Blake Warren – ON THE HOOK

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017
Going Legend

June in August
It didn’t take too long to pull the trigger. I’ve always been into the blues, I dig myself some good craft brews — not exactly a huge CIA secret there — and I’ve never not thoroughly enjoyed myself while in Mammoth. Then mix in the fact that I hadn’t yet made my (at least one) annual pilgrimage to the Eastern Sierra this year, and go ahead put the idea of a little creek fishing in less-than-sweltering summer weather in my head... well, I guess that’s about all it takes. Not a tough sell for this fella. The decision was quickly made, and a pretty damned easy one at that actually: it was onward to Mammoth this past weekend for the 22nd Mammoth Festival of Beers and Bluesapalooza. Okay then...

As it has been well documented, this is a bit of a different year for the Highway 395 Corridor. The immense snowmelt from this most recent winter’s powder dump­ing dramatically altered the Sierra landscape, even moreso now that the majority of us who truck it up 395 a couple times a year had gotten used to and dialed into the seemingly perennial drought conditions of the past few seasons. For whatever reasons, I have rarely made my way up during the month of August, so that would be a little different too, at least for me.

THE OWENS RIVER is settling into nice shape and should fish well through August and into the fall months. PHOTO BY BLAKE WARREN

But before any fishing was to be executed, there were the issues of blues and beer to tend to. Strolling over to the concert grounds about a third of the way through Friday’s scheduled set provided ample time to sample a few of the over-200 craft brews that were welcomed on-site. Russian River Brewing Co.’s Dribble Belt, June Lake Brew­ing’s 8140 Black IPA and Mammoth Brewing Co.’s classic Epic IPA were among a few of the standouts as scattered rain showers and thick clouds began to add a bit of a Sherwood Forest feel to the scene.

The festival crowd’s rumbling hum between acts tapered off as an eclectic and attention-grabbing Valerie June took the stage, and shortly thereafter, utterly took the stage — and the entire venue for that matter — completely over. Having never seen her unique and wildly fun act in person before, I’ll just say that if you enjoy authentic music with legitimate soul threaded through the entirety of it, you’d be doing yourself a favor in checking out her upcoming tour dates. An undoubtedly epic performance in a heck of a setting. This festival will likely find its way into my 2018 itinerary somehow, someway, I imagine. How I’d made it this long without attending the damn thing before has been a mystery to me since hitting the 203 to the 395 and making my way back down south.

Saturday morning it was time to dabble in some creek fishing. A first stop at a favorite honey hole on Lee Vining Creek revealed noticeably faster water than in recent years past, but nothing like some of the earlier iterations of raging flows that have described much of the high country so far this season. Fewer pockets of fishable water, sure, but a few trout were within reach and catchable, and so a few were caught. But it definitely jumped out that the familiar spot looked more like it usually does in late June, rather than the first days of August, though it was sure certainly good to be back, even if just for a moment. A brief quick-hitter of a stop just a ways up Tioga Pass at Ellery Lake yielded a few more rainbows amid snowy peaks at 9,500 feet, and at least the itch had been scratched, for the time being anyway.

VALERIE JUNE OWNED Friday night at the Mammoth Festival of Beers and Bluesapalooza, putting on an epic performance amid scattered showers in an awesome setting. PHOTO BY BLAKE WARREN

Before reluctantly leaving the Sierra, it was a quick stop on the Upper Owens — one that generally has to be made at least once on every trip, regardless of the circumstances. Pulling up next to the familiar, meandering twists and turns of the meadow stream for the first time in a while truly never gets old. With a couple of first-time Owens fisherfolk along this go-round, I dialed back my inner Tom Sawyer a tad and just focused on a small stretch of moving water with a few slow and crooked bends in it that looked inherently fishy.

At the tail end of my cast just past an undercut bank, a loud scream followed by the telltale sight of a thoroughly bent rod stole my attention. What looked to be a solid 2- to 3-pound brown broke the water coming up maybe a foot from the bank and quickly broke it again going back down, and in a matter of seconds, the rod was no longer bent — it’s a feeling you’re never truly able to shake off quickly, and it’s not a very good one. This would have been a first-ever Sierra trout catch for this friend of mine — a damned nice one at that — but it was apparently just not meant to be this go-round.

However, it was not long thereafter that I got to watch a 13-year-old complete the process of hooking, fighting and pulling a Sierra rainbow up onto the bank for the first time, and that at least sufficiently soothed the burn of the barely-lost brown. Getting to be present for a youngster pulling off any first-time feat as it relates to fishing is another thing that just never gets old.

On back down the mountain and back to reality. It was a quick-turnaround trip that packed quite a bit into it. Great music, great beer, great company and almost-great trout fishing — but trout fishing nonetheless. A first-time rainbow trout catch, a what-if brown, an epic showing by Miss Valerie June and a different look of the Eastern Sierra in August that felt a whole lot more like the first few days of summer.

And while it may read August on the calendar, the month’s first week somehow belonged to June.

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