CROWLEY LAKE — Maynard Morvay was on a roll. The Newport Beach fly fisherman, said by some of his eight fly fishing pals to be a novice, had just caught his third rainbow trout in a little over an hour on Crowley Lake.
Let's hear it for Maynard. As a practitioner of the science of fly fishing, he wasn't in the same league with them, these guys said. Maynard's a nice guy, but he really doesn't know what he's doing, these guys said. When he caught his first three-pound rainbow, one of these guys said to an observer: "Maynard's new to this--a hacker, really. The other guys will start out-fishing him soon."
Then Maynard caught his second three-pound rainbow. Then he caught a third.
So who are these guys?
Shouts of good-natured insults traveled across cold, flat waters. "Even the blind pig finds an occasional acorn!" said one companion.
But Doc Randol said it best. Everyone nearly fell through their inner tubes when he yelled: "Do you guys realize that if Maynard were to die right now, the undertaker would charge us an extra $100 to get that smile off his face?"
Clearly, these guys were having entirely too much fun. That's how it's been, since Labor Day Weekend, when the first extended fly-fishing season at Crowley Lake began. The season ends Oct. 31. It's one of California's best kept fishing secrets.
In fly fishing, you commonly hear this about the Yellowstone region: "The 10 best fly fishing waters in America are all within 100 miles of Yellowstone National Park."
If that's true, Crowley, the 5-by-8-mile L.A. Department of Water and Power Reservoir in the Eastern Sierra, at least rates an asterisk, fly fishermen are saying. Here's what else some of them are saying:
--Department of Fish and Game biologist Darrell Wong, himself a fly fisherman: "We're talking world-class fly fishing. I'm no expert, but I'm catching 18- and 19-inch brown trout with no trouble."
--Dick Dahlgren, veteran Mammoth Lakes fly fisherman: "Crowley is a fantastic place to fly fish. To me, it's like fishing for bonefish in Florida. Several times this season, when the wind was down, I've seen two- to three-pound rainbows in the shallows see my fly, from 10 feet away. They go for it, accelerating like crazy right into the fly, smashing into it like a freight train, just like a bonefish. A 3 1/2- to 4-pound rainbow, I can't hold 'em. They'll bend the hook or throw it on the first run."
--Dan Stockton, Merced Fly Fishing Club: "Our club fished in mid-September and caught and released 50 or 60 rainbows one weekend between 15 and 21 inches."
--Jim Brock, owner of Brock's Sporting Goods, Bishop--"I'm hearing some awfully tall tales--like guys getting busted off by trout they couldn't even turn around, or taking off 30 yards of backing, then busting off."
In the first month of their new season, Crowley fly fishermen have been few in number.
Dahlgren said: "So far, it's like a well kept secret. Word just hasn't gotten around yet. On the busiest weekend day, we haven't seen more than 50 or so fly fishermen on the lake. And the only place we've really fished since the opener is the flats, the area near the mouth of the Upper Owens River. The fishing has been so good there, there's not been much reason to explore other parts of the lake."
Pat Hogan, a newcomer to the Crowley fly fishing set, was taking an unmerciful ribbing over Maynard's success. Hogan, riding a tube only 100 feet from shore, was getting one strike after another on his olive matuka. Unfortunately, he'd missed on every one of them. He was something like 0 for 20. Morvay, fishing in the center of Crowley's north arm, was 3 for 3.
"Hey, Hogan--if Maynard is a novice, what's that make you?" someone yelled.
Some Crowley fly fishermen look like flippered frogmen, going to war. They wear high waders, almost wet suits, and crawl into a relatively new feature in fresh water fishing, the float tube. Float tubes, particularly at Crowley, are the biggest item to hit fly fishing since tapered tippets.
A float tube is a truck inner tube, inside a nylon sleeve with zippered pockets--much like a back pack--and a seat. A wader-clad fly fisherman also wears his swim fins. Believe it or not, there are now swim fins made exclusively for the float tube fishing market. They're extra long and extra pliable, to enable fishermen to climb in and out of their tubes without falling down onto a muddy or rocky shoreline.
Fall fly fishing at Crowley isn't new. The normal last-Saturday-in-April-to-July 31 trout fishing season is still in effect. However, Crowley fishermen have been able to continue fishing for Sacramento perch, introduced illegally into the lake in the 1960s, through the Labor Day weekend.
Dahlgren: "We've always had September to fly fish for trout. We simply released all we caught. But all of us knew October would be a super time to fish Crowley, because the bigger trout would be in the shallows, working their way to the mouth, to go upriver to spawn.