Mickey Daniels | Tahoe’s Big Mack Hunter

Mickey Daniels in the barber’s chair after the California Highway Patrol forced him to trim his sideburns in 1969.

Mickey Daniels is a funny guy, 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 Lake Tahoe, Daniels spends most mornings trolling the depths of The Lake searching for trophy-size trout and the beefy Mackinaws that make his clients smile and come back for more.

Daniels is a master guide and a passionate, knowledgeable fisherman who, after more than 50 years of experience, knows the moods and seasons of Tahoe better than anyone. Featured in many sportsmen magazines, Daniels loves to teach his customers about the secrets of fishing one of the world’s deepest alpine lakes, mixing both fact and fiction in an entertaining style that keeps people laughing during those rare lulls when the fish aren’t biting.

Mickey Daniels 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.

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.

Born on Oct. 3, 1937, in Canoga Park in Los Angeles, Daniels’ family moved to Rio Linda (Sacramento County) where they operated a gas station and 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 ferryboat on the Columbia River in Washington State, which may explain how Daniels acquired his aquatic genes. The family next settled in Sacramento where his dad ran a small business until his death in 1949. Daniels was only 12 years old at the time and his father’s death hit him hard.

While attending Sacramento High School, Daniels 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.

His experience with the CHP recruits got him thinking about a career in law enforcement, so he 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, Daniels returned to Northern California and went back to teaching swimming for the Sacramento Unified School District. While working in Sacramento, he spent a lot of time at Lake Tahoe water skiing with friends. He tried snow skiing at Granlibakken, but never became proficient at it. During the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, Daniels attended the Games both weekends.

At that time, his girlfriend and future wife, Sharon Bechdolt, lived in Tahoe City and every weekend Daniels drove from Sacramento to see her. The Bechdolts have a long history in Tahoe City — owners of the old Tahoe Inn and the Tahoe City Golf Course — so when he married Sharon in 1960, he joined one of the oldest and most influential families on the North Shore. His father-in-law, Carl Bechdolt Jr., welcomed Daniels with open arms. When he 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. Daniels was interviewed that Monday and, without any training, was issued a gun, badge and patrol car the next day.

The newlyweds lived behind a gas station in Tahoe City and soon had three children. Daniels 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. in South Lake Tahoe, Daniels 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.

During the early 1960s, when Frank Sinatra owned the Cal Neva Casino, Daniels would often catch shows with Carl Bechdolt Jr. Carl loved to gamble, but always seemed to win his money back before he left the tables.

In 1964, Daniels 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, he 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.

In 1969, Daniels offered his assistance to Tahoe City’s legendary Swedish-born constable Harry Johanson, who had recently retired and then broken his hip. To help Johanson rehabilitate, Daniels moved into a room in Johanson’s house where he spent two years helping him get back on his feet. To this day Daniels says it was an honor to have spent time with the iconic Tahoe lawman.

Also in 1969, Daniels 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 Daniels still says the whole incident was blown out of proportion, he proudly laminated the original newspaper article for posterity.

In 1985, Daniels married Nora in a West Shore wedding where a rare, early September snowstorm chased everyone into a nearby boat storage facility. At Daniels’ surprise birthday party 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 Daniels and acknowledged his contributions to our understanding of the Tahoe fishery. Daniels 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.

Daniels’ ongoing contributions to the community and Tahoe science are second nature to him, whose favorite comment is: “It’s all part of the system.”