All the gizmos in the world don't guarantee a fish at the Gorge

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2002

MANILA, Utah (AP) -- Flaming Gorge is 400 feet deep in some places. There are kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, lake trout, catfish, smallmouth bass, perch, carp ...

But if that's all you know, you're in trouble. Flaming Gorge is a big lake, and an estimated 90 percent of the surface water is completely fishless.

You've got to know where to go, how deep the water is, how deep the fish are and what type of lure will attract those fish.

Technology can help, but you'll have to find the spots and the lures yourself.

Uncomfortable? Hungry? Tired of casting? Reeling? Steering the boat? Winding the downriggers?

Along with fish finders and Global Positioning System receivers, today's high-end boats are equipped with remote control steering, programmable downriggers, air conditioning, refrigerators, stoves and microwaves.

Dale Rounkles, a mild-mannered Standard-Examiner advertising manager during the week, turns into ''The Gravity Storm'' every weekend.

That's his boat, his secret weapon, his super power.

Watch as ''Gravity Storm'' motors along at 2 mph, drops the lure to 95 feet where a school of mackinaw sits and adjusts the lure depth to keep it just off the bottom and in front of their noses.

Mild-mannered Rounkles sits back in the captain's chair drinking a Black Cherry Shasta, controlling the boat's direction with a finger and a button in his pocket, chatting about the old days.

''It used to be that I'd have two poles out there and have to watch the depth sensor, and I'd be winding the downriggers up and down so I didn't lose my lure on the bottom,'' he said.

''Then I'd get a big mack on, and I'd be trying to set the hook and keep the other lure off the bottom and turn off the trolling motor all at the same time. Then another fish would latch on.

''It could get crazy.''

Rounkles has been at this 19 years. During the summer, he is at Flaming Gorge two or three days a week.

''I've got thousands of dollars worth of lures that I'll never use again,'' he said.

He doesn't use the giant jointed Rapalas popular with mack anglers.

He doesn't use 60-pound test line.

With light tackle and light lures, he says, no energy is wasted.

''Once you drop that weight (the downrigger), it's just you and the fish,'' Rounkles said.

Photos from the last two years show that he and his companions have been successful taking home 4- to 5-pound kokanee and 40-pound lake trout. His biggest mackinaw is more than 51 pounds, half-pound shy of the 51.75 record. Both of his two young children have landed mackinaw of greater weight than their own.

He often takes co-workers, family members, friends or acquaintances out for a ride. One woman, tired of hearing fish stories at work, came fishing with Rounkles and ''Gravity Storm'' and brought a monster mack to the braggarts the next Monday in a cooler.

They shut up, she reported, thanking her guide.

Rounkles takes another sip of soda, glances at the fish finder smeared with large, black dots representing lake trout 85 feet down.

He admits in the stillness that all the experience and all the technology in the world can't catch a fish that won't bite.

A storm rolled in that day.

''It (rain) can sometimes turn the fish on. It can sometimes turn them off,'' he said. ''Flaming Gorge is pretty fickle.''

That day, it turned them off. By 9 a.m., he'd landed three kokanee, one weighing in at about 2 pounds. But the clouds settled in, and the fish hunkered down.

As the clouds gathered, Rounkles took a quick detour from Lynnwood Bay, usually a productive mack spot, to Horseshoe Canyon to take in a bit of scenery. Then, he headed for anchor.

''I'm real respectful of the weather at Flaming Gorge,'' he said. ''It will eat your boat alive in no time at all.''

Which brings us to another feature of high-end fishing at Flaming Gorge: the people.

''It's just like a family here,'' Rounkles said.

His boat purrs into the harbor and two others at the dock dash over to help him into the slip. A boat is for sale and the whole dock is ready for dinner. It is almost like a normal neighborhood.

Nearly everyone attends a weekly pot luck barbecue (don't come if you don't like fish), whether their boat is worth $10,000 or $210,000.

Back at Lucerne Valley Marina, Rounkles catches up on the happenings -- new air conditioner here, various and sundry boat improvements there.

They all trade fishing stories tough luck all around today and hunker down, like the fish, to wait out the fast approaching rain.

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