TAHOE NUGGET #248: MICKEY DANIELS: TAHOE FISH HUNTER
Mickey Daniels is a funny guy who loves practical jokes, but when it comes to catching fish in Lake Tahoe, he’s all business. As skipper of Big Mack II, a 43-foot-long fishing boat designed and equipped specifically for Tahoe, Mickey spends most mornings trolling the depths searching for trophy-size trout and the beefy Mackinaws that make his clients smile and come back for more.
Mickey Daniels is a master guide, a passionate, knowledgeable fisherman who after 50 years experience, knows the moods and seasons of Tahoe better than anyone.
Featured in many sportsmen magazines, Mickey loves to teach his customers about the secrets of fishing one of the world’s deepest mountain lakes, mixing both fact and fiction in an entertaining style that keeps people chuckling during those rare lulls when the fish aren’t biting.
Mickey Daniels is best known as the owner of Mickey’s Big Mack charters in Carnelian Bay, but his personal history is as colorful and adventurous as his daily forays out into Big Blue. In June 2009 I interviewed the Skipper and we discussed his life.
Happy anglers on Big Mack II after a fruitful summer morning catching “fish, fotos, and fun.”
Born on October 3, 1937, in Canoga Park in Los Angeles, Mickey’s family moved to Rio Linda (Sacramento County) where they operated a gas station store. Later, when his dad got a job as a welder in a Richmond shipyard, they pulled up stakes again. His father also worked as the captain of a ferry boat on the Columbia River in Washington State, which may explain how Mickey acquired his aquatic genes. The family next settled in Sacramento where Mickey’s dad ran a small business until his death in 1949. Mickey was only 12-years-old at the time and his father’s death hit him hard.
While attending Sacramento High School, Mickey played football (in the era when players wore leather helmets) and chased girls until his graduation in 1955. His love of sports inspired him to pursue a career as a high school coach so he attended junior college where he participated in football, basketball, water polo and swimming. His ability at swimming led him to a job giving lessons to aspiring California Highway Patrol recruits.
Mickey’s sportfishing charters are a year-round adventure at Lake Tahoe.
His experience with the CHP recruits got him thinking about a career in law enforcement, so Mickey joined the Marine Corps in 1957. He served two years including a stint with the Military Police at a San Diego brig. After his honorable discharge, Mickey returned to Northern California and went back to teaching swimming for the Sacramento Unified School District.
While working in Sacramento, Mickey spent a lot of time at Lake Tahoe water skiing with friends. He tried snow skiing at Granlibakken, but never became very proficient at it. During the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, Mickey attended the Games both weekends.
Mickey Daniels (right) with his friend and neighbor John “The Shark” Baker at the weekly “Tahoe Old Timers Liars Club” gathering held at CB’s Pizza most Friday nights.
At that time, Mickey’s girlfriend and future wife, Sharon Bechdolt, lived in Tahoe City and every weekend Mickey drove up from Sacramento to see her. The Bechdolt family has a long history in Tahoe City—owners of the old Tahoe Inn and the Tahoe City Golf Course—so when Mickey married Sharon in 1960, he joined one of the oldest and most influential clans on the North Shore.
His father-in-law, Carl Bechdolt, Jr., welcomed Mickey with open arms. When Mickey mentioned that he would like to become a Tahoe City deputy, Carl called the Sheriff at 2 a.m. one weekend to secure a job for his new son-in-law. Mickey was interviewed that Monday and without any training, was issued a gun, badge and patrol car the next day.
Before Mickey Daniels became a fishing captain, he served the community as a Peace Officer and California’s last constable.
The newlyweds lived behind a gas station in Tahoe City and soon had three children. Mickey served with the sheriff’s department for three-and-a-half years, rising to the rank of sergeant. During the December 1963 kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr., at South Lake Tahoe, Mickey manned the Tahoe City roadblock as law enforcement tried to catch the kidnappers. Despite the cordon that encircled the lake, the abductors managed to escape the dragnet in a snowstorm.
Another satisfied customer on Big Mack II.
In 1964, Mickey left Tahoe City for Sacramento where he trained at the California Highway Patrol Academy before joining the force. He was first assigned to Indio in Southern California, and later transferred to South Lake Tahoe. In early 1967, Mickey was sent to Truckee and assigned to patrol both the Truckee and Tahoe City areas. Sharon and Mickey divorced that year and to make ends meet, he got a job working nights as a stock clerk at the Safeway store in Kings Beach.
In typical Tahoe fashion, Mickey often worked two jobs to survive, a schedule that sometimes kept him out of trouble. As a local cop in the early 1960s, he even shined shoes at the Tahoe City Golf Course, much to his boss’s chagrin.
Not everyone will catch fish this size, but if you get “skunked,” Mickey will buy you breakfast.
In 1969 Mickey offered his assistance to Tahoe City’s legendary Swedish-born constable, Harry Johanson, who had recently retired and then broken his hip. (See Tahoe Nugget #244.) To help Harry rehabilitate, Mickey moved into a room in Johanson’s house where he spent two years helping Harry get back on his feet again. To this day Mickey says it was an honor to have spent time with the iconic Tahoe lawman.
The Big Mack II pulling into its berth at the Sierra Boat Company in Carnelian Bay. Note Garwood’s Restaurant in the background. If you call ahead, the chef will prepare your catch for dinner that night.
Also in 1969, Mickey and two other Truckee CHP officers were suspended for “excessive facial hair.” Top CHP brass ordered the men to trim their mustaches and sideburns, or lose their jobs. And even though Mickey still says the whole incident was blown out of proportion, he proudly laminated the original newspaper article for posterity.
In the late 1960s, Mickey had to comply with the California Highway Patrol’s strict regulations on facial hair. “Bad Boy, Bad Boy, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”
In 1985, Mickey married Nora in a West Shore wedding where a rare, early September snowstorm chased everyone into a nearby boat storage facility. The couple is still happily married and live on North Shore Lake Tahoe.
At Mickey’s surprise 70th birthday party held in Tahoe City in 2007, Dr. Charles Goldman, a noted environmental scientist at the University of California – Davis, and an expert on the Lake Tahoe ecosystem, gave tribute to Mickey and acknowledged his contributions to our understanding of the Tahoe fishery. Mickey has been tagging and releasing caught fish for years, keeping records that track and document the movement and lifespan of the big Macks that prowl Tahoe’s depths.
Every Fourth of July, Mickey takes friends and family out on Big Mack II for food, laughs, and fireworks.
For 27 years Mickey helped supply fresh fish for the annual Tahoe City Big Mack Feed, a charity event the he co-started as a fund raiser during his run for Constable in 1978. He’s also an active member of the Tahoe City Rotary Club. Mickey Daniel’s ongoing contributions to community and Tahoe science are second nature to him, whose favorite comment is: “It’s all part of the system.”
Big Mack II at its Carnelian Bay berth, waiting for another day’s adventure.
Visit Mickey’s Big Mack Charters website for information on how to book your perfect day in paradise.
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