Stakes Are High : Anglers Get Hooked on Trout Fishing Lottery

Times Staff Writer

Who says California doesn't have a lottery yet?

As far as 333 people were concerned, the one held outside Friendship Auditorium in Los Angeles over the weekend carried a prize that was just fin and dandy.

At stake was the opportunity to rent a city-owned boat for half a day when the trout season opens April 27 at Crowley Lake in Mono County.

As the anglers queued up in the brisk morning air to receive a numbered ticket and to watch the other half of it deposited into a cardboard box, they did what probably has been done since the trout season opened in the Garden of Eden--swapped tales.

Secret Bait

Paul Robinson, 42, of Anaheim Hills, disclosed that he has a secret bait: "I sprinkle Velveeta cheese with garlic, roll it into little balls, and put them on a treble hook."

Lending an ear while standing in front of him in the line was Harry Smith of Atwater. "I'm 84 years old, and I've been going up there since 1926, when I fished the rivers because Crowley was just a meadow then," he said. "Ever since the lake was finished by the Department of Water and Power in the early 1940s, I have missed only one opening day, because I had a bad back. On opening day, the fish are fat and there are lots of them."

Season Ended Last July

There should be. During the summer, as usual, the state Fish and Game Department planted more than 500,000 trout. The season legally ended last July 31, and if you are a fish, this is a long time waiting for the table to be set.

This fact wasn't lost on the human hopefuls trying to reserve one of the more than 50 boats available. The city Recreation and Parks Department operates the lake, and rents the mostly aluminum outboard motor boats for $35 during the morning session, $30 in the afternoon. The reason for the price difference is that trout apparently believe in having a hearty breakfast, but aren't too big on midday snacks.

The rentals are becoming increasingly popular. "I haven't missed an opening day in 30 years," said John Wallace, 70, of West Covina. "At my age it's easier to rent than to put my own boat into the water."

For the optimists outside the auditorium, having each received a number, the great moment was at hand. The game was about to end in a draw. Dave Griffith, senior recreation director with the city and manager at Crowley, reached into the box and shouted into a microphone: "No. 3259!"

Hastening to a cashier with his lucky ticket was Leon House, 57, of Fountain Valley, an elementary school principal.

"I go up every year with friends (each rental boat can hold four people)," he said. "We do either trolling or still-fishing, and I use salmon eggs for bait."

Seven Trout Limit

All of this in order to be allowed a limit of seven trout, although it isn't without precedent to catch more--and give away, hide or eat the excess. A couple of years ago a Crowley game warden issued a citation to a man who was 116 over the limit.

This sort of thing causes no end of gossip among the trout, some of which are worth standing in line for. "Opening day last year wound up yielding the record for the entire season," said Recreation and Parks spokesman Al Goldfarb. "It was a trout that weighed 12 pounds, 2 ounces."

In 1971, according to Griffith, someone at Crowley landed a German Brown of 25 pounds, 7 ounces, which was the state record until two years ago, when Lower Twin Lake coughed up a Brown of 26 pounds, 5 ounces.

With this in mind, the aspirants for rental boats eagerly listened as ticket numbers were announced. They will be among the 17,000 fishermen expected for the curtain raiser this year at the five-by-seven mile reservoir north of Bishop.

"Almost half of the fish stocked are caught the first weekend," Griffith revealed.

The Ancient Mariner

As luck would have it, the ancient mariner, Smith, didn't have his number drawn. But he assured everyone that he would be on hand in a friend's boat.

Until three years ago, the procedure for reserving a rental boat was for hopefuls to begin camping out near Elysian Lodge to get the first-come, first-served tickets. In 1978, according to Goldfarb, three fishermen from Inglewood set a record by waiting 125 hours.

"Two years ago we switched to a mail lottery," Griffith said. "It bombed. One problem was that some people sent in 500 postcards."

So last year an in-person public drawing was held. It attracted 133 (humans, not fish). This year's turnout nearly tripled that. The crowd at the weekend lottery was mostly male, although women such as Dorothy Carpenter of Reseda, Evelyn Smith of Topanga and the vacationing Ernestine Lambert of Abilene, Kan., were in line with plans for dropping a line.

As with everyone else, they awaited the outcome of the scales of justice. Make it the justice of scales.

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