If you've driven U.S. 395 to Yosemite or Reno, Nev., you've zipped past Lee Vining, a hamlet of about 200 on the shores of Mono Lake.
Like most outdoor enthusiasts who love the Eastern Sierra, I have thought of Lee Vining largely as a spot to fill my gas tank or stock up on bait. But while researching new fishing spots in Mono County ("in season" fishing ends Nov. 15), I discovered that Lee Vining is a prime launching point for a weekend of angling. I also learned that despite being named for a prospector who accidentally shot himself to death, the roadside town is stocked with charm and hospitable people.
I booked a room at the Tioga Lodge at Mono Lake, where the property includes 14 rustic cabins, each with a bathroom, mini fridge and access to free Wi-Fi.
Downtown Lee Vining includes several eateries, but I was surprised to hear locals recommend the Whoa Nellie Deli at the Mobil gas station at U.S. 395 and California 120.
The restaurant, which opens for the season on the last Saturday in April, is crammed behind shelves stuffed with gas station snacks, T-shirts and road maps, but the lineup of burgers, tacos, pizza and meatloaf offered the ideal down-home energy food I needed before a long day of trailblazing and fishing.
During my search for fishing nirvana, I drove about 13 miles west of Lee Vining along California 120 to the Saddlebag Lake Resort and Saddlebag Lake, a 325-acre body of water at the southeastern edge of a pine-studded basin.
An eight-mile hiking trail, starting at the top of the lake, circles the basin, accessing 20 alpine lakes. I took my time, hiking first to Wasco Lake, then cutting east across the basin to Z Lake, where I hooked my first golden trout.
The ring of lakes rests at about 10,000 feet above sea level, so the resort usually doesn’t open until the snowpack melts, sometime near mid-June.
Miles, one way, from downtown L.A.
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