Diamond Valley Res. holdover trout are beefy

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    HEMET, Calif. — Hype fizzled out quicker than anyone thought it would after Diamond Valley Reservoir opened more than a year ago.

    The first few weeks produced sellout crowds, but once the massive media attention eased, anglers let go too.

    For those who haven't yet been to Diamond Valley Reservoir, it's time to go.

    While Diamond Valley's largemouth bass still rank high in the minds of big-bass chasers, it's the trout that are offering huge payoffs this winter.

    Rare trophy fishery

    The reservoir's trout population was carefully implemented a half-decade ago to do exactly what it's doing today — provide Southern California anglers with a rare trophy fishery for trout that haven't come fresh out of a crowded stock tank.

    These aren't rainbows with half their tails, dull colors, flaky scales, deformities and little-to-no fight.

    Diamond Valley's trout fishery is part of a rare California Department of Fish and Game plan that exceeds expectations, rather than falling through the cracks, as funding is lost.

    Fortunately in this case, as mitigation for creating Diamond Valley, the Metropolitan Water District agreed to fund DFG's trout stocking program.

    Therefore, budget cuts haven't hurt this fishery.

    It's a program that is a wide success, yet many anglers haven't taken advantage of it.

    MWD pays for trout to be stocked bimonthly at DVR.

    However, those fish are identical to privately raised hatchery rainbows that are planted across the region. They aren't what folks are coming for.

    These holdover fish we are referring to have wild characteristics.

    They were planted by the DFG as fingerlings and have done their growing in the lake rather than at an overcrowded raceway.

    These fish are easy to spot.

    Rather than half a tail, as you'd find on a fresh planted trout, the holdovers, some of which have been in the reservoir since 2000, are powerful fish, with broad shoulders, vibrant colors, full tails and stuffed bellies.

    How to fish

    Catching these fish can be tough in the summer for most Southern California anglers, who are as familiar with downriggers as they are with arctic grayling.

    On the other hand, during the winter and spring, these trout can be caught by the masses.

    The only downfall is that you are going to catch a few fresh planters as well.

    You can increase your chances on catching holdovers by fishing certain parts of the lake.

    As a rule, you won't find the holdovers in the marina area or where shoreline angling is offered.

    These fish are likely to be caught near the main and saddle dam.

    Downriggers and leadcore line can be helpful in the winter, but not necessary.

    It's best to troll four lines if you have buddies on the boat or a second rod stamp. This allows you to target several portions of the water column.

    The tough thing about fishing during the winter is that trout aren't filed in line in a well-defined thermocline.

    They can be found anywhere in the water column. That means scattering your lines will yield the highest catch rates.

    Try running one line on the downrigger between 30 and 60 feet and the other from 15-to-30 feet.

    By watching your fishfinder, you'll be able to narrow those radii down as you see what zone fish are specifically holding in.

    The other two lines are for toplining.

    Try and use a lure that will stay on the surface and another that will dive a few feet. This way you'll have a lure in most places trout would be found.

    Where to go

    In order to stay away from the masses of fresh planters, you'll have to fish the dam area, which is furthest from where these fish are planted in the marina.

    For the holdovers, it's best to fish from the quarry, across the face of the dam, then past the tower and across the auxiliary dam.

    You can also troll the middle of the lake in this area. Some anglers work 20 yards offshore, others 100.

    It's a matter of personal preference. You'll have eager trout throughout this section of the lake.

    It's hard to predict what size trout you'll catch. There are several year classes available.

    Some run 12 inches, then there are 12- to 16-inch fish, 16 to 20 and those over 20.

    Unfortunately there's no way to guarantee what year class you are going to catch. Most holdovers will average 2 pounds, with fish to 5 common.

    There are rainbows upwards of 10 pounds, but those aren't caught often.

    Lure choice

    While any spoon, stickbait or spinner might work, it's the anglers who fish shad, minnow and bluegill imitations that do best.

    (DVR's trout have made a name for themselves by munching daily on silverside minnows and threadfin shad.)

    I fished the lake with DFG biologist Mike Giusti and tested more than two-dozen lures.

    For some reason, the trout wouldn't grab traditionally trolled lures such as Krocodiles, Cripplures and Buoyants, but that was likely due to a cold front that had set in.

    Our action came on Luhr Jensen Mini Speed Trap smeared with Gel Krill. Second would have to be a Needlefish and third was a Cotton Cordell Big O.

    They were in the mood to take shad-pattern crankbaits, probably because they do a great job imitating the baitfish available in the lake.

    Stocker options

    While it's a long shot to catch holdovers from the bank, you can rent a boat and fish for planters near the marina where fish are dumped in every other week from now through early June.

    To catch a quick limit, work the marina area and the shorelines nearby.

    Most of these stockers stay in the vicinity of the launch ramp for a few weeks. In fact, many are caught within a few days of being planted.

    These fish aren't bad; they just don't have the fight and colors to them that the holdovers do.

    You'll be able to tell the difference easily: The fresh planters are 1 to 1½ pounds with 10 percent of each load running 3 to 5 pounds.

    When trolling near the marina it doesn't matter what you use.

    Needlefish, Sep's Pro Dodger and a nightcrawler, flies, Rebel Minnows, Kastmasters or Hum-Dingers will all do the trick.

    These fish aren't geniuses by any means. They'd probably hit a penny with a hook in it.

    From shore

    Action can be fantastic from the bank. When you read reports of guys catching and releasing 50 trout a day from shore near the marina, it's no gimmick.

    Mostly anglers who are fishing mini-jigs see this action, but at times those tossing dough baits, spinners, spoons and salmon eggs do well.

    You don't have to walk far. It's best to stay as close to the launch ramp as possible.

    Instead of getting eaten by bass, these fish choose to stay where they are planted.

    They sit in big schools for a few days prior to dispersing throughout the area.

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