Bass fishing at Salton City


June 21, 2001|By AL KALIN, Special to this newspaper

Until I met Allan at the age of 19, I thought I knew everything there was to know about bass fishing.

We met one afternoon as I was sitting in the empty snack bar of the college union, reading the latest issue of Field & Stream, while Allan, the fry cook, prepared a double cheeseburger for me.

"You like to fish?" he asked as he placed my meal in front of me. I told him I did as I wolfed down the cheeseburger. He introduced himself and sat down next to me and we started talking about bass fishing.

"My dad's the head ranger at Santa Margarita Lake," Allan said. "I've lived at the lake most of my life."

"Have you ever caught any big bass from the lake?" I asked.

At the time, bass fishing was just starting to become popular and bass over 5 pounds were not common. The Florida strain, which grew much larger, had not been introduced to many lakes in California.


When Allan answered my question I almost choked on my food.

"My 11 pound, 13 ounce bass was the third-largest northern strain of largemouth bass caught in the United States last year," he told me.

OK, I thought, this guy's playing me for a real hayseed. Taking my Field & Stream, he turned to the back where the annual Field & Steam fishing awards were listed and showed me his name next to the weight of his fish and where it had been caught. Thus began a lifelong friendship and under Allan's tutelage, my formal education into the art of largemouth bass fishing began.

Five years later Allan showed up at my house driving a brand new van. He had a new job as manufacturer's representative for various fishing tackle companies. When the door on the van slid back, multiple pegboard racks could be swung into place to show off the wares of the different tackle companies he represented.

The next day Allan asked if my wife, Patti, and I would go to Salton City with him to visit relatives. While visiting, his kinfolk told us about gigantic fish living in the ponds on the Salton City golf course. They said a wooden footbridge crossed one of the ponds.

Many Salton Sea area residents, we were told, stood on the bridge where the large fish were easy to see and threw bread crumbs to the big fish. Allan and I agreed that they were probably carp but his relatives insisted they were largemouth bass, so we all climbed in the fancy van and headed for the golf course.

Sure enough, when we walked across the footbridge we discovered they were indeed some of the biggest largemouth bass we had ever seen. Multiple signs were posted around the pond stating it was illegal to fish. Allan's relatives said many had tried, but all had been arrested trying to fish for the trophy largemouth bass.

Undaunted, Allan headed back to his van to fetch some fishing rods despite warnings from his relatives that he, too, would be arrested if he tried to fish in the pond.

As he rummaged in his van for lures, he came up with a cap embroidered with the insignia of the California Department of Fish & Game. Donning the cap, he handed me one of the fishing outfits and said, "Follow me, and don't say a word. I'll do all the talking," as we headed for the pro shop, where the manager of the golf course kept his office.

Allan introduced himself to the manager as chief biologist for the state Fish & Game. He told the manager I was his assistant and we had received reports about a deadly fish disease reported in the area. He told the manager that the rare disease was deadly to humans and the golf course would have to be shut down if any fish in the pond showed signs of the dreaded disease.

Fearing the worst, the manager gladly gave us permission to catch and examine some of the fish and even loaned us a golf cart to drive around the golf course.

A few locals followed us around the course, watching as we landed one big fish after another. As Allan and I examined yet another 8-pound largemouth for the dreaded disease, Judge O'Brien, justice of the peace in Westmorland and avid golfer, strode up to watch and the locals explained to him what we were doing.

Trying to keep my face turned so he wouldn't recognize me, I was relieved when he finally drove off in his golf cart. A week after Allan had left I was having a cup of coffee in the local restaurant in Westmorland, swapping stories with the farmers, when Judge O'Brien walked in and sat down with us. Everyone greeted him but when he spotted me a slight grin came to his face as he said, "biologist my a**, Kalin."

Outdoor Tales writer Al Kalin can be reached on the Internet at

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