It's 5:45 a.m., with the sun yet to shine on little Lake Mamie as Brad Beckering poses the daily question: "If I was a fish, what would I want for breakfast today?"
He considers a combination of orange and green Power Bait.
"It has that sherbet effect," Beckering says. "Looks delicious to me. Must look delicious to a fish."
Other anglers, from devotees of worms to sophisticates of the dry fly, might sneer at the colorful goop as kids' bait--although they probably have tried it themselves, when they thought nobody was watching. Beckering is not too proud to use anything that will catch fish. But then, Beckering does not travel in angling's mainstream.
He is better known as "Brookie Brad," and he might become a legend in the region for his pragmatic, if slightly eccentric, approach to catching fish. Where most anglers get it wrong, he figures, is that they attack from the wrong point of view.
"You have to think like a fish," Beckering says.
You also need an understanding wife.
Beckering says, "My wife gave me the option: 'Give up your fantasy about being a professional fishing guide and retiring early. Give up your fantasy about living in the mountains. Knock off the (fishing) vacations once a year, or I'll leave you.' "
Beckering is asked how long ago that was.
"About four years ago," he says. "I sure miss her."
The next thing he did was to quit his job, at 39, with dim prospects for making a living.
"I spent 18 years in construction," Beckering says. "Got sick of it. I knew there was something else for me, something better in my life--and it was to eat, read, breathe, sleep and think fish 24 hours a day, so I could be the best I could possibly be."
Beckering worked at Barrett's Landing on nearby Lake Mary for a while, before his ambition really started to fall into place. Barbara LaGrace and her husband had retired and moved to Mammoth from Valley Center so they could take over and restore the old Wildyrie Lodge on Lake Mamie. Then her husband died of leukemia.
Barbara and her daughter, Debbie, were struggling to rebuild the lodge when Beckering dropped by.
"He had quit over at Lake Mary and came over here and asked us for a job," Barbara said. "I said sure. We needed some help. He said he wanted to become a 'fishing consultant.' "
By next spring Beckering hopes to be licensed as a fishing guide, meaning he can charge for his expertise. Meanwhile, he takes care of the lodge's rental boats and does other chores.
"Everybody thinks the world of him, and he knows his fish," Barbara LaGrace said.
Beckering got his nickname soon after establishing himself at Mammoth.
"I used to go into the back country for brook trout," he says. "They seemed to be the hardest ones to catch, but I'd catch my limit within 10 or 15 minutes, regularly."
Rarely a day goes by that Beckering doesn't fish. He has missed three days this year.
"That was only because lightning hit the lake and I was afraid to go out there in a boat," he says. "If you're in a metal boat, it's like saying, 'Take me, Lord.' (Otherwise,) I fish one of the lakes every day. Either Twin, Mary, George, Horseshoe or I'll go into the back country."
Last spring, just before the trout season opened, the ice on Mamie was still two-feet thick. For a week Beckering went out in a boat with a sledgehammer to break it up, "to get that early spring fishing," he says. "It would have broken up by itself in two weeks, but I couldn't wait that long. I was hungry. The fish were hungry. I wanted them. They wanted me."
"I don't play with a full deck when I'm out there."
Beckering is not partial to any flies, bait or lures, even those he might make himself, and he will suppress his ego to listen to advice from almost anyone. He has a thick, loose-leaf notebook titled by hand, "Brookie Brad's Fishing Secrets," but it's mostly clippings of articles by so-called experts. He'll try anything, use anything to catch fish.
One of his secrets is using a nightcrawler on a crappie jig "to simulate the guts coming out," he says.
"If that didn't work, I'd use two salmon eggs to make it look like it was bleeding."
For anglers with weak stomachs, Beckering also recommends a store-bought lure called a Thomas Buoyant, which comes in assorted colors and disproves, he says, a popular myth that fish are color-blind.
"I've caught more smaller fish on the red, from 3 1/2 to five pounds, but all my big ones--four to six pounds--have been on the blue," Beckering says. "I've caught fish on all of them, except the green."
Beckering says it's not for him to reason why--just what, where and when.
"The Thomas Buoyant lure works real well in Lake Mamie, so-so in Lake Mary. The Crippler lure works better in Lake Mary, so-so in Mamie. At George it works good sometimes. So I'll take 15 or 20 lures out with me and see which is effective. The Mepps lure is effective at some times of the month."
Beckering logs each of his fishing trips in detail, hoping to establish patterns for certain conditions.
"I don't know what it is with the red," he says. "Usually that red works on a sunny day. When the sun goes down, almost to the minute, it stops working. I think it's the light on the lure that makes it productive. On a cloudy day I'll go with the gold. But on a sunny day I'll knock 'em dead with the red. I've got my limit as fast as nine or 10 minutes using that lure."
For some reason, it's especially appealing to the large fish stocked from Tim Alpers' Owens River Ranch.
"This is the first year the Thomas lure has been so effective, basically because of the Alpers fish," Beckering said. "Probably 85% of all the Alpers we've caught on all the lakes have been pulled in by Thomas lures."
But that doesn't mean it will work the next time. On one recent day, before and after rowing out to dump a basket full of Alpers' fish into the middle of the lake, Beckering was virtually skunked, except for a couple of average-size rainbows. A guest suggested the old theory of a full moon that allowed the fish to feed all night.
"The full moon thing is dead on," Beckering says, noting the calendar. "But the old wives' tale is that the day before a full moon you fish an hour before noon, and the day of a full moon you fish at noon."
Nevertheless, he picks up his guest at 4:30 a.m., well before dawn.
"If you snooze, you lose, 'cause that's when the big Alpers cruise," he says.
Beckering has a bromide for every situation. If somebody seems skeptical about pulling a trophy trout from little Lake Mamie, he says, "You don't need big water to hold big fish."
The lake record is believed to be 27 3/4 pounds, hooked by some forgotten angler in 1959.
Beckering says, "I like to get out here early, before that sun comes up. They can't see me and I can't see them. Once your shadow starts reflecting in the water, you might as well go to Vons and buy your fish."
On the other hand, if the fish don't bite right away, it may be because the water is too cold.
"If you'd been in that cold water all night, you wouldn't be very active, either," Beckering says.
But when the water temperature hits 62 degrees, it's a different story.
"I know they're gonna bite, whether they want to or not," he says.
A fish jumps near the boat.
"Good morning, children," Beckering says.
If he gets no results, he says, "I'll sit here with my (polarized) fish glasses and see where they run to. They head for the shore, the inlets--any place they think I won't be. You figure out their cycle."
A couple of days later he claims, "I got my limit (of five) in 4 1/2 minutes yesterday."
A listener is skeptical, but a visitor confirms it. She timed him. Beckering has become one with the fish again.
"I think I was a fish in my last life," he says.
And how is his present life, without a wife?
"It does get lonely sometimes," he says. "But if it gets too lonely, I go fishing."
"I go fishing even if I don't get lonely."