lake. There were huge trout jumping everywhere! If only I had brought my fishing pole.”
Are most of these stories greatly exaggerated? Probably. Are some of those “monster trout” probably just spawning carp? Absolutely. Even so, I determined long ago I was never going to let a prime fishing opportunity slip through my fingers because I wasn’t prepared.
And so, as I readied for a Memorial Day weekend road trip to Modesto, Calif., I made sure to leave space in the trunk for a rod and one small bag of tackle.
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After a 12-hour journey, we arrived at our destination — my wife’s grandma’s house. We were the first ones there, with other in-laws scheduled to arrive the following evening.
So no one would miss me if I took off for the day, right?
This is the part where it pays to have an awesome wife. I got the greenlight, and after looking up the advice of my counterpart in the Modesto Bee fishing report, I was off to the races.
The recommendation I got was for Lake New Hogan, a rural reservoir about an hour out of town. It had bass, bluegill, crappie, trout and a big, bad species I had only caught once before — the striped bass.
After stopping to grab a day license, I wound my way through lime orchards and orange groves, arriving at a lake that looked full and promising.
I tied on a Rapala and began ripping it through the shallows. After a few casts, I noticed a small fish chasing the lure. It wasn’t a striper, but it looked like a bass. I switched to my go-to plastic worm, and the 10-inch largemouth quickly gobbled it up.
Ten minutes in, and we were on the board in California.
I continued to explore the lake in search of the elusive stripers. They are a schooling fish, so catching them can be boom or bust, especially from shore. After a few more stops that yielded largemouth, I came upon a dozen anglers spaced out along a 100-yard stretch of bank. They were bait fishing with stout tackle and anchovies.
I approached with a smile and asked what they were fishing for, but no one in the group spoke much English. One middle-aged man seemed to understand what I was asking.
“Striper” came his one-word response.
I had found the monster’s lair. But no one in the group was catching. I wandered farther down the bank to find some real estate, when a nice fish cruising in the shallows caught my eye. I tied the plastic worm back on and gave it a toss.
After a spirited fight, I landed a healthy, 16-inch bass. But this fish looked unlike anything I’d caught before. It had the coloration of a largemouth, but with the mouth and body profile of a smallmouth.
This was a Kentucky spotted bass.
It wasn’t the monster I was after, but it was a nice fish, and a new species. Maybe I’ll earn my stripes next time I visit the Golden State. On this trip, I was happy to settle for spots — and glad I remembered my fishing pole.
Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teen. Share your fish stories, adventures, tips and tricks at firstname.lastname@example.org.