Monday, July 19, 2010

Mammoth In July

We packed up and headed up to Mammoth a month early this year.  The water level everywhere was high and the streams were running pretty hard due to a late snowpack.

Tommy, Davey, Isaac and I hit Lake George on Sunday for a bunch of brook trout, as well as a few rainbows.  After coming up empty and tangled after a pass or two around the lake with trolling gear, we anchored up outside a feeder inlet (not the falls, but to the left near the granite face) and started casting crawlers into the water being pushed out into the lake, where the brook trout were on station and feeding where the inlet stalled out into the lake.

It was pretty good action on planter sized trout for the little guys, topped off by a nicer grade rainbow that Isaac finessed into hitting a firetiger-pattern Mepps Syclops he tossed toward the bank in between assisting the little guys in releasing their fish.

On Monday, we hooked up with Matuka Joe Contaldi to try our luck midging Crowley near the McGee Creek inlet, where we caught so many big ones last August.  Well, this was July and the water was still cool, so the conditions had not yet ripened for a lot of big fish to be sipping midges where the cool creek hit the lake.  We got four (two of them after we relocated to Green Banks), but the Crowley bite was just not turned on yet.  Red bubble back, in size 22, worked best and we even got one to take the top fly, which doesn’t happen too often for us.  I think the fish just had not settled into a pattern that we could key into.

Given the conditions, we left the lake before noon and decided to head up to Hot Creek for a little walking and fly-casting nymphs. The weather was beautiful – just a little hint of a Sierra shower, and no big heat. We got several nice fish as we worked off the rust from not using a fly rod since last year.

I got some rainbows and browns and managed to bag a feisty cut-bow that buried me in the weeds on the opposite bank before we were able to convince him to come back to our side and Joe’s net. 

The best pattern for us at Hot Creek was a tiny #24 pheasant tail nymph.  We had to run a little more lead than usual because of the high water, but the flow was pretty close to perfect and weeds were no problem.

Tuesday, Isaac and I took Tommy stream fishing at a couple of spots below 395 on Mammoth creek.   We were aided by high water and fish were visible in the pools, which we pretty much had to ourselves.  We used barbless hooks to take several decent planters at Mammoth Creek on Gulp egg imitations and were able to release all the fish.  

After we had raided this spot for a bit, we traveled further south on 395 to hit a pool behind a check dam on McGee Creek below the highway..  The spot was pretty deep and wide, like a big swimming pool, and there were several nice trout cruising around.  We mashed down the barbs on our spinners and threw Panther Martins, Mepps and Rooster Tails, which produced follows and a few strikes. We finally got the fish to start biting a gold /black dot Golden Lion spinner that seemed to be what they wanted.

Tommy got to crank in a bunch of decent ones, all of which were released.  The spot was little spooky, because the water was running hard below the little dam and we had to take care to make sure Tommy did not go in, because the stream below the check dam merged with more white water that quickly disappeared into a shroud of trees that made downstream bank access completely impossible in the event someone went into the water.  I was glad that David decided to stay back at the cabin, so we could keep a close watch on Tommy.  The spot we fished was beautiful, but it was pretty hazardous for little kids a few yards downstream.

Wednesday was our first day to hit Lake Mary.  All of the inlet creeks were running high and the fish were really biting for us.  Other folks were getting a few here and there by still fishing power bait or crawlers or top-lining trolling lures such as Thomas Buoyants or Rapalas. 

We trolled single siwash-hook needlefish five to six colors down in 40 to 45 feet of water and just got one bite after another.  We got a few on firetiger and also red and gold Syclops, but by far the major producer was the frog pattern/gold needlefish.

Ryan Downs smuggles a trout past the authorities.

We got mostly 1-2 pound rainbows as well as a surprising number of brook trout, along with some browns.  The girls all slept till noon, so Isaac, Ryan, Tommy and Davey took turns reeling them in until we had caught and released twenty in a morning of casual trolling and snacking.

Thursday, it was more of the same as Isaac, Tommy and Davey got up for another twenty plus fish count of catch-and-release action.  Again, it was mostly rainbows, with about 5 or six brook trout and a couple of browns.  The browns were all near the three inlets just short of the deep part of the lake.

Friday, Isaac and Tommy and I hit the lake again (David decided to stay home), but this time the weather was quite different than the sunny time we had experienced on the two previous days.  We were blown off the lake by rain, wind and hail after catching two fish, so Isaac and I went home to drop off Tommy, get some heavy rain gear and hit it again.
We got a few more as another big system blew down the lake and pushed us backwards.  We were determined to return and achieve our twenty fish benchmark.  We went home and got Lizzy to go to lunch with us before we hit the lake for the afternoon bite.  Sarah was benched this trip due to a broken leg, which was diagnosed and treated at Mammoth Hospital in a manner completely superior to what we have in Orange county.  This allowed her to sleep past noon in and watch a great deal of big screen cable TV.

When we got back to the lake at 2:30, we were greeted by worsening conditions as we caught a couple before the wind and rain blew us backwards for 30 to 45 minutes and chased everyone off the lake except us.  
We stuck it out and as soon as the wind died down the fish started to bite again.  We employed our system and just managed to release our twentieth fish as our time with the boat expired. 

We were like the crew of the Andrea Gale, insisting we were Gloucester-men who would not be denied our quota just because of some weather.  Isaac kept calling me Billy Tyne.

The last day, the big boys and Sarah stayed home while the rest of our troop went on our traditional hike to Rainbow falls and Red’s Meadows. 

The San Joaquin was running at summer maximum and pitching out in a fantastic display at Rainbow Falls.  We got into the park by 6:45 am, so we were at the falls when it was un-crowded.  After we hung out there, we hiked another ½ mile or so down to the lower falls, which was a rich experience.  

The lower falls are seldom this good and we had the whole place to ourselves the entire time we loitered in the area.

This is such an easy hike and there is always the ice cream reward at the pack station store before you leave the park.

This year brought a significant improvement in bear-proofing, although we did see one on the golf course and another raided the dumpster after it was left unlocked by some hard partying neighbors.


We finished off the day by zip lining at the village before going on our traditional monkey hunt late that afternoon in the Alabama hills outside Lone Pine on the way home. 

It seems that the environmentalists have taken over the Eastern Sierra, at least as far as traditional pack-in monkey hunts are concerned. This time we used a new company – “ High Country Ape-chasers” There is now a training session that you have to go through (we did ours on-line, so we would not have to waste hunt time in the diminishing daylight).  They make you watch a video about how pine monkeys and boulder monkeys are a resource that cannot be over-harvested. The focus is on getting you interested in synthetic monkey products like turkey monkey jerky or monkey pelts that are really just rabbit or squirrel pelts that are remanufactured to shape-out like primate.  

Instead of .22’s, we were urged to use the new tranquilizer guns that the Sierra Club is pushing as an alternative.  They are way more expensive to shoot, and you can’t really walk your shots onto a fleeing primate like you can with a .22 autoloader.  The active ingredient is the same stuff they give to middle-aged patients who get colonoscopies.  The proprietors assured us that the darts are better because they put the monkeys right to sleep and they don’t remember a thing when they wake up.   They told us we could buy some smoked tofu that is shaped like a monkey if we really want to bring something home. My kids just looked down at the ground and moved the dirt around with their boots while our ranger escort lectured us about the non-lethal hunting experience.

We managed to convince the staff to let us bring along our own pellet guns to practice with, so we wouldn’t have to shoot these stupid darts to sight in our rifles, as they cost 12 bucks per shot.  I paid for everything with cash and we all signed in with nicknames.

Each group of hunters must be accompanied by an escort-guide, who is really just there to make sure you buy their darts and use their guns.  Our guide introduced herself to us as Rainbow. She was excessively well-nourished and wore smelly Birkenstocks. She had multiple piercings to her nose and ears, including those starter plugs.  She was carrying around two large and equally overweight striped tabby cats that she referred to as mountain cats. She told us they actually use these fat felines to track the monkeys, but there are so many of these chattering critters jumping around on the boulders that it makes you think that this is just an excuse for a lazy, judgmental girl to charge you to bring along her obese pets while she bosses you around. 

It was obvious that she knew nothing about tracking monkeys and had no sense of humor. We all piled into the Range Rover they designated for our trip.  As soon as we got into the territory where you could see the monkeys springing about, she stopped the vehicle and held up a cat to her chest as she gestured for us all to gather round while she started to give us another big lecture on the obvious.

Now, this is an example of when worlds collide…..When people who own more than one cat encounter people who have more than one gun. My daughter Sarah, who had a broken leg and didn’t want to stand around burning daylight, got impatient and decided to interrupt the presentation with an observation regarding what we were all about. 
“Dude, we know how to shoot monkeys and we can see them from here”
Rainbow cut loose with an exasperated exhale that sounded like truck brakes and told Sarah that she was being disrespectful. Tommy, one of my five-year olds, sensing the mood of the moment, came to his sister’s aid.  He raised the barrel of his tranquilizer gun and darted Rainbow in the backside.  My other kids instantly reacted to this breach of protocol by doing the same thing and everyone except Wendy dumped a medicated harpoon into our docent in a two second burst.  She staggered around and tried to use her cell phone, but it was obvious that she was going down. She spun around in slow motion and augured into the dirt as the cat instinctively cleared the drop zone and stood there like it was waiting for a pizza.  I darted that kitty to complete that phase of the operation.

We laid Rainbow in the shade and figured we had about 40 minutes to get the job done before she woke up, or it got dark.  The kids fanned out with their pellet guns and quickly brought down eight monkeys.  Five of them were pine monkeys, including a trophy male, while the other three were slightly smaller boulder monkeys.  It is pretty hard to tell them apart without shaving them.

We levered Rainbow onto the tailgate and drove her back to the pack station, where we left her just starting to mumble as she was regaining consciousness.  We wanted to get out of there before she regained her faculties. The amnesiac value of the medication would be lost if she saw us once she woke up.

We hastily field-dressed the monkeys and wrapped them in a fresh cat pelt before we peeled out of there, as our Expedition tossed gravel back at the kiosk in the dirt lot at the station.
We barbequed the monkeys on Sunday afternoon, while we watched a slide show of the fish we had released over cocktails with some of our neighbors.  Personally, I prefer the pine monkeys to the boulder monkeys, but I think that is because they eat mostly pine nuts that give their flesh a sort of nutty taste and more buttery texture.  If they start stocking them from monkey hatcheries, I am sure that they will all start tasting the same.  This is probably an academic observation, because I think that in these modern times, this whole monkey-hunting tradition is something that is probably on the way out.  

We are getting ours while we still can, because, after all…

These are the days.