Saturday marks the beginning of the Eastern Sierra general trout-fishing season, and thousands of anglers from Southern California will be on hand to enjoy the region's most festive day.
Unfortunately, this also marks the first opener for me as the former outdoors reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and I have other plans and will not be attending.But fond memories are piled inside my brain after covering perhaps 20 of these remarkable rites of spring.
I recall ice-fishing with numb feet one year at Lake Sabrina (and loving it!), and out-fishing all others another year on a blustery parcel of Crowley Lake shoreline (very unusual for me to out-fish anyone).
The most lasting impressions were made by happy children as they reeled in wriggling trout, or toted stringers up the docks, or used long, sharp knives to help their fathers' clean and gut their slimy catches.
This tradition has outlasted recessions and high gas prices. It remains popular despite what you see--or no longer see--in fast-shrinking modern-era newspapers.
Back in another era, the newspaper I worked for would send a photographer with me and play up the opener for what it represents: the ushering in of a new fishing season by families and friends, and introducing children to the majestic Sierra wilderness.
Some of the children I interviewed back then--I always tried to get a kid's perspective--will bring their kids to this year's opener, which spans the scenic 100-mile stretch from Bishop to Bridgeport.
This could be a colder throwback type of opener, as wintry weather is still lingering. There will be lots of snow in some areas, so there will be snowmen built and snowballs thrown among the early arrivals killing time before the first legal day of fishing.
On Saturday, someone, probably at one of the Twin Lakes in Bridgeport or at Bridgeport Reservoir or at Convict Lake, will land a double-digit whopper and earn bragging rights for having caught the day's biggest fish.
But that's not the most important aspect of opening day. It's just being there. I know several families and groups of friends who have been carrying on this tradition for more than 25 years, and a few who have done so for 40 years.
One of my former colleagues, photographer Thomas Kelsey, emailed today to alert me that his group is gearing up for its 27th annual adventure.
My tradition was to file my advance story then drive up two days early, on a Thursday, and spend those days--before my workday began on Saturday--fishing the few waters that are open year-round, with friends such as Carrie Wilson, Shawn Arnold, Joe Trgo, Marlon Meade and Dave Strege, my former counterpart at the Orange County Register.
Most of us would stay in Bishop on Friday and enjoy the press party staged so graciously the night before each opener by the Bishop Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. We'd rub elbows and sip beer and wine with local residents, fisheries biologists, outfitters and community leaders.My opening days were spent doing a little fishing, if possible, then driving from fishing hole to fishing hole, looking for big fish and the stories behind them.
Unfortunately, though, times are changing and outdoors reporters at newspapers are an endangered species. Strege got laid off via telephone the day after covering the 2008 opener. My walking papers were delivered last Dec. 18.
The good news, however, is that when I do attend my next opener--and I will attend future openers--I won't have to take notes and can do more fishing. Just maybe I can even earn bragging rights, although as my friends will attest, that prospect is highly unlikely.-- Pete Thomas
Photos from last year's opening weekend by Pete Thomas