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While fishing on New Year's Eve, Bakersfield's Randy McAbee, Sr., and family captured this unusually close encounter with a large mountain lion at Lake Nacimiento. The animal posed briefly for pictures before melting back into the brush.

Making the most of an all- day catch of five keeper spotted bass, Randy McAbee Sr. and his 10-year-old grandson, Mason, took top honors at the New Year's Day Cary Nasalroad Memorial Hangover Tournament at Lake Nacimiento. The team caught its stringer tossing white spinnerbaits and plastic worms to nail down the impressive Bakersfield Bass Club victory with only 7.62-pounds. Seventeen teams braved the frigid temperatures, off-color water and overall tough fishing during the popular annual event.

On a side note, the McAbee family spent Friday afternoon pre-fishing for the event, and while boating far upriver, spotted a huge mountain lion that had wandered down from the mountains to get a drink of water. Seemingly unperturbed by the close encounter with humans, the lion posed briefly for several pictures before meandering back into the heavy brush lining the Nacimiento River.

Trout plants delayed again

Once again, the fickle finger of fate has derailed the local trout stocking program at our local lakes and ponds. The stockings had recently started up again after a nine-week hiatus to repair a faulty pump at the Kern River Hatchery when problems with the antiquated stocking truck killed the plants for an indefinite period. Hopefully, repairs should be completed within a few days and the program reinstated without the loss of too much time or fish.

Ducks move into Kern

After a series of northern storms and freezes up north in the Sacramento Valley, large numbers of waterfowl have begun funneling into the southern San Joaquin Valley. This is great news for duck and goose hunters who have been suffering through one of their worst seasons in history.

Despite the overall increase in bird numbers, the closed zone at the Kern Refuge remains the biggest problem for local waterfowlers, where thousands of birds raft up each shoot day on areas closed to all hunting. While no one completely opposes the existence of a closed zone or a refuge buildup, most hunters would like to see more birds pushed off the refuge and across the valley floor on shoot days by either rotating the closed zone or creating a much smaller area. As it is right now, the birds feed heavily at night at the local duck clubs then return to the sanctuary each morning, proving that the birds aren't as dumb as some people think. Without at least some shooting over their very expensive ponds and blinds, hunters will refuse to spend their money in the future, and without the winter-habitat duck clubs are providing, the ducks are the ones that will ultimately suffer.

Waterfowl season runs through Jan. 27 and a current 2012-2013 hunting license is required, along with a federal duck stamp and state validation.

Generally, duck limits are seven birds, with several restrictions. Consult a local regulation booklet, available at most license agents, for more complete information.

Aqueduct bite improving

A decent striped bass bite has once again sparked fishing interest at the California Aqueduct. Ice cold days are keeping most anglers home, but the drop in water temperatures doesn't seem to be spoiling the fishing. There are still lots of less-than-18-inch shorts being caught, but the cooling waters and slackened flows have brought out some very nice fish on a variety of baits.

Tube lures, swim baits and even top-water lures have been taking the majority of keepers running from barely legal to over 10 pounds each.

Bait fishermen have also been scoring since the cold water has all but killed off the weeds and moss which have plagued fishermen for months. Anchovies, bloodworms, sardines and chicken livers have been drawing the most strikes.

Fishing license prices rise

Don't forget to purchase a new fishing license before venturing out. Local tackle shop Bob's Bait Bucket is reporting brisk sales of 20-30 each day as fishermen prepare for the coming fishing seasons. Incredibly, prices have gone up once again, even in the lousy economy we all face. A resident license now runs an incredible $45.93 for the yearly pass. Second rod validations are now $14.04, for a whopping total of $59.97 for both. One-day licenses have increased to $14.61 each, while two-day fishing permits are $22.94.