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Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018
The Carry-On Choice
Friday, May 11, 2018
The Honor Among Thieves


Cover Shot
The very best outdoor writers I ever knew wanted to fish more than they wanted to write. They wrote all right, sometimes begrudgingly, and they took photographs of fishermen with broad smiles and huge fish held up to the camera, but given their druthers, the good ones would always rather have a rod in their hand.

So, with this admission, I guess it would come as no surprise that, in 1983, I was not looking forward to covering the Eastern Sierra opener. I had been warned.


In those days, Western Outdoor News went out at noon on Monday. Without benefit of digital photography, cell phones or the internet, the basic drill was to cover as much ground (or water) from Bridgeport to Bishop on Saturday, drive home with your film, write as much as you could on Sunday and then lapse into a coma Monday afternoon.


Coming off an especially harsh winter, Lake Crowley and many other waters were not going to be ready for the April 30 festivities, so the machinery of the 1983 opener was postponed for exactly one week.


Saturday, May 7 was a gorgeous day. Along with Tom Bette, a WON advertising sales rep, the morning dawned over Crowley with the glorious mayhem of happy anglers, big trout and a festive atmosphere that needs to be experienced to be appreciated. Of course, Tom and I could not linger for long as duty called elsewhere from the East Walker to Convict Lake. Fortunately, by afternoon we had been nearly everywhere. Confident of our coverage and with some good shots in the can, we headed home.


It was somewhere in Bishop when everything changed. I’m positive we stopped at Schat’s Bakery for sheepherder’s bread but after that everything gets a little hazy. Wherever we were and whatever we were doing, someone asked us what we thought about the big brown trout caught at Lower Twin Lake.


Our collective response was “Huh?”


“Oh, haven’t you heard? Some guy caught a huge brown up there. Probably a state record.”


I’m guessing our immediate response was unprintable. But I’m certain our next reaction was resignation.


“Tom, you know we’ve got to go back up there,” I said, perhaps secretly hoping he had some fantastic solution for doing something other than retracing our steps for almost exactly one hundred miles. He did not.


There are a lot of things a chunk of Schat’s bread can cure, but anticipation isn’t one of them. As we raced back up 395, I took solace in having connected with the angler, Jon Minami. Yes, the fish was there. And, yes, he would stick around until we made the trek from Bishop. Still, I worried over what a 26-pound, five-ounce brown trout would look like after having been on ice for several hours.


Jon Minami had the look and carriage of a serious fisherman. Young and fit with a pleasant disposition, I was immediately put at ease. This was going to be a good story, not some fluke catch where you felt sorry for the old brute in making such a stupid mistake. No, it was no accident. Having carefully prepared for this moment, Minami came to the Lower Twin armed with the hard-earned knowledge of the hunter, from the subtleties of water temperature to the sometimes maddeningly slow trolling speeds to every small facet of every minute detail. This was a dogged pursuer, choking back his own excitement, choosing to motor away from the launch ramp and the growl of other outboards to what was arguably a pre-ordained clash between man and beast. If you were to look for nobility in fishing, here was the definitive example: An angler who deserved what he caught.


It was so totally cool. But, first things first. The sun was sliding down in the sky toward that golden time all photographers cherish, a moment as fleeting as it is spectacular.


“So Jon, where’s the fish?” I asked. “We’re starting to burn daylight.”


“It’s on ice in the store,” he warmly replied.


Before anyone could move, a man who had been standing nearby piped up.


“I don’t think you should do this,” he said in the strident tone of a true believer. “We shouldn’t be handling that fish.”


He blathered on for a few moments and then the world went quiet.


Stunned silence would be an understatement. In the time it took for those words to exit his mouth, my mood went from rosy to the pitch blackness only found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Apparently this was the store manager who, not until later, divulged that he harbored some long-standing grudge with a former editor, someone who hadn’t worked at the paper for years. I guess he decided this was the right moment for payback.


At first, Minami didn’t know what to say. As I learned in the intervening minutes and years since that moment at Twin Lakes, he is a gentleman of the highest order. On the other hand, I knew exactly what I wanted to say and, being someone who considers himself quite proficient in the art of cursing, I somehow kept quiet, passing on the opportunity to paint a Picasso in profanity.


With the blood pounding a marimba beat through the veins in my neck, I turned back to Minami and tried to be as concise as possible.


“Yes or no? Do you want to be on the cover of Western Outdoor News ?”


Thirty-five years later, he remains my friend, a great fisherman and someone worthy of the fish he catches.


atlowertwinlake
AT LOWER TWIN LAKE, Jon Minami cradles the 26-5 brown taken that morning, May 7, 1983. His state record lasted four years, nearly to the day. On April 30, 1987, Danny Stearman of Bakersfield bettered the catch by just 3 ounces. Stearman’s fish, taken from Upper Twin Lake, remains the state record at 26-8.

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