D. E. Larsen, DVM
“Good morning, this is Leroy at Fields Station,” Leroy said as he answered the phone with a gravelly voice. “What can I do for you?”
“I have a family group coming over to fish at Mann Lake for a couple of days. We were hoping to get a place to stay that would be a little closer than Burns,” I said.
“We have an old desert house that we fixed up. We call it the hotel. It has several bedrooms and a couple of hide a bed couches. That would probably accommodate your group.”
“Does it have a kitchen,” I asked?
“Not really a kitchen, but there are an old microwave and a toaster,” Leroy said. “There is no refrigerator. Most folks just bring their ice chest. We have ice over here at the store.”
“That sounds pretty good,” I said. “We do have a couple of ladies coming with us, but they won’t want to be doing any cooking.”
“Our restaurant is still operating on winter hours,” Leroy said. “If you are fishing at Mann Lake and want to eat dinner with us, you will probably need to be on the road down here before 4:00.”
“That’s fine; we can figure all of that out when we are there. Do you have any word on how the fishing is at the Lake?”
“It is always good this time of the year,” Leroy said. “We don’t have many fishermen stay with us, but a lot of guys run up there to fish. And you know if a cowboy drives somewhere to fish, it has got to be good fishing.”
“There is a good chance that we will be rolling in there late,” I said. “How do we go about getting a key?”
There was a long pause as I waited for Leroy’s answer. Finally, he gave a carefully worded reply.
“Buddy, there ain’t no key,” Leroy said. “You just give that door a little push, and it will open. Then you can come over to the store or the restaurant in the morning, and we can settle up the bill. We cook a pretty good breakfast if you are interested.”
Mann Lake was a small alkali lake located on the eastern side of Steens Mountain in Southeastern Oregon. Fields Station was about 40 miles south was the closest accommodations, other than camping in the parking area.
Known for its fishing for Lahontan Cutthroat trout, Mann Lake was a popular fishing spot in Oregon’s far corner. If one wanted to avoid the rattlesnakes, fishing in the early spring was the best time. Often cold and with high winds, you had to dress appropriately. It was scenic only for the desert and the majestic Steens Mountain.
We pulled up to the small desert house about 10:00 PM after a long 6-hour drive from Sweet Home. The house was unpainted, and the wood siding was weathered to steel gray. I stepped out of the truck, and the cold wind bit my face. As Leroy instructed, I just gave the door a firm shove, and it opened. Even the doorknob didn’t work.
The heat was on, and it was warm on the inside, a welcome relief. I switched on the lights, and everyone bailed out of the truck and brought our stuff into the house.
Everybody was ready for bed, tired out from the ride. We filtered through the little house to lay claim to the bedrooms. Sandy and I ended up with the back bedroom.
It came with a couple of advantages. It was close to the bathroom, and two, it was away from the crowd and the noise. But we learned quickly; it did have a disadvantage. It was also furthermost away from the heat. It made for a cozy night under a couple of large quilts.
Breakfast in the little restaurant at the store started the day. Pancakes, eggs, and bacon right off the grill served up with a running dialogue from Leroy. Leroy was obsessed with the EPA that morning. Apparently, they had found a little chub fish in the waters of the area and sought to protect it at the expense of a lot of the area’s water supply.
That would have been no issue under most circumstances, but Mike, our soon-to-be son-in-law, was working for the EPA at the time. His was just in a temporary job between schools, but when our son mentioned it to Leroy, you could see smoke from more than the grill.
The fishing was excellent, of course. There were fish everywhere, just waiting to be caught. The weather, at times during the day, would be extreme with snow flurries and biting wind. I don’t know how cold it was, but it was cold.
For the most part, we released all the fish we caught. But at the end of the day, Mike wanted to take a fish home. The limit was two fish over sixteen inches.
When Mike had his fish, I suggested we clean it right there. The only problem was my pocket knife was in my pants pocket back at the hotel. I was wearing fleece pants under my waders.
We looked around on the ground. I had noticed that there were many obsidian chips all over the bank of the Lake. This had obviously been a fishing spot of the Peyote tribes in the areas also. It only took a minute to find a nice obsidian chip, and it was sharper than any knife blade that I owned.
In the late afternoon, the drive back to Fields Station provided good viewing of many mule deer and a few bighorn sheep. We arrived in ample time for dinner, a giant hamburger, and one of Leroy’s specialty milkshakes. Leroy had calmed down since breakfast, thinking that a few extra dollars in the cash drawer were worth putting up with an EPA kid.
After a few card games, everyone was ready for bed early. Exhausted from combating the weather extremes all day.
The plan for tomorrow was to check out, eat breakfast, and fish for a couple of hours before heading home. If we left early enough from the Lake, we could get across the mountains before dark.
On the way to Lake, we stopped to look at a couple of bighorn sheep rams, basking in the morning sun on a high ridge overlooking the road. One of the ranch ladies stopped and offered us permission to walk up a canyon adjacent to us.
“There are always a lot of bighorns up at the end of the canyon,” she said. “It’s private property, but you guys can walk up there if you like.”
We declined the invitation. The lure of a few more trout on the end of the fly line was much stronger than looking at some bighorns.
Photo is the Western shore of Mann Lake and the Eastern slope of Steens Mountain.