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Go Fish

February 15, 2013

 

The kiss of death for any resort community is doing the same thing all the competitors are doing.

The kiss of success is finding the one thing that people want, or the two or the three things, that no other resort, anywhere, can do.

In Mono County’s case, that one thing is not Mammoth Mountain Ski Area—other resorts have big mountains, too.

It’s not our great scenery—others have that, too.

It’s Alpers trout.

Great, big, fat Alpers trout.

They are the biggest, fattest trout in the state, maybe even the country.

More than 30 years ago, Tim Alpers took on the family trout rearing business near the headwaters of the Owens River, where pure, cool artesian spring water created the constant temperatures and pristine quality that made raising little silver-finned trout into huge silver-finned trout a joy.

The business thrived and the fish grew fat and anglers from all over the world came to the county to catch one (or more) of those famous Alpers trout.

But about a decade ago, the fish world got hit hard—by state budget cuts, by invasive species that took over the gravel-covered river bottoms, by a crazy fish disease called whirling disease, and more.

Alpers sold the business and moved on. When Mono County purchased a gorgeous piece of property at the base of Conway Summit, he saw his chance to start over and formed a new business to raise Alpers trout on the ranch.

The idea, back then, was to raise enough big, fat Alpers trout and fingerlings to supply the entire county into perpetuity, then sell what was left over for a profit.

That way, the county did not have to be at the beck and call of a state Fish and Game department that had been gutted by budget cuts.

But something went terribly wrong along the way and today, the business, Inland Aquaculture Group, is struggling.

Personalities clashed, county employees clashed with government agencies, the state department of Fish and Game (now Fish and Wildlife) clashed with county agencies—and just about everyone else—and politicians dropped the ball.

The fishing public caught on. Not only was the state dropping the amount of fish it stocked in local lakes, but the massive Alpers trout catches were far and few between.

The public went other places, the boats on Crowley Lake dropped from thousands on Fishing Opening Day to hundreds.

Year after year, fewer people come here to fish.

The Mono County Board of Supervisors has three new board members (including Alpers) and a brand new chance to create one of the most unique recreational opportunities in the country—a county known again for its huge, fat, silver-finned fish in every single legal water that can be found no where else.

Like with the Mammoth Dog Teams business, it means getting involved. It means, perhaps, not letting the free market alone take on the full risk. It means money and time and county staff and commitment to the 100-year future.

Just last week, the county’s fisheries commission said that a turnover in personnel in the state department of Fish and Wildlife has finally given it hope that the state will work with the county, not against it.

The time is right for the county to take the risk and bring back the world-class trout fishery that once put it on the map.

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