WEST REGIONAL

Pike in Colorado, Sturgeon in Idaho, Brown trout in Yellowstone, Pigs in California and more.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Down-Range Pike
A sleeper lake holds plenty of wolves

Colorado If you're after big Colorado pike, take a drive to get past the Front Range reservoirs, which are getting hit hard, and head for a sleeper spot-Sanchez Reservoir in the San Luis Valley just north of the New Mexico border.

Drought reduced the lake to a fraction of its full pool, which should concentrate pike and make winter fishing worth the trip. Ice-off can come as early as late March. If the lake is still iced, bring a selection of jigs, bladebaits and jigging spoons; the brown-trout Jigging Rapala is a favorite lure here. If the ice is receding, fish with soft-plastic crankbaits, wobbling spoons or larger frozen smelt weighted on the bottom.

In February and March you can find larger fish in the northern lobe of the lake. Fish just south of the boat ramp and across the lake off larger points, keeping your bait near the bottom in about 15 feet of water. Good ice-off spots are those east-shore coves that catch the afternoon sun.

The bigger pike are eating yellow perch here, so any lure that resembles a perch should get a second look. Most Sanchez pike go between four and eight pounds, but good numbers of double-digit fish come from here every year-along with a handful of 20-pounders. And the walleyes usually go about four pounds.

Drive three miles east of San Luis on Highway 152 to Highway 242, then 5.2 miles south to the access.

Contact: Division of Wildlife, Monte Vista (719-587-6907); Alamosa Sporting Goods (719-589-3006). -Andrew McKean

Strolling for Snake River Sturgeon
Try this stretch of winter water for the big, primitive fish, and a gaggle of trout as well

Idaho For catching sturgeon from the bank, you can't beat fishing on the Snake River at Eagle Rock, between Rupert and Pocatello in south-central Idaho. A four-foot sturgeon is average for this reach of the river. Downstream, both near C.J. Strike Reservoir and farther down in Hells Canyon, sturgeon reach seven and sometimes eight or nine feet. The bait that appeals to Eagle Rock sturgeon will also catch oversize brown trout, chunky rainbows, even catfish and bass.

Note that the river is closed until May from Eagle Rock upstream to American Falls Dam, but the river from Eagle Rock downstream to the flat water of the Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round, and the only restriction here is that you can't use live fish for bait. Beware of thin shelf-ice along the slow-water stretches of shoreline.

Look for any spot where the current slows and swirls, indicating deeper holes (and make sure of your footing-don't slide down the bank). Those are the spots where sturgeon spend the winter, and the big bottom-feeders are highly responsive to baits that move through that holding water.

Best choices are a big gob of night crawlers, cut bait such as chubs or shad strips soaked in anchovy scent or frozen minnows. Most shore-fishers use enough weight to keep the bait motionless right on the bottom, but if you want to flirt with snagging, lighten your weight so the bait bounces along the bottom. The bite of sturgeon seems in inverse proportion to their size, so watch for light taps on your line to indicate a biting fish.

Remember to use barbless hooks. Also, you can't keep any sturgeon or hoist them out of the water, so keep the fish in the water at the shorline as you remove the hook. Contact: Ace Hardware and Sports Center, Pocatello (208-232-8722); Idaho Fish and Game (208-232-4703). -A.M.

** Hunt for the White Whales**
Columbia River sturgeon offer Oregon and Washington anglers a wild ride

Oregon/Washington As white sturgeon follow smelt runs in the Columbia River, you can experience a top combination of catch rates and fish size before the end of April.
R> Generally, the best fishing in February and March is from Longview all the way up to Bonneville. There are lots of well-known sturgeon holes in that stretch: off the Port of Longview below the mouth of the Cowlitz River (where much of the smelt are heading); just off the mouth of the Kalama; the islands off St. Helens across from the Lewis River; Kelly Point near the mouth of the Willamette; all around Hayden Island practically in downtown Portland or Vancouver; the mouth of the Sandy River; and the power-line hole across from Washougal. Also try over the sand flats in Tillamook Bay with steelhead gear, mud shrimp and "as little lead as you can get away with," says guide Doug Stewart.

Keeper fish meet a slot limit between 31/2 and 5 feet. (Check the state rule book for specifics.) You'll see more oversize fish than undersize, but not many 10-footers until the shad show up in May and June.

The top bait is, of course, smelt. Sturgeon key in strongly on a specific bait, especially when it's plentiful, but shad or parts of shad are good anytime. Rig up with 80- to 100-pound Dacron leader and 65- to 80-pound Tuffline mainline. Contact: Oregon Guides & Packers Association (www.ogpa.org). -Patrick McGann

Big Browns Under the Snow
A trek to this lake near Yellowstone yields a limit of trout

Montana Bring a snow shovel, waterproof boots and a box of large frozen minnows to Hebgen Lake just outside Yellowstone National Park's west entrance. Dig your way down to the ice for a good shot at catching rainbow and brown trout that often reach three or four pounds. The key to success on this impoundment is big bait. Hebgen is one of the few Montana fisheries populated by Utah chubs, and they're so prolific that the resident trout are husky. But the abundant natural food also makes them hard to catch. That's why the larger minnows are required bait.

The snow can pile pretty deep on the ice (up to five feet), and all that natural insulation makes the ice spotty. You'll often drill through a layer of ice, then encounter a few inches of water, then another layer of ice before you punch through to the reservoir itself. Use a drop-shot rig to suspend your minnow above the weight at the desired depth. Generally trout are within 15 or 20 feet of the surface. You can either leave your bait motionless or you can gently jig. A number of anglers bait larger jigheads with the frozen minnows to add a color component to their presentations.

Expect mostly rainbows, but if you catch a Hebgen brown, it's likely a Goliath. Best spots are along the northern shoreline, the point between the Rainbow Arm and the Grayling Arm and a few hundred yards behind the dam. Pull well off Highway 287 or risk getting ticketed and towed; plow crews take their job seriously. Contact: Blue Ribbon Flies, West Yellowstone (406-646-9365); Kirkwood Resort and Marina (406-646-7200). -A.M.

Deep-Wilderness Pigs
Do a little bushwacking to take a Los Padres porker

California Your best public- access shot at big pigs is the Los Padres National Forest, a 1.75 million-acre chunk of land in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles and Kern counties. The better pig populations are in the Santa Lucia Range in Monterey County and the San Rafael Mountains and Wilderness Area in Santa Barbara County (particularly east of Lake Cachuma). The Ventana Wilderness is known for producing large boars that are a mix of feral hogs and true European wild boars. The best way to hunt these areas is to set up a central base camp and hunt out from there each day. Contact: Los Padres National Forest (805-968-6640). -Gary Kramer

Alaska
Denali Ptarmigan: The Denali Highway (State Route 8, from Paxton to Cantwell) is one of the most accessible winter ptarmigan hunting areas in Alaska. The road is open to snow machines. Willow ptarmigan are the most plentiful and will be in their pure white winter plumage. The season is open until March 31 and the limit is 10 birds daily. Contact: ADFG (907-267-2182).

Finger-Lake Ice: If you're looking to fill the smoker, check out the 326-acre Finger Lake, between Palmer and Wasilla. Use fresh shrimp or clams and small jigs through the ice for 12- to 18-inch rainbow trout, 10- to 20-inch Arctic char and 8- to 12-inch landlocked salmon. Contact: ADFG (907-267-2218).

Trout Plan: Proposals related to the Wild Trout Task Force trout plan will be on the table at the March 17 Board of Fisheries meeting in Anchorage. The Task Force drafted a statewide plan back in the spring of 2002 that set forth conservative management practices for rainbow trout, including catch-and-release fishing, the use of single hooks and spawning season closures. Contact: ADFG (907-267-2218).

Key Dates
March 17: Board of Fisheries meets in Anchorage.
March 31: Ptarmigan season in Units 6D, 7, 11 and 13-16 closes.

Arizona
Martinez Bass: Flip jigs and toss spinnerbaits to the largemouth bass on Martinez Lake, a backwater lake on the Colorado River. The fish often top 10 pounds. You can reach the lake 35 miles north of Yuma via Highway 95. Cast near docks and cover for the most consistent action. Contact: AGFD (520-342-0091).

Alamo Crappies: If you've got a boat, you can target suspended schools of crappies in 15 to 50 feet of water on Alamo Lake, near Wenden. Live minnows, small jigs, crappie flies and Beetle Spins produce 3/4- to one-pound fish along with a few slabs in the three-pound class. Contact: AGFD (602-942-3000); Alamo State Park (520-669-2088).

CWD Lookout: Even though chronic wasting disease (CWD) has not been found in Arizona, the AGFD asks that if you see deer or elk that are in poor condition, are losing hair, have droopy ears, are stumbling or display a slow reaction to your presence, contact AGFD (800-352-0700).

Key Dates
February 10: Quail season closes.
February 21-22: Game and Fish Commission meets in Phoenix.
March 21: Spring bear season opens in select units.

California
Lake Piru Trout: You can find good winter trout fishing less than an hour's drive from Los Angeles at 1,200-acre Lake Piru, in Ventura County. Use inflated night crawlers or PowerBait near the dam and off points near the marina for rainbow trout. Or troll small spinners and spoons at the Piru Creek inlet. Contact: Lake Piru Marina (805-521-1231).

Los Vaqueros Reservoir: First opened to fishing in September 2001, Los Vaqueros Reservoir, near Livermore, offers rainbow trout, kokanee and largemouth bass fishing. Catches of three- to four-pound trout are common . The road is open to snow machines. Willow ptarmigan are the most plentiful and will be in their pure white winter plumage. The season is open until March 31 and the limit is 10 birds daily. Contact: ADFG (907-267-2182).

Finger-Lake Ice: If you're looking to fill the smoker, check out the 326-acre Finger Lake, between Palmer and Wasilla. Use fresh shrimp or clams and small jigs through the ice for 12- to 18-inch rainbow trout, 10- to 20-inch Arctic char and 8- to 12-inch landlocked salmon. Contact: ADFG (907-267-2218).

Trout Plan: Proposals related to the Wild Trout Task Force trout plan will be on the table at the March 17 Board of Fisheries meeting in Anchorage. The Task Force drafted a statewide plan back in the spring of 2002 that set forth conservative management practices for rainbow trout, including catch-and-release fishing, the use of single hooks and spawning season closures. Contact: ADFG (907-267-2218).

Key Dates
March 17: Board of Fisheries meets in Anchorage.
March 31: Ptarmigan season in Units 6D, 7, 11 and 13-16 closes.

Arizona
Martinez Bass: Flip jigs and toss spinnerbaits to the largemouth bass on Martinez Lake, a backwater lake on the Colorado River. The fish often top 10 pounds. You can reach the lake 35 miles north of Yuma via Highway 95. Cast near docks and cover for the most consistent action. Contact: AGFD (520-342-0091).

Alamo Crappies: If you've got a boat, you can target suspended schools of crappies in 15 to 50 feet of water on Alamo Lake, near Wenden. Live minnows, small jigs, crappie flies and Beetle Spins produce 3/4- to one-pound fish along with a few slabs in the three-pound class. Contact: AGFD (602-942-3000); Alamo State Park (520-669-2088).

CWD Lookout: Even though chronic wasting disease (CWD) has not been found in Arizona, the AGFD asks that if you see deer or elk that are in poor condition, are losing hair, have droopy ears, are stumbling or display a slow reaction to your presence, contact AGFD (800-352-0700).

Key Dates
February 10: Quail season closes.
February 21-22: Game and Fish Commission meets in Phoenix.
March 21: Spring bear season opens in select units.

California
Lake Piru Trout: You can find good winter trout fishing less than an hour's drive from Los Angeles at 1,200-acre Lake Piru, in Ventura County. Use inflated night crawlers or PowerBait near the dam and off points near the marina for rainbow trout. Or troll small spinners and spoons at the Piru Creek inlet. Contact: Lake Piru Marina (805-521-1231).

Los Vaqueros Reservoir: First opened to fishing in September 2001, Los Vaqueros Reservoir, near Livermore, offers rainbow trout, kokanee and largemouth bass fishing. Catches of three- to four-pound trout are common