It’s been a familiar story this spring: a small window of fair warm weather punctuated by days of wind, rain and chill. This is how the conditions were leading up to the 4th annual Collins Lake spring NTAC tournament on April 8.
The week prior to the event the weather was pretty decent, fairly warm and free from precipitation. A couple days before the tournament things changed, foothill temperatures dropped and rain swept in. The night before the event featured big rain, big wind and in some areas raging lightning and thunder as cold air masses pushing in from the Pacific clashed with the warm air that had taken up residence over the north state in the preceeding days.
Talking with tournament director Vince Harris in the hours leading up to the event he expressed concern that with the tough conditions, crowds would be light. While the event didn’t draw its usual 300 plus participants, nearly 200 anglers did turn out. This in itself is a testament to both the popularity of Collins Lake as well as the loyalty and enthusiasm of the anglers that participate in NorCal Trout Angler’s Challenge events.
I’ve been fishing at Collins Lake and turkey hunting on the ridges that surround the lake for well over 20 years and it’s become one of my favorite destinations. I’ve got to admit that over the past couple years, with the state locked in the grips of a devastating drought, it was tough to look at my beloved Collins Lake. The lake was a shadow of its former self with lots of its bottom exposed and areas where I’d caught quality trout and bass high and dry a long rifle shot from the drought shrunken waterline.
This spring I hadn’t had a chance to visit Collins prior to tournament day. Of course, I knew the lake was full, but I couldn’t wait to see for myself and what a sight it was. The lake is brim full. The hills are radiant and green and almost all of the swim beach is under water. So much so that the waters of the lake were a scant few yards away from the NTAC weigh in station that was situated at the top edge of the swim beach. It was pretty cool watching anglers weigh in fish, as other guys continued to fish just a few yards away.
I was concerned that the water at the lake would be severely off color due to the rain, but that wasn’t the case. While the water wasn’t completely clear, the clarity was certainly good enough for both trolling and tossing lures.
Collins Lake has one of the strongest trout planting programs you’ll find anywhere. Trout had been planted into the lake weekly for several weeks before the NTAC tournament and some weeks have featured double plants. At this point, there are thousands of pounds of rainbows fining around in the lake’s cool depths with more joining them every few days.
With the inconsistent weather leading up to tournament day there was some question of whether or not the fish were going to bite and the answer was a resounding YES AND NO….
There were lots of fish brought to the weigh in station and some of them were pretty husky, but what really caught my interest was the number of fish the boaters reported seeing on their sonar units.
“I made several trolling passes right out here,” Tyler Crissfield related to me point out beyond the swim beach. “There are hundreds upon hundreds of trout stacked up and suspending out about 150 yards offshore. We ended up hooking one of them on a Kastmaster, but they are largely inactive right now. I want to be here when they go on the bite because the fishing is going to be outrageous. We spotted big numbers of fish like that up in Elmer’s Cove and up the river arm too. There are lots of trout in this lake.”
In talking with the anglers at the weigh in there were stories of victory and defeat. Trollers scored with Kastmasters, Rapalas and threaded worms pulled behind blades. The bank fishing contingent rounded up rainbows on Kastmasters, inflated worms and PowerBait. Some anglers reported lethargic fish that you really had to be patient to hook on bait, while others had aggressive fish really blitz their lures taking them deeply. This is exactly the kind of results I expect when confronted with unstable weather!
So, who were the winners? In the adult division, Matt VanSickle took the top spot with a beautiful three pounder.
“I was bank fishing with my buddies and wasn’t doing much with bait, so I put on an orange Kastmaster I’ve had for a long time. Wham, I hooked up on the first cast and that’s how I got my big fish. After that my guys all rigged up with spoons, but there must not have been any more aggressive fish in the area because we didn’t hook any more on lures. That worked out great for me,” VanSickle laughed poking a little good-hearted fun at his friends.
Mike Happs, Jeff Laferrere, Dan Grass and Steve Leonardi rounded out the top five on the adult side.
Young Devin Osterberg in the youth division actually nailed the big fish of the event when a 3.77 pound rainbow annihilated his ball of green PowerBait. His photo will adorn the cover of an upcoming issue!
Ricky McCoulough, Natalia Smith, Winston Huber and Jordy McCune made up the rest of the top five in the youth division.
The venue of the next NTAC event has been changed. On April 29, the NTAC tour will roll into Lake Amador where the rainbows and lightning trout are the rampage! Be sure to mark that date on your calendar.