2018 Mammoth Lakes Trip
9 am to 6 pm
"Maybe you should start fishing someplace else...."
Invariably that's what everyone says when they hear the story of the torn ligament in my thumb. I've fallen on the last 3 visits to this lake. Two visits to the local imaging center almost exactly a year a part. (Or so said the paper work that I signed when I arrived back home for a series of MRIs.) These folks are well meaning but when I mention the "large Golden Trout" as the reason for my continued return to this lake, I might as well be saying "large gold fish".
The day started out benign enough. I'd driven up Thursday, the night before, and managed about 4 hours sleep in my car before heading to the trailhead. The weather looked cold and sketchy so I packed my Osprey Exos 38 appropriately with extra layers and rain gear. My SPOT, fishing gear, first aid kit, flash light, Dark Timber Honey Badger and show shoes rounded things out and I settled into the steep 2.5 hours climb.
The lake was pretty much as I expected. Windy, with snow covering 50% of the bank. I typically fish the west bank which is rock fall and snow this time of year and within 30 minutes I'd fallen. I placed my hand on a rock for balance as I stepped from one rock to another. Comfortable that I had 3 points of contact and firm footing, I let go of the rock and shifted my weight. Just then the rocks underneath the rocks that I was standing on slid away. My hand slammed into the rock I had just released and my body twisted in order to keep my balance.
The Emergency Room doctor in Mammoth said that she'd seen a lot of orthopedic injuries in her time but not the exact combination of injuries that I had. I'd slammed my palm into the rock and then, my palm rotating while my thumb was stationary, comply twisted and bent the thumbs so that it nearly parallel with my wrist. When I looked at my hand I expected my thumb to just be hanging there, flopping about like the head on a freshly rung chicken. To my surprise, it wasn't; so, I continued to fish.
I had no feeling in my thumb and index finger. They were completely numb and unresponsive. It was bitterly cold as well and within an hour, the temperatures had dropped significantly and the rest my hand(s) were numb. I did hook one fish in the lake but was unable to land it when my hands wouldn't do as they were asked.
It seemed like it was going to be an early day for me.
One the way out I paid special attention to the outlet stream. It's usually too late in the day for me to fish the outlet stream but as I crossed the stream, heading out, I sat and watched the water for a bit. First one fish showed itself. Then two, then four and finally five fish. Most of these were to difficult to present to and one simply wasn't interested; so, I made my way down stream and found another pool with the same number of fish.
Conditions were perfect. No wind. I was mostly hidden behind stream side brush but was able to effectively present my flies. On the first cast the largest fish in the pool confidently swam up and inhaled my fly. My right hand had been rubbish since the fall but for some reason I didn't think to fish and present my fly with my left hand. (Frankly, that didn't dawn on me until weeks later. A true testament to how out of practice I am.) I missed the hook set and every fish in the pool scattered.
Two of the larger fish took cover under a large rock. After about two minutes one fish came out and took a position about 6 inches away from the rock. I watched and waited and as time passed the fish grew more confident, edging out a little at a time until it was back in it's original holding position. The second fish soon followed.
I drifted my fly again, confident that one of the fish would strike. The larger fish turned away but the second fish intercepted the fly. This time I set the hook with both hands...... with the same result. I switched flies and this pattern continued over and over for the next hour. As fish slowly came back to the pool, they took my fly and I missed the hook set each time.
8 hours after my fall, I rolled into Mammoth Lakes hospital emergency room. Empty except for the staff, I was seen quickly. The hand was x-rayed. No breaks and the doctor sent me on my way with a wrist brace to immobilize my thumb.
"Can I fish?" I asked the doctor.
"I don't see why not. The brace should keep your thumb immobilized."
Time for Some Rest and an Automatic Fly Reel.
On Saturday, I still didn't have much feeling in my hand. I'd checked into Hot Creek Ranch shortly before visiting the emergency room but now, ironically couldn't fish. The doctor said a partial tear would heal in 30 days but a full tear would require surgery. She thought I had a partial tear (she was wrong) and not wanting to jeopardize my backpacking trip in 30 days, I decided to rest my hand. Roger would be up in two days and with any luck I'd be able to fish with him but until then, I became obsessed with finding a way to mitigate this injury.
"I need an automatic fly reel." I said to my wife. "Let's go down to Bishop."
Bishop is probably best known for two things. Ok three. Schats, Mules Days and antique shops. I figured one of those antique shops would have an old automatic fly reel and I was right. I had my pick of over a half a dozen reels. South Bend and the like and ended up getting an old reel whose name I can't remember and whose box I can not find. Interestingly, it's not printed on the reel itself but is essentially a copy of a South Bend. It had the best working mechanism of the bunch and was only $10.
A short walk to the sporting good store up the street and I was able to find an old Cortland DT line. I was in business.
I meet Roger and his family in town the next morning- ready to fish, sporting my brace and carrying my automatic reel. There would be 4 of us fishing- Roger, myself, his father and his nephew. Our destination lake was plenty big enough that we'd not get in each others way but just in case, we'd also be bringing a float tube in. Roger and his nephew would take turns on the tube and catch fish. I on the other hand would spend most of my time fishing the outlet creek.
It was my first time on this lake which, I pretty sure we thought held brook trout and brown trout but I caught only rainbows.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that with the brace I could cast to about 30 feet and set up on fish. I wouldn't be winning any casting contests but I could confidently present to fish. Not only that but I could set up on fish and reel them in. I wouldn't need the automatic reel.
Casting that distance or trying to wasn't pain free however. Taking my cue from the previous lake, I quickly left the lake in favor of the outlet stream. I wasn't expecting much but what I found was one of the most beautiful streams I've come across in the Sierra, filled with Rainbow Trout to 18 inches. It was a sight fisher and small stream fishers paradise. The kind of stream that I absolutely love but fish little these days.
The water was crystal clear (as can be seen above). A patient and stealthy approach was rewarded at each pool or run with a nice fish.