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THE OUTDOORS : STAR OF STRIPERS : Silverwood Lake Is Home for the Predator Bass--and Their Angling Nemesis

Times Staff Writer

If you visit Silverwood Lake, nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains near Highway 138, chances are you will run into Greg Silks.

The 28-year-old from Altadena can be found fishing the shores of the reservoir, highest in the California Aqueduct system, at dawn or dusk, midday or midnight.

Campers might get a glimpse of him climbing down from the highway to fish the early hours of the night.

“The bite’s been turning on at 8 p.m. and lasting till about 10,” Silks told one recent visitor. “Then it turns off till about 1 (a.m.) and lasts till about 3. I like to doze in between.”

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The bite he talks of is that of the striped bass, the lake’s most challenging and predatorial inhabitant, and the only species of fish Silks cares about.

“He’s quite good,” concession manager Jeannie Bryant says of Silks’ angling skills. “As good or better than anyone else here.”

When someone wants to catch a striper, Bryant steers them to Silks. One such person is the Lakers’ Orlando Woolridge, an avid fisherman and regular visitor here. But one who had yet to catch a striper.

“I’ve been fishing a couple of times for stripers,” Woolridge said while casting lures alongside Silks. “I come here a lot and it was just a matter of time until we got together. We’ve been at the lake all day . . . we hit it off right off the bat.”

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And why not. Silks loves to talk stripers.

“Because they’ll usually come in like a wolf-pack,” Silks said. “And when they attack, oh, man, they explode!”

Silks, who manufactures fishing tackle, has been fishing this reservoir regularly for the last 12 years. He has caught more than his share of stripers, including the lake-record 41-pounder he had mounted.

“It fought hard,” he said. “It took the better part of 15 to 20 minutes (to catch). I caught one that was about 22 pounds, though, and I swore that fish was 50 pounds. It was a little spark, a real spitfire. In general, it seems the younger fish tug a lot harder than the bigger ones.”

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Silks tells of the woman who, a few years back, went screaming for help after watching a hungry striper chase down a trout.

“She was down in Miller (Canyon) with a baby in the sun on a sand bar, and here comes a big striper chasing a trout right in to the beach . . . Wwwrrrr, " Silks said. “It comes charging in right after her. She yells wolf and runs and gets the ranger and says the fish tried to get her child.”

Stripers don’t come easy, not even for Silks.

“The average angler that’s tryin’ to catch one . . . one out of 10 trips he’ll connect,” he said. Asked how many fishermen actually know what they’re doing when fishing for this foraging bass, Silks will reply, “Probably . . . 12.”

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But if its tips you want, then Silks is the person to see. Catch one of his seminars.

“Remember, action’s the attraction, color’s the reaction,” he says. “Action’s the attraction, so the action is going to govern how fast and how slow you want your lures to go.”

The color of the lure is what the fish reacts to. If one color doesn’t produce, another should be tried. If the action isn’t working, that, too, should be modified.

“The lighter it is, the faster you go. The darker it is, the slower you go,” he said. “That’s the general rule of thumb.”

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The best time for stripers, most fishermen agree, is after the Department of Fish and Game dumps its biweekly load of trout into the reservoir to sustain a trout fishery. Freshly planted trout--though it is illegal to use them as bait--are regarded as one of the striper’s favorite foods.

But, says DFG biologist Chuck Marshall, the striper “is a very efficient predator that will eat just about anything.”

Any other factors?

“I like to watch storm systems, high pressure . . . things like that,” Silks said.

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“The best is during low barometric pressure, the lowest you can find. Like when we (he and his fishing partner) caught those 219 pounds (nine fish) in March, the barometric pressure was 29.76.”

On fishing during a high pressure: “You can if they plant trout . . other than that it’s tough. There’s a big ledge out there and they sit in about 65 feet of water right on that ledge. And when they want to feed it’ll be early in the morning and late in the evening, and that’s it. That’s all they’re gonna eat.”

On the effect of the moon: “I like to fish the new moon or when it’s dark. Or, if you’re gonna fish the full moon, fish in the shadows, anywhere there are shadows. Remember, you’re fishing for a predator fish, and predators attack from the shadows--they like to sit in shadows and wait for fish to swim by, and attack from there.”

Meanwhile, not a single fish had been caught, though many were seen swirling about the surface in pursuit of trout.

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Woolridge, who had to be on the road at 4 a.m. the next day to catch his chartered sportfisher in San Diego, was in a hurry to get home to Pacific Palisades. He would have to wait another day to catch his striper.

Woolridge will be back, however, and he will look up Silks because “he’s the man,” Woolridge said.

Silks’ explanation for the slow bite: “That’s fishing . . . Nope, that’s Silverwood.”

Silverwood Lake, located 85 miles east of Los Angeles and 30 miles north of San Bernardino, where the high Mojave Desert blends into the San Bernardino Mountains, was formerly known for its trophy trout fishery.

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But that all changed when striped bass began filtering through the California Aqueduct in the early 1970s.

Silverwood became one of two striper fisheries in the Southern California portion of the system. The other is Pyramid Lake in Los Angeles County. Pyramid is located on the west branch of the aqueduct, Silverwood on the east.

Silks says that what sets the two reservoirs apart is the abundance of food in Silverwood, which makes fishing tougher.

“There are two different kinds of shrimp, shad, trout, all kinds of blackfish that come in through the Delta,” he said. “If they want to eat largemouth (bass), largemouth are out there . . . anything. I’ve never found a largemouth in the belly of a striper, but they’re a predator and if one happens to be swimming by, why not eat it it? It’s natures way.”

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Whatever the case, Silverwood, as does Pyramid, offers more than striped bass to fishermen.

A healthy trout fishery still exists, but only because of the DFG’s stocking program, deemed necessary to sustain any trout population at all. A cold-water species, the trout at Silverwood often choose to remain along the banks, where the water is about 74 degrees.

“If it moves into deep water it won’t last long,” said chief ranger Steve Hansen of the Department of Parks and Recreation, which manages the lake.

Aside from striped bass and trout, Silverwood has been rated as one of the state’s top crappie fisheries and also has healthy populations of largemouth bass, catfish and bluegill.

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Hansen said that about 60% of the lake’s visitors are fishermen, the rest being water skiers, bikers--there are several miles of paved trails--and campers who utilize the park’s 135 developed campsites.

“During the month of June alone we had 82,000 visitors,” he said. Many of whom have probably crossed paths with striper fisherman Greg Silks.


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