Brown Baggers

Brown Bagger Patch

The Patch

What if I told you there was a secret society of fisherman… an obsessed group of anglers who are willing to drive anywhere, use any method, spend any amount of money, lose any amount of sleep, deprive themselves of any amount of food and pretty much do anything humanly possible to catch a west coast brown trout over 10 pounds.  Would you believe me?  Yes, they exist and there is a club to celebrate their achievements.  The club is known as the “Brown Baggers”.

In 1974 Allan Cole and Richard Reinwald were fishing at lower twin lake in California.  They were throwing out ideas about fishing tournaments and Allan came up with the idea of forming a club.  Richard came up with the name for the club… the Brown Baggers.  They agreed it was a good idea and the obsession was born!  The rules were simple, an angler had to catch two verified west coast browns over 10 pounds to join.  The original founding members were Allan Cole, Rich Reinwald, Bob Beach, Ray Patterson, John Tallon, Ron Lane, Ed Baun and Brian Shipley.

Old BrownBagger List from 2000

Just how hard is it to catch two legit ten pound west coast browns?  In 1983 Jon Minami was trolling at lower twin lake when his rod went down hard!  He landed what turned out to be the new California state record brown trout which tipped the scales at 26 pounds and 5 ounces.  He was determined to join the Brown Baggers and figured it wouldn’t take him long since he was fishing so hard at the time and had some patterns figured out.  He pounded it HARD for the next several years and thought he had his “patch fish” (nickname for the 2nd over 10 pounds needed to join the club) when he brought a solid fish to the scales.  Unfortunately, the scale bottomed out at 9 pounds and 14 ounces… 2 ounces shy of the number needed to join the club!  He kept fishing for many more years but never did get that 2nd fish needed to join the club.  Getting that second one of ten pounds can be very difficult!

How good are the guys that make the list?  Well, five former or current state brown trout record holders are on the list:  Danny Stearman, California record, Ron Lane, Oregon record, Bob Bringhurst, Utah record, George Rose, Wyoming record and Howard Collins, Arkansas record are all members of the club.  It is safe to say that some of the best trophy trout anglers on the west coast are Brown Baggers.

Allan and Howard Circa 1978 with Allan's Twin Lake 20 Pounder

The club occasionally holds informal tournaments and gatherings.  The dates and locations are passed quietly from member to member to ensure secrecy.  Past get-togethers included one at Stampede Reservoir, another at the famed Flaming Gorge Reservoir and a recent outing at Twin Lakes.  At the tournament held at Flaming Gorge Brown Bagger Ed Baun burned everyone with back to back monsters weighing 15 and an incredible 19.5 pounds.  Jim Bringhurst had a 15 pounder and Howard Bryan got on the board with a nice 10 pound hookjaw.

On another trip to the gorge Rich Reinwald hooked a beast while trolling in his little 14 foot aluminum boat.  He was using light line so it took him a bit of time to get the fish ready for the net.  In the meantime, the lake was white capping and he was taking water over the transom.  He had to make a decision, continue to fight the fish and possibly swamp the boat or cut the fish off to save his boat from sinking.  The water was very rough that day and survival would be iffy in these ice cold waters.  He managed to land the fish and immediately began bailing his boat out by hand.  He managed to get his little boat back to the dock in one piece with a 24 pound brown trout in tow.

Another legendary story is that of Rick Erickson who landed beasts of 23, 24 and 25 pounds from the gorge in the 1980s.  He was out fishing when Rich Reinwald drove his boat by.  Suddenly Rick hooked up.  Rich decided to hang around and watch him land the fish.  Right when the fish got near the boat it suddenly shook the hook!  Rick half dove into the water and grabbed the 23 pounder with his bare hands almost sinking his boat in the process and somehow managed to hang onto the flopping fish and sling him into the boat.  Reinwald couldn’t believe his eyes!

One final funny story was that of Allan Cole and Rich Reinwald one July weekend at Twin Lakes back in the day.  They were pounding whiskey shots at the lodge and bragging about how they were going to get a big brown the next day.  The guy standing next to them at the bar challenged them to bring a big fish to his rental cabin and show it to him if they really got one.  The next day Rich landed a 15-12 at first light and true to their word they went to the cabin and knocked on the door.  The guy from the bar answered the door, wiping the sleep from his eyes in dis-belief as they held the still-flopping beast in front of his face.

Some Baggers From A Recent Get Together

The club hasn’t been around for 40 years without its share of controversy.  There are many crazy stories of frozen fish, fish brought in from other lakes, etc.  Back in the day most of the brown trout anglers kept all of their big fish.  As time progressed the value of releasing these amazing creatures was realized and now many of the trophies caught by the Brown Baggers are released.  The club encourages catch and release but always leaves the choice up to the individual angler.

The Brown Bagger club is always looking for new member so if you think you have what it takes get on out there and start dialing it in.  You can check out the Brown Bagger list here You need two verified west coast browns over 10 pounds to join.  Cost to join is $30 and $15 gets you one of the famous Brown Bagger patches.  Just send your pics of the monsters to Allan Cole and he will review them with some other members to ensure your fish are legit.  It takes skill and dedication to make the list so good luck!

Mark Knoch