Mammoth Fish Story

July 15, 2001
Filed under Destinations

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When anglers come into his shop, The Troutfitter, in Mammoth Lakes, California, and ask,
“Where are they biting?” owner Steve Kennedy responds with a few questions of his own: What
kind of fishing do you want to do — bait, lure or fly? From a boat or the shore? On your
own or with a guide? Stream, river or lake? Much of the time, the looks on the anglers’
faces indicate that they had no idea that the area’s waters afforded such a wealth of
fishing opportunities. “There are too many waters to name,” says Jeff McCullah, who works
both in the shop and as a guide. On Highway 203, about 350 miles from Los Angeles off
Highway 395, Mammoth Lakes, best known for its skiing and other winter activities, is in
the process of changing from a small town to a resort — with the infusion of more than
$800 million, much of it from the development company, Intrawest. The overall development,
which is in the early years of a 10-year plan, will not reroute any waterways, but it will
most certainly affect the fishing, since anglers will soon be able to fly into the newly
expanded and renamed Mammoth Yosemite Airport. But anyone who has experienced the
free-for-all that is opening day on Crowley Lake, about 15 miles southeast of town,
understands that fishing fanatics will do just about anything to immerse themselves in
their sport, from braving bone-rattling winds to playing bumper boats with fellow
enthusiasts. Conditions can be, and frequently are, better, but that doesn’t mean that
despite the cold and crowds, Crowley’s denizens would rather be somewhere else. “Everyone
comes here in July and August to float-tube Crowley for 20-inch-plus rainbows,” says
Kennedy, who adds, “We get lots of float-tubing here — lots.” Once a week, the California
Department of Fish and Game stocks rainbow, brown and brook trout in the lakes just south
of Mammoth Village — Twin Lakes, Lake Mamie, Lake George and Lake Mary, off of Lake Mary
Road. Of course, the June Lake Loop, with Grant, Silver, Gull and June lakes, not to
mention Rush Creek and Reverse Creek, all north of Mammoth off Highway 158, get stocked
regularly, also. As do Convict Lake and Rock Creek, which offer spectacular vistas and
great camping, both south on Highway 395. And Crowley also gets its share of stockers,
fingerlings eventually becoming trout too big to pan-fry. All told, if an angler is willing
to do some hiking, he can hit more than 100 bodies of water within a radius that John Muir
could have covered on a three-day hike. I was there with my father, and since he and I need
all the luck we can get where fishing is concerned, we consulted with The Troutfitter’s
Kennedy before heading out together. I had gone numb from both the stunningly beautiful
vistas at Convict Lake the day before and from the wind that cut through me and sent my
line and hook back at me as though the fish were casting for me. So our objective was to
find wind-free water that idiots could fish. Kennedy knew just the spot. And he told us
where it was, which of course, leads to a dilemma: Real fishermen can fish productively
anywhere, but the fishing-impaired shouldn’t reveal their hot spots, especially since
Kennedy’s hallowed fishing grounds actually gave up four trout, including a three-pound
rainbow, to guys who can’t distinguish a hook from a captain. Now if I divulge the
location, these delicious specimens may have been the last fish we ever catch, but I’m a
professional, and have a job to do. It was Outer Mongolia using marshmallows, or it could
have been Crowley Lake on salmon eggs and power bait. And this large body of water gives up
far bigger fish than the ones we caught, often approaching monster size. Trolling for the
giants is popular in the summer, and Crowley is the only area lake that contains fish other
than trout: Sacramento perch. This lake, however, is by no means unknown, as evidenced by
the boat traffic and the oft-filled campgrounds. “Summers have gotten busier and busier,”
says Kennedy. “The tourists create a constant rush between mid-June and Labor Day.” Kennedy
adds, “The Fourth of July is so crowded, you can barely walk around.” This may be good for
local merchants, but not necessarily for fishermen. So the crowd-abhorring fly-fisherman
would be wise to book a guided trip through The Troutfitter. Depending on the trip, the
cost is $100 to $200 per day, and the Intro to Fly Fishing class, including all gear, costs
$100 for one person, $125 for two. Of course, if an angler knows what he’s doing, doesn’t
want to go on a guided trip but still would like to avoid the masses, he can simply visit
Mammoth in September, the best month for playing the waters, according to Kennedy. But
visitors to Mammoth can easily keep busy when the wind picks up and makes the fishing
difficult. In fact, RVers Debbie and Stephanie, visiting in early May for the late-season
skiing, take advantage of what the town has to offer year-round, pulling their 19-foot 2000
Nash trailer into the Mammoth Mountain RV Park. They may have to dig through some snow to
get to their Ford F-150 in February, but during their May stay, the weather is mild enough
to allow them to make pine-cone feeders with peanut butter and birdseed and set them out
for the squirrels and blue jays. Their pet cats go crazy looking at the feeding frenzy from
the trailer. Nancy Coleman, who owns the park with her husband Jerry, says that May is
their slow period and that the park doesn’t start filling up until “probably the middle of
June, when the [Mammoth] motocross starts.” With 182 full-hookup sites, a pool, a spa, a
clubhouse, a laundry, a store and showers — as well as, in the winter, an ice-skating rink
— the park certainly has “all the amenities.” But it also offers a great location in an
area with a multitude of outdoor activities. So whether you’re an angler or someone who
catches a fish occasionally by the tail, whether you can read water the way others read
books or still call your rod a pole, you should set your gear in your rig and head through
the Owens Valley along the edge of the eastern Sierras. You will gasp at the scenery,
contemplate the serenity and you might catch yourself a Mammoth trout.

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