We landed in what had to be the most effortless airport I had ever been to. There are no frills here, the landscape speaks for itself. As you step off the plane, you are greeted by the unforgettable sight of the Eastern Sierras rising from the valley floor. While most people were waiting on their ski bags, we were here for a different purpose.
We heard about the one-of-a-kind fishing opportunities Mammoth Lakes offers in mid-winter. Mammoth is a small mountain town sitting at the base of one of the most iconic ski mountains in the world. This season, Mammoth is boasting one of North America’s highest snow totals, leading this spring to healthy runoff and colder water temperatures later in the summer. But until the weather warms up, we were layering up and getting our gear together for our first day of fishing.
The following day, we met up with our guide, Scott Flint. Scott has been guiding the waters of California for decades and knows all the water better than the back of his hand. When we talked the night before, we found our first favorite thing about winter fly fishing in Mammoth. Since we only had to drive roughly 10 minutes out of town, we could sleep in and wait for the sun to start heating everything up. This meant meeting at the truck at around 9:00 to get to the water around 9:10. After a quick stop at the local fly shop, Troutfitters, to get our California fishing licenses, we were off to our first spot.
As we rigged the rods up at the truck, I was blown away by the scenery (just from the parking lot). Scott reminded me that we were only getting started. Getting to the spot was a short walk, made more accessible since cross-country skiers and snowmobilers frequented the trail. After a fun jaunt down into the creek bottom, we were ready to get to fishing.
This creek was something out of a dream. Sitting in a small canyon, the steam was evident, reaching into the crisp morning air with excellent spring creek conditions for the fish. It was no surprise in the first few minutes, we were hooked up. A nice rainbow was brought to the net, and with some hooting and hollering, we were off and running.
Scott wanted and was aiming for one of the big browns in the creek. It was like having a coach with me on the bank.
“See that rock against the other bank? Drop a reach cast right on top of it and let your flies slide into the slick behind it.”
“Got it” (By some miracle, I made the cast first attempt)
“Perfect, keep that rod tip up… watch it… watch it… SET!”
The water exploded, and with one big head shake you could see the unmistakable gold shimmer from the brown on the end of my line. Textbook guidance from Scott.
“That’s the brown we were looking for!”
This fish must have known I was not allowed to get in the creek with it, per the regulations of where we were fishing. It made a U-turn around the nearest boulder and crushed all our dreams as the line went slack.
We weren’t worried; we had only been fishing for less than 15 minutes. As we continued downstream, the scenery continued to wow us, and the fishing continued to be consistently good. Scott had his rig, and his flies dialed in with what he called a short-line indicator rig. We just had to be careful where we stepped with so much snow.
The last thing Scott wanted to show us was the Geological site the creek runs into. This location had to be one of the coolest parts of the entire experience. The bright turquoise waters run at hundreds of degrees, steaming out of the valley for the day’s best view.
With the first sign of the guides starting to freeze up, we knew it was time to pack it up and head back to town. Excited about what the next day of fishing would bring us.
On the second day, Scott wanted to show us a different fishery, allowing us to see some lake-run fish in the 8-to-10-pound range. Since this river had an inflow of warm water from geologically active springs, the water stayed warm and was a welcome environment compared to the freezing lake water downstream.
With such an incredible day before, why not go from chasing numbers to chasing the opportunity for a fish of a lifetime? As we strapped on our snowshoes, we set out to Scott’s favorite braid in the river system in search of one of these fish. Aside from how fishy this water was, I was constantly pinching myself looking at the landscape. The river was meandering through a wide-open landscape with the Sierras rising on one side and foothills on the other. We had this incredible place all to ourselves without a single person in sight.
At lunch, we decided to conclude the search for the monster fish and end the trip with a bang. We drove pretty close down the road to a different spot and immediately had fish on. As we cracked some celebratory beers, with the sun starting to dip over the horizon, it was time to bring our incredible trip to a close.
I will definitely return to Mammoth in the winter to fish again and hope to head back and explore all of the alpine lakes in the summer.
Thank you to Mammoth Lakes for hosting us and for introducing us to Scott who was the best fishing guide we could have asked for to show us around the beautiful waters around Mammoth. If you would like to learn more about fishing in Mammoth head over to their website HERE. You can find resources from how to get there to local rivers they suggest.