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Mike Stevens – KNEE DEEP

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Sierra Opener X-factor
Now that I have covered a handful of Eastern Sierra trout openers, there is one relatively rare, but potentially game-changing scenario that I keep tabs on, and that is whether or not the Mammoth Lakes Basin will be accessible on that last weekend in April.

Among the long list of factors that make the opener than any other time of year up there, one thing really stuck out since I started covering the event. Just about everyone who regularly attends the opener not only posts up at the same body of water every year, but in the same spots. In talking to them, the reason is that’s where their family has been going for years if not decades if not generations. These instinctive pilgrimages will occur regardless of weather or how good the fishing is.

WON’S MIKE STEVENS with one of six trout caught in a quick 15-minute fishing window at Lake Mamie on opening day 2015, and there wasn’t another angling soul in sight. This was the smallest caught (just the clearest photo) with most of them in the 2- to 4-pound range, and they were all caught on Thomas Buoyants.

It’s not like the rest of the season where most anglers will have a game plan and move around until a hot spot is found. Most people will also flee for more comfortable environs when bad weather rolls in, for example, scrambling down to Bishop to fish when a blizzard blows you out of Convict Lake

Opening day people are not most people.

Like the mailman, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” will knock them off course, after all, their fishing spots are their family’s sacred birthright. Grandpa would fish through it!

I’ve covered openers where there were 3-foot wind waves Crowley Lake, but bluebird conditions at nearby Convict Lake. I’ve also seen it with those scenarios reversed, but I have never seen an angler cut bait and run for the other. They hunker down and ride it out.

This is why certain areas get all the angler attention on opening weekend. The Bishop Creek drainage, Crowley and Convict, the June Lake Loop and Bridgeport gets most of the traffic, and heavy stocking prior to the opener usually rewards them.

Other areas don’t see many lures this early because it’s frozen or inaccessible. Some are fishable this early in certain years, but the fact that they aren’t always open has resulted in their not being claimed over the years as “the spot” by those families making the annual trip. That being said, when they are open, very few people hit it, because everyone just goes where they always go.

The best evidence of this phenomenon I have experienced was in 2015 when the Mammoth Lakes Basin was available for opening weekend fishing. Usually, snow keeps the road closed until well past Fishmas, but occasionally (I’ve covered the last half dozen or so openers, and it was only open once) you can get up there.

While I was bouncing back and forth between Convict and Crowley, my dad went up to the Mammoth Lakes Basin to check it out. My brother texted, “wide open at Mamie.”

I had 45 minutes before the Fred Hall Memorial Trophy weigh in at Crowley, but I jerked the wheel toward Mammoth and shot up to Mamie. I found my dad’s truck, followed their footprints in the snow, and found them still winding in rainbows. My brother brought in a 3 pounder and said, “they’re all at least this big.”

I had enough time to cast a Thomas Buoyant for about 15 minutes before heading back down to Crowley, and I was able to catch six in that class. Bro and dad stayed up there and kept hammering, and there wasn’t another human in sight, let alone anglers. I did see a family throwing rocks through the ice on Twin Lakes though.

Will the Mammoth Lakes Basin be open on opening weekend? Can’t say. Probably not. But, even with good blasts of buzzer-beater snow throughout March, there’s not a whole lot of snow up there, and my contacts in Mammoth think there is a chance it could open in time. If it does – and you might not even know until a week before or even when you get up there – it is very much worth checking out as a luxury that doesn’t happen very often, and when it does, no one takes advantage of it.

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