The sun had yet to peek from behind the Mono Divide early Saturday morning when I parked my truck near the receding waters of Edison Lake. There was no one else around.
As I grabbed a few things, a moving flash caught the corner of my eye. A large brown trout was swimming in the shallows, its distinctive spots unmistakable even in the early morning light. It must've been 2 feet long.
I excitedly grabbed the nearest fishing rod and flicked a short cast in the fish's direction. Nothing. I reeled in and cast out again. Nothing. Again. Nothing. That sucker wasn't biting.
Eventually, I gave up and unloaded the kayak. But what a way to start the day.
The chance to catch German brown trout -- and in my wildest dreams, a 20-pound monster -- is incentive enough to make the brutal drive over Kaiser Pass Road from Huntington Lake.
Introduced to the Sierra in 1890, browns are known for being feisty and territorial. Most of all, they're elusive. Which means your chances of catching one aren't great.
California's state record for brown trout -- 26 pounds, 8 ounces -- was caught in 1987 at Upper Twin Lake in Mono County by Bakersfield's Danny Stearman.
But Edison has produced even bigger specimens.
On Aug. 24, 1974, Loren Dale of Dos Palos battled a monster brown for more than an hour until his line snapped. The next day, a couple kids found it floating with the lure still in its mouth and netted it.
Because of that, the 271/2-pound, 391/4-inch fish failed to meet the criteria for any official record. But it still elicits awe every time I see it, mounted and hanging above the front counter at the Vermilion Valley Resort.
In 1996, the legend grew when 14 people aboard the VVR ferry claimed to have seen a brown that one of them estimated to be 44 to 48 inches long.
That fish was never caught -- although many have tried -- and it's been a while since Edison produced a true monster. (A 19-pound, 7-ounce brown was caught at Huntington in 2009.) Still, the thought tantalizes anglers whenever they feel a thump on the line.
For me, that moment came while headed back to the launch area below the dam, which is completely exposed. I had already caught a nice rainbow while casting near the inlet of Mono Creek, but my trolling efforts had proven fruitless.
Paddling upwind near the center of the lake, I turned to see my rod tip flexing in its holder. I grabbed the rod and immediately felt the weight. Unlike so many other false alarms, this was no snag.
It took a few minutes to reel in the 100 feet or so of line and, judging by the lack of resistance, I knew this was no monster. But the 16-inch brown trout that struck my jointed Rapala had plenty of fight, diving under the kayak in a last-ditch attempt to escape. After using my phone to take a couple pictures and shoot a short video, I removed the lure from the fish's mouth with a pair of pliers and watched it skitter away.
Memories like that are what make all the hassle and expense of getting up here worthwhile.
High Sierra reservoirs like Edison are what the Department of Fish and Game calls a "put and grow" fishery.
The lake is stocked every spring and fall with rainbow trout fingerlings -- 100,000 of them are scheduled to go in this year, nearly double the number from both 2010 and 2011 -- that either grow to catchable size or make a tasty meal for the browns, which reproduce naturally.
"The browns in Edison are a wild fish that benefit from the hatchery resource," DFG supervising biologist Brian Beal said. "I've seen them eat some pretty large rainbows."
Because Edison Lake is largely inaccessible in the spring, fall is the best time to hunt for browns. And due to last winter's paltry snowpack, along with Southern California Edison's full-throttle hydroelectric production, lake levels are scheduled to drop to their minimum pool of 5% (6,000 acre feet) by the end of the month.
Which means less water to cover and less room for the fish to hide. My return trip is already scheduled.