Storyteller: Tom Martens

This is a story about the Richest Man Who Ever Lived at Lake Tahoe.

By the way, that would be an outdoor writer named Stan Hansen, a friend of mine who lives at the lake.

The story begins while fishing along “slurry lines” with my fishing buddy Stan near the mouth of Tahoe’s famous Emerald Bay.


Oh yes … one more thing you should know. Stan wasn’t supposed to be fishing that day. See his wife was nine months pregnant and at home. She really didn’t want him out on the lake, but Stan and I had made a date to fish months ago, so we went fishing.

“Don’t worry,” Stan said to his wife. “We won’t be far away, and Tom has a fast boat. I won’t be late. Everything will be OK.”

She didn’t seem convinced.


Now back to the “slurry lines” And a little secret about fishing in Lake Tahoe.

“Slurry lines” are lines are created by a slurry of debris – mostly pine needles – that float on the lake. Wind and current stretch them into lines that snake along the surface, typically near the shoreline.

Hence the name.

These lines are popular with fishermen.

You see small minnows call Lahontan red sides feed on the small aquatic life that live on the underside of the slurry. Big rainbow trout in turn feed on the minnows. And fishermen catch the big rainbow trout.

Fishing slurry lines is challenging and not for the faint of heart.

You can’t fish slurry lines from a boat, because the rainbows can spot you coming in Tahoe’s gin clear water. The fisherman – in this case Stan – usually fishes slurry lines from a float tube, which is an inner tube with an attachment that has a seat. It allows the fisherman to float while sitting in the middle of the tube. You wear thick neoprene waders to keep warm in the chilly Tahoe water. You move around by kicking with swim fins.

You paddle near the slurry lines and cast a fly to them in hopes of attracting a fish. Slurry line fishing is a two person operation

Because the wind can kick up at a moment’s notice at Tahoe, I would fish nearby in his boat, while keeping a close eye on Stan bobbing in the water near the slurry lines.

On one cast into the slurry lines one fine morning a big fish hit Stan’s lure. Not just an ordinary fish. A big fish. And I mean BIG fish. Capital “B” big.

He set the hook and the fish took off – towing this fisherman in the float tube toward the mouth of Emerald Bay.

Stan was using heavy fishing line, so he knew it wouldn’t break. He couldn’t reel in the fish because it was too big, so he just went along for the ride.

I followed in the boat – giving him a periodic thumbs up for good luck.

The fish towed Stan into Emerald Bay. I followed. The fish towed Stan to Fannett Island in Emerald Bay. I followed. Suddenly, the fish stopped towing and headed to the surface near Stan’s float tube and my boat boat. Stan stopped. I stopped.

The fish came alongside the float tube. Then another fish came alongside.

The pair of fish looked at Stan and me from the water and then started to talk.

Now talking fish are pretty rare at Lake Tahoe. Very few people run into them. Even fewer can hear them, but they are in the lake … take my word for it. You have to listen carefully to hear them.

“This is my son,” the larger of the fish said. The littler fish nodded. “He was hooked by a fisherman, and the line got tangled on a log on the bottom. He can’t swim away. Now you’ve hooked me.

“If you cut us loose, I will grant you any wish you like,” the big fish said.

I also forgot to mention that these talking fish are also magic fish. Not many people at Tahoe know this either. They can grant wishes to anyone they like.

“Well,” Stan said to the fish. “I would like to be the richest man at Lake Tahoe.”

“OK,” said the fish. “Your wish is granted.”

So Stan took the lure out of the big fish, and then unhooked the smaller fish. They swam off into the depths of the lake.

Fishing was clearly done for the day. Nothing could top this, so Stan paddled over and got into my boat for the trip back to the marina.

We arrived at the marina, which is located at South Lake Tahoe near the casino area. We tied up the boat and got into my truck. Stan had to go to the bathroom and the marina wasn’t open, so I waited while he ran into one of the casinos to use the bathroom.

As usual – no matter the time of day – the place was humming. Slot machines clanging.

On walking his way out from the men’s room, Stan reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver dollar he always carries. Why not? Could be my lucky day, he thought.

Stan plugged the dollar into a slot machine and pulled the lever. It clanked away. The wheels spun. One silver dollar wheel appeared. Then two. And finally three. The machine’s lights flashed. Bells sounded. A siren went off.

But the sound of the dumping coins seemed louder than normal.

He turned to look around. All the slot machines in the huge room were flashing and ringing – dumping silver dollars out all over the floor.

The money piled up on the floor ankle deep. The place was ecstatic. The blue haired ladies playing slot machines were going bonkers. The coins kept piling up – knee deep now.

Stan’s wish had come true.

He would be the richest man at Lake Tahoe – if, of course, he could figure out how to get that money out of the casino (you can only get so many silver dollars in your pockets).

So Stan decided to leave that frenzy to others. He shuffled through the coins to the door.

On the way, he picked up a silver dollar – might as well get something out of all this – or no one is going to believe it really happened.

Stan walked back to the marina where I was waiting in the truck.

Stan always heard that it’s considered good luck to skip a silver dollar in the lake.

So he threw the silver dollar into the lake. It skipped along the surface a couple of times, and then sank out of sight – gone forever.

Just then the cell phone rang.

It was his family doctor calling from Barton Memorial Hospital.

“You’d been get over here right away,” he said.

So Stan and I drove over to the hospital.

His wife had gone into labor.

She had to call an ambulance to be taken to the hospital. (He was never going to hear the end of this for going fishing).

An hour later, his daughter was born into the world – a wiggly bundle with a big crying voice.

Stan’s wife was crying with joy. He was crying. The nurses were crying. The doctor was crying. I was crying.

Just then it hit Stan … he WAS the richest man who ever lived at Lake Tahoe.


This is the first story in our StoryTeller feature series. 

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Tom Martens

Tom Martens has worked as a reporter, columnist, photographer and editor for newspapers and magazines for more than 15 years. He is an award winning outdoor writer for stories that have appeared in newspapers, including the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, Wisconsin, Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek California, Green Bay Press Gazette, the Herald and News in Klamath Falls, Oregon and the Tahoe World in Tahoe City, California. He writes a regular column on conservation issues for the California Fly Fisher magazine, where he serves as Editor at Large. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Masters of Nonprofit Administration Degree from the University of San Francisco where he was a member of the Adjunct Faculty at USF’s Institute for Nonprofit and Organization Management. He lives in Davis, California.


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