Cheryl Hooper is a trout bum. Though there is something quite unique that sets her apart from most trout bums found in these here parts, and trout bums in general. See, she is a lady angler, in a world dominated more by fishermen than fisherwomen. As much as I love Hot Creek, the only complaint that I have about it is that most of the time that I am down there, I find myself surrounded more by the conscripts of Mars and very rarely around the acquaintances of Venus. I don’t know offhand the estimated ratio of men to women anglers found on the waters, but it’s safe to assume that it isn’t much different than the nightly bar scene of Mammoth Lakes. Cheryl isn’t the only lady angler I know, but I don’t know a lot. Regardless, Ms. Hooper helps to close that gap.
Cheryl is a forty-year resident of Mammoth Lakes. She moved here in 1973 from Long Beach with her former husband Gary Hooper. A graduate of Jordan High School, Cheryl was convinced by Gary that a move to Mammoth was a promising leap of faith. Gary was working for Safeway at the time, and put in for a transfer. When Cheryl asked him, “Where’s Mammoth?” He replied, “Near Bishop.” “Where’s Bishop?” The obvious question that followed for someone whose known world was limited to So Cal. Our hidden island-in-the-sky soon became the permanent residence for the Hoopers. Several long-time Mammoth Lakes residents know Gary Hooper. Gary became a career fly fishing guide, and a good reason Cheryl so easily gravitated to casting flies in her new-at-the-time surroundings. I don’t know Gary Hooper, but I’ve heard stories of his angling skills. He’s one of Mammoth’s original legends in the guiding industry.
Fishing is something Cheryl has known her entire life. As a child, her father was a commercial fisher in Long Beach. He caught sardines and anchovies for sport charter fishing boats. Her pop worked night shifts, selling the harvests to the anglers going out to fish during the day. He’d catch up on sleep during the daylight hours. Fishing has always been a “normal” part of Cheryl’s existence. During her middle school years, she would go to work with her dad either on half-day or full-day excursions. A deckhand was assigned to keep a good eye on her. She learned a lot about fishing for ocean species with terminal gear. During her high school years, she spent time fishing with her grandparents in Oceanside. They would go out quite regularly during the summer months after calico bass, albacore, lingcod, and rock cod. When I asked Cheryl if she still bait fishes, her face lit up, and she responded, “Of course! I like it.” She still bait fishes on and off, and enjoys every moment of it.
Fly fishing is definitely Cheryl’s passion. When Cheryl first moved to Mammoth, Gary helped her with the transition from bait fishing to fly fishing. She said that Gary would rig her gear and tell her where to cast the flies. She shared stories of how Gary could identify pocket waters with trout in them, unbeknownst to her, and she would dial onto trout upon his sage advice. Gary has since moved on and out of the area, but he left his legacy: Cheryl is today a very self-sufficient angler.
Cheryl has been casting flies in the Eastern Sierra for a little longer than I have been alive. As for the last twenty years, Cheryl has worked as a team member of the Maintenance Department for Mammoth Unified School District. She loves her job. It allows her plenty of time to go fishing during the day before she arrives on the school ground, around the same time the students are done with their daily classroom duties. Cheryl and I cross paths on a regular basis. It wasn’t till I sat down with her and we had a chat that I really learned about her angling passion and its history.
The San Joaquin River is one of her favorite places. She likes it because the parking is easy, the fishing is good, and the accessibility is excellent. Not far from the San Joaquin, she has spent many-a-day at King Creek. It has been one of her “secret spots where you rarely see anyone. It isn’t hit hard, and is easy fishing with the right stuff (flies).” When I asked her if she means that the trout there are opportunistic feeders, she replied that they are. Her secret is now your invitation to see what she means. I agree that the San Joaquin River and its neighboring fisheries are world-class places to go after trout. Particularly at this time of year, as the crowds completely dry up and the foliage turns from green to bright yellow. It’s a magical place.
Dry fly fishing is undoubtedly her favorite approach to fishing. She loves watching the trout take the fly. She said when rigging her bait gear, she always considers what the goods look like to the eyes of a curious fish. She is a thinking angler. Cheryl spends plenty a day fishing the lakes in the basin. She also loves Mammoth Creek. “It is close to home.” she said. The largest trout she has landed out of Mammoth Creek measured in at twelve inches. She estimates the largest trout she has ever caught is a 5 ½ pound rainbow out of Crowley. She smiled, reflecting on the memories of spending time on the water with her partner-in-crime, angler Sue Flamson. Sue is Cheryl’s longtime fishing bud.
Cheryl mentioned to me that lady anglers are not the only subculture of fly fishing. She pointed out an observation shared by her son, Justin Hooper, a measurement that I made on my own this last summer. Justin mentioned to his mom that you wouldn’t realize how many snowboarders are also fly fishers. Throughout the month of May, I made note of seeing a good number of snowboarders down at Hot Creek. They are easy to recognize, as they communally have their boxer shorts hanging out of their jeans as they cast flies. As for who can learn how to fly fish faster and more efficiently, it is with great pride that Cheryl represents the ladies. She believes it is easier to teach a woman to fly fish than a man. Generally-speaking, there are fewer egos, and as Cheryl puts it, “We are just girls. We are good.”
Cheryl is approaching the retirement years, yet apart from continuing to indulge her passion for fishing and raising honey bees, she doesn’t quite know what the future holds in store for her. My guess is that she will continue to land a great deal more trout for a good number of years. If there is really anything that Cheryl has taught me, it is that I can state with certainty, “Ladies, it is time to start fishing.”
A more detailed report can be found at http://kittredgesports.com/fishing_report.php. Leonard guides for Kittredge Sports. Call 760.934.7566.