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Written By: Dan Bacher, April 15, 2014
Location: Rancho Seco Lake,
Rancho Seco Reservoir, a 120-acre year round recreational facility located in the rolling countryside between Galt and Ione, has hosted trout derbies operated by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District every spring since 1993.
But in every one of the derbies I’ve fished in and/or covered, I’ve never seen the big fish that anglers caught in the SMUD Spring Trout Derby held on the weekend of March 29-30, 2014. The derby featured three divisions: Adults (17+), Youth (11-16 yrs) and Kids (10 and under).
When I arrived at the lake on Sunday, I came up to a Matthew Witzer of South Sacramento and his fishing partner Michele Power, who were fishing to the left of the boat ramp. “Do you have any fish I could get photos of?” I asked.
Matthew said “Sure, I’ll get my friends in the boat to come in.” He called them on his cell phone to come in so I could get some photos. Thinking they had caught some quality fish in the 3 to 5 pound range, I was amazed when they opened their ice chest and they showed me some of the largest fish I’ve seen caught in any trout derby.
Kristopher Schanz of Sacramento showed me the 9.8-pound trout that earned him second place in the adult division of the derby and $75, while Power, Switzer and Josh Ventura caught fish in the 4 to 7 pound range.
“I hooked the fish while tossing out a jig from shore first thing in the morning,” said Schanz.
But Schanz’s big fish wasn’t big enough to win the event. Chouablong P. Lo of Sacramento won first place in the adult division by capturing a 9.98 lb. rainbow. He won $100 and a brand new kayak, courtesy of the Fish Sniffer.
The third through tenth place winners caught fish ranging from 6.24 pounds to 9.04 pounds, again showing the quality of the trout taken during the event.
The third through tenth place winners were: 3. Marc Boers of Sacramento, 9.04, $60; 4. Michael Hang of Sacramento, 9.04, $25 and a two-day pass; 5. Kenna Norris of Rancho Cordova, 7.08, $25 and a two-day pass; 6. Kama Bowerman of Sacramento, 6.88, $25 and a one-day pass; 7. Joshua Ventura of West Sacramento, 6.74, $20 and a one-day pass; 8. James Lew of Sacramento, 6.46, gift bag; 9. Daryl Jackson Sr. of Elk Grove, 6.28, gift bag; and 10. Tou Hang of Sacramento, 6.24, gift bag.
While I was there, I saw young Gabriel Bartkiewicz of Elk Grove land the biggest trout in the kids division, a 4.84 lb. rainbow. He was throwing a Little Cleo when he hooked the fish right to the left of the boat ramp. He won $35, a rod and a gift bag.
The second through fifth place youth division winners were: 2. Allisa Jackson of Elk Grove, 1.96, $30, a gift bag and rod; 3. Ricky Hawkins Jr. of Sheridan, 1.52, $25, a gift bag and rod; 4. Jason Sarabia of Lodi, 1.46, $25, a gift bag and a rod; 5. Chilou Vang of Sacramento, 1.42, $15, a gift bag and a rod.
The winners in the youth division were: Kenneth Xiong of Stockton, 9.68, $50, gift bag and a rod; 2. Sammantha Cola of Elk Grove; 2.22, $40, gift bag and a rod; 3. Joseph Solomon, Elk Grove 1.85, $30, gift bag and a rod; 4. Maichua Vang of Sacramento, 1.84, $20, gift bag and a rod; and 5. Cameron Ringler of Sacramento, 1.52, $10, 1 day pass, a gift bag and a rod.
Supplied by the Folsom South Canal diverting water from the American River, Rancho Seco was built to serve as a source for emergency cooling water in the event of a nuclear accident. After the power plant was decommissioned in a ballot measure approved by the region’s voters in November 1990, the lake became a year-round recreational facility.
Since 1993, SMUD has held a spring trout derby at the lake, organized by Geoff Roberts and Jose Gutierrez of SMUD. Geoff has since retired, but Jose was there for the two days carefully recording each fish brought in.
The weather was rainy and windy on Saturday, but was beautiful and sunny on Sunday when I was there. Anglers hooked the fish while using everything from Power Bait to tubes at a variety of locations throughout the lake, but the most big fish came from the cove near the launch ramp in the main recreation area.
And not all of the trophy fish planted by Mount Lassen Fish Hatchery were caught during the derby. For example, Lou Hawes of Wilton landed an 8.5 lb. rainbow while fishing PowerBait from the shore the week after the derby, reported Ron Calvert of the Rocky Mountain Recreation Company.
Rancho Seco not only kicks out huge trout, but also is legendary for the big Florida-strain largemouth bass that thrive in its fertile waters.
“Fish Chris” Wolfgram of Vacaville shattered the lake largemouth record when he caught and released an 18.4 lb. largemouth bass on April 10, 2003. The monster bucketmouth, one of the largest ever caught in northern California, sported a length of 29" and a girth of 24.5".
The largest bass are taken in the spring during the pre-spawn, spawn and post spawn periods. Anglers nail them while using Huddleston and other rainbow trout swimbaits, Senkos, swimbaits, plastic worms, spinnerbaits and jigs.
Rancho Seco is a lake with the potential for producing a state or world record largemouth bass. The lake has the three characteristics needed to produce record class fish: Florida-strain genes; conditions that allow the fish to reach large size; and a good food source, particularly planted rainbows.
Rancho Seco's bass population also had the highest percentage of Florida-strain characteristics of any California lake, according to a genetic analysis of fish conducted by the DFG through a contract with UC Davis in the late 1980's and early 1990's.
The lake also features good populations of redear sunfish, black crappie and bluegill, along with channel catfish. Fishing for all four species is best for boaters, float tubers and shore anglers in the spring and summer.
Rocky Mountain Recreation Company last became the concessionaire at Rancho Seco. The lake’s amenities now feature boat rentals including aluminum fishing boats with electric motors, paddle boats, and kayaks.
You don’t have to look hard to find Rancho Seco Reservoir, the popular fishery located off Highway 108 in South Sacramento County near Herald. The two huge cooling towers of the decommissioned nuclear plant dominate the horizon for miles as they rise out of the vineyard-studded hills of south Sacramento County like ancient megaliths from a lost civilization.
This reservoir also hosts, redear sunfish, bluegill and crappie. Fishing at the family oriented facility, now operated by the Rocky Mountain Recreation Company in conjunction with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, (SMUD), is available year-round.
For more information about the Rancho Seco Recreational Area, call 209-748-2318 or visit http://www.rockymountainrec.com/lakes/lake-rancho-seco.htm or https://www.smud.org/en/about-smud/community/recreational-areas/rancho-seco-lake.htm
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