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By STEVE MERLO, Contributing columnist
For the last four days, my wife, Candy, and I have stayed with longtime friends at their leased condo in Mammoth Lakes.
Traveling north up Highway 395, newly constructed roadways made the four-hour trip from Bakersfield a breeze and we arrived in plenty of time to prepare our fishing tackle for the next day's adventures.
The four of us have been fishing buddies for a long time, so when the invitation came to come up to the Eastern High Sierra and catch a bunch of trout, the Merlos jumped at the chance. In all actuality, we only had three full days to fish, so we decided to try as many of the local lakes as possible during that small window of opportunity and our hosts agreed to guide us around the area.
Windswept Crowley Lake, only a few miles below Mammoth, drew us Monday morning to rent a boat and sample the action at the popular opening-day hotspot.
While the fishing was great, our catching was not, as high winds killed most of our day on the unprotected water.
Although we had hoped for better luck, we did manage to catch two beautiful rainbows in the 3-pound class, plus a couple of small Sacramento perch before heading home with our tails between our legs.
On Tuesday, we were on the road at 5 a.m. and headed up to fish Lake George, a small mountain tarn only 15 minutes away. As with most of the waters in the area, the lake absolutely teemed with catchable fish.
However, most of the rainbows were small, and rather than filling our stringers with 11-inch babies, we decided to move on to the June Lake Loop, where we had heard rumors of large Alpers trout being caught.
Our first stop, Grant Lake, about 20 minutes from Mammoth, gave us a few more fish, but nothing of the size we were looking for, so we continued moving up the line to the next in the series, Silver Lake. Unfortunately, so many fishermen and vacationers at the popular tourist spot had nearly every inch of shoreline opening sewn up, so we kept going.
With each lake only minutes away from each other, we found ourselves at Gull Lake, a beautiful gem located just below June Lake.
While it also was busy with the heavy summer influx of campers, we decided to give it a whirl anyway.
I really enjoyed our stay at Gull. Gary, the owner of the popular bait and boat rental store there, went out of his way to make our stay, as he does every customer's, very nice.
Heck, where else can one go and get a great deal on a boat rental ($42 for 8 hours), get free, freshly popped popcorn all day, and buy a hot cup of great coffee for only a dime? No kidding!
To top it off, the boats were large enough to comfortably accommodate the four of us, no small trick in an area where 12-foot aluminums usually rule.
I try to take a small, portable depth finder with me whenever I'm on strange waters, and it paid off. After a few scoreless trolling runs around the perimeter of the lake, we finally anchored in a little deeper area than most other fishermen. The telltale blips on the screen at 30-35 feet deep opened the door for us and we enjoyed five or six hours of non-stop action on decent fish 12-17 inches long.
Fishing floating night crawlers about 3 feet off the bottom, 4-pound fluorocarbon line, sliding sinkers and small circle hooks seemed to be the best method for getting the fish to bite.
Without a doubt, Gull Lake really made our trip and we had a ball and I would easily recommend the experience to anyone venturing that direction.
Wednesday morning we headed for the disappointing waters of Bridgeport Lake.
Bluebird weather and heavy weed growth connected with the shallow, drought-hammered reservoir kept our success marginal at best.
By 11 o'clock we pulled the plug and headed for the Virginia Lakes area, where we hoped to find at least a little better action at the nearly 10,000-foot elevation recreational hotspot.
Fishing from shore, we found excellent action on bait-eating rainbows that kept us busy until late in the day.
The waters were gin clear, so we were physically able to see lots of fish, including several in the 10-pound class that refused to bite. Amy, our host, did managed to drag a nice 18-inch fish from the lake, but a nearby angler caught another weighing at least 6 pounds.
Our whirlwind tour of the Eastern Sierra ended way too early, but we did manage to catch a lot of nice trout, see a lot of scenic beauty and spend quality time with our friends, and that made it a super trip.