Two years after being sucked nearly dry for dam maintenance, Shaver Lake has become a prime destination for anglers — some who recently nabbed the largest rainbow trouts on record.
Scott McAvoy of Madera caught a 16.2-pound rainbow Friday and on Monday Robert Martin of Clovis landed a 15-pound, 13-ounce trophy that measured 31.5 inches and took him nearly 30 minutes to reel in.
"When it hits, normally you get a little jerk to set your hook," said Martin, 71. "This one took it, and I knew immediately it was a big one. The pole bent over the boat and the line just started reeling out."
While species state records are monitored by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (the largest rainbow recorded in California was 27 pounds, 37.5 inches caught in Sacramento's Lake Natomas in October 2005 by Frank Palmer of Orangevale), lake records are mostly unofficial recordings maintained by locals.
At Shaver, the two recent catches are unofficial records although there is a strong chance they might be the largest. The former unofficial record was a 15-pound, 11-ounce rainbow caught by Torcia Lee of Clovis in July 2012.
The record-sized rainbows are a by-product of the Shaver Lake Trophy Trout Project — a group of families and businesses that raised $40,000 to pay for big fish to be planted into the lake after it was drained in 2011 and 2012 for the dam retrofit project.
Together, along with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Southern California Edison, there have been about 12,000 or more trophy rainbows planted over the past three years at Shaver Lake.
The rainbows range from 2 pounds to almost 10 when dumped into the lake (depending on the batch, of course) but have grown to gargantuan size compared to what usually is seen in the lake.
"I knew it was bigger than what I usually catch, but I had no idea he was that size until he surfaced," Martin said. "We dropped our jaws at the size of it. I knew they had trophy trout in the lake, but I had no idea they were that big."
Dick Nichols, who runs Dick's Fishing Charters at Shaver Lake with wife Diane, has seen a rising trend in anglers searching for trophy-sized trout. His charter business doesn't operate in the winter, but he said he has gotten numerous requests now that more trophies are being caught and sought.
Why are they biting now? One theory is that with the warmer weather, the fish got hungry during a normal dormant period — but with no snow or extreme cold, they started eating more and plumping themselves up to 15-16 pounds.
Martin, a physical therapy instructor at Fresno State, usually fishes Pine Flat Lake in the winter but decided to try Shaver on Monday in part due to an invitation from his friend John Duran.
And he made the right choice.
"It was better than any day in the summertime," Martin said. "It was like glass; no wind, about 68 degrees out, clear skies and just a beautiful day. It was a fun day to be out there."
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