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OUTDOORS PETE THOMAS

There's Nothing Fishy About This Tradition

April 12, 2002|PETE THOMAS

Charles Pitts once cut short a business trip to Paris to get home in time for the Eastern Sierra trout opener.

It was 16 years ago and the retired executive from Irvine recalls that he, his two sons and a son-in-law enjoyed their best fishing on Gull Lake, one of four sparkling gems on the scenic June Lake Loop. They caught and released so many trout that Pitts is embarrassed to reveal the number.

Not that you could believe him anyway, given that fish stories tend to get better over time.

For instance, Pitts' daughter, Debra Harkness, remembers her father taking the Concord from Paris to ensure a timely arrival.

Pitts, however, recalls it as "just an ordinary airplane."

Pitts, 66, is among thousands of Southland anglers who, two weeks from today, will be making their annual pilgrimage north on U.S. 395 to celebrate the beginning of a new trout-fishing season.

The April 27 opener will be his 40th in succession and again it will be spent at Gull, the smallest of the four lakes, nestled beautifully beneath the towering, snow-covered Sierra slopes.

"We've always fished at either June or Gull, but Gull is probably my favorite because it's so serene when you're out there on the water," he says. "At times all you hear are the waterfalls."

The number in his group once reached 30, but now the opener has become mostly a family affair involving himself, his two sons, Charles Jr. and Kevin, son-in-law Scott Harkness and grandsons Devin Pitts and Kyle Harkness.

The memories are beginning to blend together, Pitts says. There have been sunny days and snowy days, and days when they were pelted by sleet and surrounded by shifting ice.

The biggest trout Pitts has landed weighed only 3.78 pounds, but Charles Jr. once weighed in a 7-pound 15-ounce rainbow.

"And his brother and brother-in-law didn't speak to him the rest of the day because he put his line in the water as I was still positioning the boat, and because we had a cash pot for the first, biggest and most fish, and they felt it was unfair," Pitts said.

There was the time one of them accidentally used potato mix to make the morning pancakes. Some other times, the food was only half-cooked.

"But it tasted good anyhow," Pitts says. "We've always found opening day to be a lot of fun, but it's also a bonding experience and I feel it has had a positive influence on my sons and grandsons."

Of course, there was also the time two of them fell into the water while trying to get out of the boat--after drinking too much brandy.

A little sipping, Pitts confesses, is also part of the tradition.

If a little sipping is a tradition within the tradition, so is enjoying some hot pozole--a spicy Mexican soup--at Bishop Creek Lodge. Chef Adolfo Castillo poured his first bowl 14 years ago and since then it has become, for those spending their openers high in Bishop Creek Canyon, a belly-warming capper to what is often a frigid first day of fishing.

"It has gained a notoriety of the people who come into the canyon," lodge owner Gary Olson says.

If the current weather pattern holds, the demand for pozole might be at a minimum this year. Olson's lodge is at 8,500 feet and on Monday evening he barbecued outside, wearing shorts and a T-shirt. The nice weather is troubling, however.

The lakes that feed the various forks of Bishop Creek are popular ice-fishing holes and the ice is getting more precarious by the day. In fact, officials in Inyo and Mono counties are strongly advising against ice fishing.

On the bright side, the warm spell has enabled the clearing of the road to both South Lake and Lake Sabrina, and it's likely that North Lake also will be accessible by car by opening day.

Fishing is generally good throughout the Eastern Sierra on opening weekend, and the Department of Fish and Game deserves much of the credit. Between now and April 27, its trucks will be stocking 94,000 pounds of rainbow trout, or about 188,000 fish.

The fish will supplement the planting late last season of 30,000 pounds of brood-stock rainbows weighing three to eight pounds.

Crowley Lake's pre-opener stocking is done toward the end of each fishing season.

Last September, the reservoir received its usual allotment of half a million fish of various strains.

The breakdown: 183,970 sub-catchable Coleman-strain rainbows, 164,350 sub-catchable Eagle Lake rainbows, 92,243 sub-catchable Kamloop rainbows, 65,232 sub-catchable and 22,950 fingerling brown trout; and 25,000 sub-catchable and 35,125 fingerling cutthroat trout.

Twin Lakes Resort in Bridgeport is sponsoring its inaugural "Guns and Hoses" derby May 3-5, open only to active or retired law enforcement or fire department personnel. Prizes will be awarded in several categories and a special trophy will be awarded to the department with the most participation.

Cost is $35 and proceeds will benefit the local Cops for Kids and Firemen's Bike Charity programs. Details: (877) 932-7751.

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