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A MAMMOTH UNDERTAKING : Declaring Area a State Trout Park Would Provide It With a Summer Attraction to Match Skiing, Says One Resident

June 11, 1987|EARL GUSTKEY | Times Staff Writer

MAMMOTH LAKES — By way of explaining how Mammoth Lakes may be designated a "state trout park," Dick Dahlgren was reviewing the last five years in Mammoth Lakes. It was a bad review.

"The first bad thing that happened up here was all the talk in the early 1980s about volcanoes," said Dahlgren, a Mammoth Lakes real estate salesman. "That knocked real estate prices down about 50%.

"For a while, it seemed like every other week Caltech graduate students were calling press conferences up here, talking about earthquakes and volcanoes. That killed us. Real estate prices haven't been the same since.

"The economy here has also been hurt badly by lingering uncertainty over how the new tax law affects second-home owners, and the slump in the savings and loan industry.

"Then the president of our Mammoth Lakes Resort Assn. went south with about $105,000 of the association's money.

His reference was to Ron Stevens, recently sentenced in Mono County Superior Court to three years in state prison for embezzling.

Then, as if the town needed another bad break, the recent ski season was one of the poorest on record. Winter snow came late and left early. So did skiers. Some condominium buildings reported ski-season revenues 50% below normal.

Slow ski seasons do a double number on Mammoth Lakes, since the town is virtually dead in summertime. Dahlgren, however, has been maintaining for years that this state of affairs can be changed.

What does any of this have to do with trout?

Dahlgren is a fly fisherman. For years, he has been advocating that Mammoth Lakes in summertime should be some sort of Yellowstone West, a fly fishing destination to rival the hallowed waters of the Yellowstone region.

A longtime critic of Department of Fish and Game fisheries management in the Eastern Sierra, Dahlgren would like to see more recycling of trout--that's called wild-trout management--in the region's waters and less trout-hatchery truck traffic.

With some simple changes in fisheries management, Dahlgren maintains, Mammoth Lakes could crack the oft-cited ranking of fly fishermen, that America's top 10 fly fishing streams are all within 100 miles of Yellowstone National Park.

"There's nothing magic about the water quality in Yellowstone's rivers and streams," he says. "They're simply managed as trophy fishing waters. . . . That's why you can catch 16- to 18-inch trout all day long in rivers like the Madison, Firehole, Yellowstone and Henry's Fork (of the Yellowstone River).

"Except for maybe Hot Creek, Mammoth has nothing now to challenge Yellowstone streams with. But that could easily be turned around. Simply put, you just start releasing the fish unharmed, instead of killing them, and letting them grow."

Growing trout, Dahlgren hopes, would mean growing real estate prices.

Dahlgren has been preaching that sermon for so long that he may finally have gotten through. Plans are in the works to submit a proposal to the state Fish and Game Commission that could put Mammoth Lakes on the fly fisherman's map and keep it there.

In a nutshell, this is what Dahlgren, the Mammoth Lakes Resort Assn., the Mammoth Lakes City Council and the organization known as California Trout are asking the DFG to recommend to the Fish and Game Commission:

--That 39 lakes and 40 miles of streams in the Mammoth Lakes area, including the Upper Owens River and the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, be studied as possible candidates for wild-trout mangement, meaning that limits would range from zero to two, minimum size limits would be imposed and gear restricted to barbless hooks at qualifying waters.

--That one lake, to be named later, be managed as a "Huck Finn pond." It would be stocked with hatchery trout and fishing would be managed on a 10-fish or no-limit basis.

--That a permit be granted for construction of a privately funded "living" wild-trout museum, aquarium and trout information center on Mammoth Creek. There, visitors could observe through underground streamside windows the biological dynamics of a wild-trout stream environment.

"I've lived in Mammoth Lakes since 1969," Dahlgren said. "Every year, I see the same pattern. Business booms in the winter, when the skiers are here, then drops off substantially when they leave. In the summer, we have a little backpacker-hiker traffic and some bait fishermen, but nothing to compare to the money skiers spend here in the winter--or what's spent by fly fishermen in the Yellowstone area.

"After listening to all the summertime moaning and groaning, I began to wonder why Mammoth Lakes couldn't be a major summertime fly fishing destination. I mean, my God, look at our resources here--all these gorgeous lakes and streams, the beautiful back country. It's not like we'd have to build anything. It's here! It doesn't even cost anything. Really, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure this one out."

No, just a smart real estate guy.

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