Knee Deep: Lessons learned in 2020

THE MOMENT WON EDITOR Mike Stevens determined that Crowley Lake is large, and fishing in wildfire smoke sucks.


I think this is the third or fourth time I’ve reflected on the previous year with a “Lessons Learned” column, and after 2020, I probably could have made it a 10-part series. I’ll try my best to stay away from the bummers.

WON readers travel to Montana to fish. No biggie right? A lot of people do that. I did that in 2019. Well, the WON readers I’m talking about did so to fish a tournament held in the Yellowstone River… for catfish.

Fishing on a (forced) limited-load half-day was a relatively-surreal experience. I jumped on one figuring it may be the only time I ever get an opportunity to do so. While it was fun to check that box – and fish on a 100-foot boat with about 20 people on it – I can only hope it never happens again, for the sake of the landings and sportboat operators.


An alarming (in a good way) number of people in the sportfishing industry had parents that used sport boats for babysitting. “My dad would drop me off at the landing and hand me a $20 bill, drive off, and pick me up in the afternoon.” A lot of these guys became deckhands and later, captains. Others became factory reps or involved in the manufacture of fishing tackle, clothing, etc. At the very least, they became top-notch anglers. While I landed exactly where I set out to, it would have been pretty cool to “grow up on the boats.”

WON staffers worked remotely for almost three months when so many others were doing so back in spring. I learned several things during that time: the worst desk chair beats even the best barstools, having three options for an at-home workstation (if there is not an existing home office) is the only way to go (my rotation was garage, backyard bar and kitchen island) and speaking of backyards, upon three months of hanging out back there, mine is absolutely fascinating. Every inch of it.

Crowley Lake is huge. I’ve been fishing the Eastern Sierra for the better part of three decades, but my experience with Crowley is actually limited to covering the opener for WON each April, and making a couple casts into the lake (just to say I fished Crowley) after fishing my way through miles of McGee Creek and reaching the inlet. Driving past it shows it’s big, but getting on it on a boat was really eye opening. It also holds the best fish in the region, hands down.

Smallmouth bass are freshwater’s greatest fish according to Stevens. As a Sierra trout guy, I argue with myself at times on that one, but fishing for smallies in bronzeback country was another bucket list item I was able to cross off in 2020, and it was all I hoped for. I knocked it out on Michigan’s Lake St. Clair – which is the center of the smallmouth fishing universe – so, that might have given the situation an unfair advantage in that argument.

One can pull pretty hard on 40-pound test, and I probably should have.
Camp Pendleton is the home of a herd of about 90 bison that originated as a gift in the early 70s from the San Diego Zoo. Who knew?

When it comes to tackle it pays to make sure some outside-the-box lures are kept, well, in the box. On that same trip in which I realized Crowley Lake was large, the standard Thomas Buoyant, Rapala and minijig menu worked fine, but you know what stole the show? This spoon called a Johnson Sprite the guy I was with found in some bag of random trout gear in my garage. He smoked me with it. On the same token, I caught my personal-best cutthroat on this thing called a Jack Rapid Snapper I found by accident while looking for a different lure. Oh it’s only available in Europe, but a brown-trout specialist from Denmark was cool enough to send me a few. It got slow and I deployed that thing. The color? Flat white.

Ownership of a 2-speed reel is something I think I have dodged long enough. At 43, I’m now mature enough to finally come to grips with that.