BY MIKE STEVENS
BRIDGEPORT— A dedicated trophy brown trout hunter slammed the door on the 2023 Eastern Sierra trout campaign with a catch of a lifetime that no one is going to touch in the waning weeks of of the season. Thomas Gunther has spent hundreds of hours on the water to go along with tireless research while trying to figure out how to catch monster German browns, and it all came together at upper Twin Lake in Bridgeport last week when he bagged one of the largest brown trout ever caught in California.
“I put her in the livewell and my digital scale said it was over 22 pounds,” Gunther told Western Outdoor News. “I wanted to put it on the certified scale at the boathouse, and it was 22 pounds, 10 ounces and my first double-digit brown. I would have released her, but she had a hook in a gill and was bleeding.”
Gunther (and his “lucky dog” Jasper) were trolling 9-inch skinny A.C. Plugs from his boat, Game Changer when the big brown hit in the early morning. He told WON he was trolling the north shore back toward the Marina where he metered a 30 foot drop off and continued along that ledge, and the trout bit the jointed A.C. Plug (the other one was not jointed) as he reached that zone and was about to turn out and head east.
“I knew it was a big fish because the drag was going and I could still feel the head shakes even though there was already 200 feet of line out,” said Gunther. “When the fish hit I put the kicker motor in neutral and spot anchored with the Minn Kota trolling motor on the bow. I then went to the non-fish rod and started reeling it in as fast as possible (to clear it), and while doing that the spot anchor turned the boat and the line (with the fish on it) was now coming across the deck. The rod then came out of the rod holder and started sliding across the deck. I had the non-fish rod in one hand and grabbed the fish rod with the other before it plopped overboard. I got the non-fish rod lure in and then grabbed the fish rod. I knew it was a heavy hanger after a few cranks of the reel. She had a little fight in her, and I was anticipating a run once I got her to the boat like a 7 pounder did earlier in the year, but she didn’t run and I was able to scoop her into the net right away.”
According to “brown bagging” guru, Allan Cole (the A.C. in A.C. Plug) whose big brown trout catch data spans decades of fishing in California and beyond, Gunther’s fish is “probably in the top five ever in California, the second largest out of upper Twin and the fourth largest between Twin Lakes, Bridgeport (upper and lower).
The California state record brown trout tipped the scale at 26 pounds, 8 ounces. That one was also caught at Twin Lakes (upper) by Danny Stearman on April 30, 1987.
Many WON readers might say Gunther is living the dream. On paper, he’s a resident of South Dakota, but after retiring as a California State Parks superintendent working out of Eureka, he hit the road in his motorhome —with his boat Game Changer in tow— and he spends six months out of the year parked at Annett’s Mono Village at Twin Lakes in Bridgeport. From that primo basecamp, Gunther is able to hit the water as soon as he legally can hit the water as early as possible. Staffers at Mono Village told WON he fishes Twin Lakes more than anyone, and he’s always out there all day.
“I fish at first legal minute, 1-hour before sunrise and the last legal minute 1-hour after sunset. That, morning the legal time was 6:05, and I was leaving the marina at 6:03 and lines in the water.at 6:05,” said Gunther.
He had been fishing for browns prior to retirement, a week in spring and another week in fall. He reached out to Cole and other well-known brown baggers for intel, and the main reason he bought Game Changer, was so he could get out on the lake even earlier, no longer at the mercy of when boats could be rented from the Marina. Armed with intel from the best sources out there, his own boat built specifically for hunting trophy browns and all the time in the world, Gunther is as close to full-time brown bagging as one can get.
He’s also aiming higher than this recent wall hanger.
“I can tell you from my little experience and the fish I’ve metered, I truly believe there is a 30 in this lake,” he told WON. “They have great habitat, lots of food like crawfish, kokanee, stocked rainbows and fingerling browns. It’s a good environment for them to get big. My goal is the next state record. It’s 36 years old. It’s time.”