Day 1 - dusk hunting beyond conventional methods of trout capture.

Day 1 – dusk hunting beyond conventional methods of trout capture.

Marc Higashi of Performance Tackle in Los Alamitos has been a ‘slightly below the radar’ pillar of the fishing community for a very long time. His instinct on the water and his impeccable attention to detail surrounding the technical side of angling and rod building are his greatest gifts, which he shares endlessly with people lucky enough to corner him in the shop.

Marc invited me to tag along as his tournament partner for the ‘Finest Annual Trout Invitational Tournament’ on Crowley Lake this past weekend. We would leave a week prior to the tournament to dial in some boat issues and take a gander at the fishing conditions on the lake.

Marc displays a Sacramento Perch under the eminence standing guard above the gorgeous Owens Valley.

Marc displays a Sacramento Perch under the eminence standing guard above the gorgeous Owens Valley.

I had heard that the lake ‘opener’ was the toughest in many years and that fishing had been lack luster going into our visit. Fishing is not catching and the honor of my invite and the opportunity to fish with Marc trumped any difficulties I imagined we might face throughout the week.

This slender snake of a brown was on a steady diet of snail as made evident by his excrement that painted the deck carpet.

This slender snake of a brown was on a steady diet of snail as made evident by his excrement that painted the deck carpet.

We quickly found biting fish in areas that Marc had been fishing for years but also ventured into different territory looking for pieces of the puzzle that any lake holds that may reveal productive water. The first couple of days were marginal at best and Marc noted that the catching was much less than what he had expected. We had a week to figure it out and suspected that some incoming weather would change the bite in our advantage.

A well fed fish with the fighting spirit of a bull - warm, clear skies and high hopes for bigger bites.

A well fed fish with the fighting spirit of a bull – warm, clear skies and high hopes for bigger bites.

Territorial apex predator fit with needle like teeth built to devour everything from daphnia to tule chub.

Territorial apex predator fit with needle like teeth built to devour everything from daphnia to tule chub.

By mid Thursday morning we had spent hours chasing meter marks without results and I wondered what our plan would be for the tournament. We had several zones designated as ‘tournament waters’ but were literally driving in circles talking to ourselves under a dry, nose bleed birthing heat. I did my best to stay positive but tortured myself with thoughts of the biting blue fin tuna and local exotics I had left behind – not to mention days without my Wife and Daughter that I can barely breathe without having by my side.
Marc kept searching and stayed diligent in his efforts while I struggled with my sanity. Versed in ‘tough’ conditions throughout years of his fishing freshwater bass tournaments against some of the greatest anglers in the West, seemingly unaffected by our lack of bites – Marc just kept fishing.

"Angry brown, spotted fish attacks balsa replica."

“Angry brown, spotted fish attacks balsa replica.”

Watching Marc dissect water columns, topographical features, shoreline figures, electronic signals and certain smells in the air is like watching Bruce Lee stretch. Certainly I’d done these things for years on my own, but Marc does it on an entirely different level. Even more than his impressive practices that he’s mastered over many decades of his craft is his natural ability to adapt to conditions and make the subtlest of changes that eventually result in fish flopping around in the net next to the boat.

Outer limits on an afternoon adventure into an area that held feisty browns hiding in the rocks.

Outer limits on an afternoon adventure into an area that held feisty browns hiding in the rocks.

On the evening before the tournament, we left the lake early and Marc led us down a path he had walked many times in the past. Alongside a pseudo river that filled a ‘lake’ we fished a rocky shoreline into the low light moments before total darkness. These few hours we spent on foot, surrounded by an omnipotent beauty, doing something we love to do – helped both of us in a way that generated a good energy going into the tournament, despite our poor pre-fishing.

Higashi briefly celebrates a moment of golden brown solitude.

Higashi briefly celebrates a moment of golden brown solitude.

We had similar results on our first day of the tournament and didn’t have a fish in the well until after 10:30am. Pre-frontal conditions finally took hold on the atmosphere and turned on a pretty magnificent bite just hours before weigh-in. Once again, Marc’s ability to make mild adjustments and read changes on the water helped us put some solid fish in the boat. The only team that had more weight than us at the scales after Day 1 were our close buds and cabin mates, The DeLuccas (Father & Son: Rich and Dave).

Our second day of the tournament was as tough as our week of practice. The pressure had totally dropped and changed our pattern. We struggled to get on them until later in the day but had 3 less hours to target them. I watched Marc put on a clinic for 20 minutes and sat down to enjoy the show. He called out a change in the bite and just revealed a masterful skill while sticking fish after fish. Unfortunately for us, most of the fish were less than the 2.5lbs they needed to be in order to count toward our 2 day bag. It didn’t matter to me – I had spent a week with a close friend and learned a few things that will definitely make me a better fisherman. I captured some of our finer moments to memory card and gathered media that will help both of us out in the near future.
I was introduced to an awesome group of fisherman that have been putting this ‘invite only’ tournament on for 30 years.
In the spur of the moment, I humbly offered an ‘outfit’ to San Clemente Island as a raffle prize and laughed my ass off when my friend Andrew ended up with the winning ticket while sat across from me at the dinner table.
Our buddies Rich and Dave DeLucca ended up winning the tournament and Rich received a highly coveted white wind breaker marking him as the ‘Finest Annual Trout Invitational Tournament’ winner for biggest fish of the weekend. The entire experience was unforgettable and I look forward to fishing the tournament again next year. Once you’re invited, you’re welcomed back for the next year. In the 30 years of this tournament, there has never been one complaint made by any of the anglers – pretty tough thing to accomplish.

The best part of the trip was getting to fish with one of the most talented, under-celebrated and humble fisherman I know – Marc Higashi. Unaffected by social media, tackle trends, bad attitudes and really, really tough fishing conditions, Mr. Higashi shared an annual tradition with me that I know is special to him for which I’m grateful.
The ability to watch, understand and catch almost any fish that swims is a skill that every angler should strive for. I feel lucky to be surrounded by guys like Marc that continually prove it’s possible.

Thanks for the memories Marc.

Rich DeLucca with a 6lb 14oz brown that took big fish honors for the weekend and earned Rich a 'Finest Annual Trout Invitational Tournament' winner's jacket.

Rich DeLucca with a 6lb 14oz brown that took big fish honors for the weekend and earned Rich a ‘Finest Annual Trout Invitational Tournament’ winner’s jacket.