It is not as if Harry Blackburn hasn’t seen this kind of thing before.
In two decades watching the up-and-down world of Eastern Sierra fishing, the personable Blackburn has seen it all and caught them all. He has plied these waters in snowstorms, ice storms, blistering hot days and cool, lovely el-perfectos.
Blackburn, the operator of Mammoth Flyfishing Adventures, is the angler’s angler, which is why it matters when he says this year has been one of the best-ever seasons on record.
“The fishing’s been good, despite a horrible snowpack and a lack of precipitation,” he said for his late-season assessment.
“Well,” he demurred, “let me say it’s been not so good for the fish, but good for the fishermen.”
For Blackburn, a longtime fly fishing guide who in 20 years has made a living by fishing local waters in the season and by teaching and coaching the Mammoth Mountain Junior Ski Team in the snow months, nothing is apt to send him to the top of the enthusiasm meter.
But this season, he said, the Eastside has experienced an odd confluence of weather, lack of runoff, and abundance of fish. The fishing is coming off three straight seasons of ho-um (for here) fishing, and it might face another one next season.
But for now, Blackburn said it’s a regular festival out there.
“The frenzy is on,” he said.
“Everybody’s hooting and hollering right now. The anglers are all enjoying it, and this is the last week or so before the kids go back to school and visitors get back to their offices for work.”
As for the odd confluence of circumstances that made for this season’s fishing frenzy, the first one has to do with runoff from the mountains.
There wasn’t one.
In the two years past, with prodigious amounts of snow in the high country, the rivers and lakes bulged with fast-moving water well into the summer and never really let up. That’s not an ideal condition, although veteran anglers dealt with it just fine. As for visitors going by themselves, without a guide, it wasn’t so good.
This year, the small runoff happened very early and then stopped—a victim of one of the worst snow years in memory. Streams and rivers are thus at relatively low levels, meaning most of the fish find hideouts that are easily identifiable by anglers.
“Ninety percent of the fish are in 50 percent of the water,” Blackburn reasoned.
Second, construction by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has limited the amount of water taken by LA. from the Owens River Valley—another odd factor in the season.
Finally, there is just enough water in the streams and rivers that an outsider really wouldn’t notice that August fishing is a lot like the usual September, and that there is a drought happening right in front of his or her eyes.
It’s a little bit like Bluesapalooza weekend in town, when visitors said, in various intonations, “It sure doesn’t look like a bankrupt town to me!”
Finally, Blackburn said he has observed some anglers are staying home rather than traveling to more exotic locations, such as Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
“A lot of them are staying longer, and they’re a little more local,” he said. “I think they’re doing it here.”
Even so, Blackburn and other fishing guides have their “worry” antennae turned up high.
“The drawback,” he said, “is that we don’t want to repeat this. There will be a price to pay. If you have back-to-back dry seasons, it will take about three years in a row to recover from that.”
In the meantime, the frenzy is on in the Eastern Sierra.