'Eastern Sierra Fishing Coalition' approaches its first test

It might feel roughly the same as any other Opening Day of the fishing season, but it isn’t.

This year there is a new, collective effort to strengthen what the Eastern Sierra has always considered its summer pride and joy.

It’s called the “The Eastern Sierra Fishing Coalition,” created during the winter season by Mammoth Tourism Director John Urdi.

Urdi, a New Englander who came to Mammoth via Grand Targhee, Wyo., said one of the very first things he noticed when he arrived here in 2010 was that there was not exactly a “strength in numbers” mentality among the fishing community.

There was lots of fishing, he said, but none of it seemed to be connected.

Last season, he tested the waters for the new ad hoc organization. This season, beginning with tonight’s Fishmas Eve celebrations and tomorrow’s Opening Day, the fishin’ coalition will step off the pier, so to speak.

“It’s really a collaborative effort with all of our different entities within Mono County,  Mammoth Lakes Tourism, Mono County Tourism and, really, the players in the (fishing) community,” Urdi said in an interview this past week.

“It’s everyone from tackle shops, to guides, to the marinas themselves and the resorts. The whole goal is to bring Mono County’s fishing up and into the spotlight.”

Urdi said the Eastside needs some help, even if residents didn’t know it.

“Based upon what I learned last year from the Fishing Opener and through the fishing season, I think there’s a general complacency in and around the area—that we are the Eastern Sierra and people will come fishing. They’ve been coming for decades. They’re going to continue to come fishing.

“But people have a lot of different options. They can catch 20-pound trout down in Irvine and not have to come up and spend the gas money.

“We want to make sure the experience is where it should be, to get people back to the Eastern Sierra and also to make sure that we are doing everything we possibly can to put more fish and bigger fish in the waterways here.”

Urdi’s idea has been received warmly all over the place.

“It’s an amazing thing,” said Raven Angeles of the Conway Ranch Foundation. “I think it’s an outstanding idea. Fabulous, and I’m looking forward to it.

“He (Urdi) has a lot of amazing ideas, and I think the town should keep him as long as they can.”

At the centerpiece of the Fishing Coalition is a program to put the stocking of fish directly into the hands of people who would benefit by strategic methods.

Using the lure of a boat-and-motor giveaway valued at about $13,000, Urdi created a new kind of raffle that both incentivizes businesses but also benefits the angler. In the raffle, businesses selling raffle tickets will be able to dictate where stocked fish should be placed.

“Whatever they sell in tickets, even condos like 1849 selling tickets for this, or Rick’s or Ernie’s or any of the other tackle shops out there, then they get to pick what lake the fish go into,” Urdi said. 

“If Rick’s sells $1,000 worth of tickets, they get to say that they want half those fish in Lake Mary and half the fish in Crowley.

“We’re working with Conway Ranch on a monthly basis. We’ll reconcile the boat raffle monthly so we can make sure we turn the fish into the lakes as quickly as possible.

“We’re going to buy three-pound or better fish for the continuous stocking,” Urdi said. 

“It encourages everyone. So, down at Crowley, they’re going to sell as many tickets for this boat because they know they’re actually going to see the fish go back into their lake, as opposed to it just going into a pot where we divvy it up.

“Whoever does the most work is going to see the most benefit. The idea of having these guys out there selling the raffle tickets is not a difficult thing. The tickets cost $1 apiece or 15 tickets for $10.

“We’re trying to help them help themselves.”

The raffle doesn’t stop at the boat —an aluminum Klamath 14-foot Deluxe boat, with an eight-horsepower Honda marine motor and an EZ loader trailer.

Urdi said Conway Ranch will kick in a second prize of an eight-horsepower motor, while Convict Lake Resort will give away the third prize, a fish-and-stay package.

Actually, the Eastern Sierra fishing Coalition has been active for quite a few months, buying advertising and marketing, primarily in Southern California.

“We want to make sure that the Eastern Sierra is projected out there and advertised out there and promoted as the place to be—make sure we fill our beds and restaurants and our retail stores.”

As to its future, Urdi said much of the coalition’s power, in particular its political power, remains to be seen after this season.

“I’m not sure that this will become a lobbying group,” he said, “but to a certain extent we’re going to try and keep the Eastern Sierra on the radar for everyone.”