If you can tolerate a little cold weather mixed in with warm sunny days, a marked decrease in angler numbers and a trout population fattening up for a cold winter, this month and right up to the Nov. 15 season closing is the time to hit the Sierra Nevada.
Fall weather conditions can be a guessing game. Labor Day weekend saw temperatures hit the freezing mark at just about all locations above 6,500 feet. A few days later daytime temperatures were back to the 75 to 80 degree mark at the higher locations, with Bishop pushing 100. The end of September saw the pattern holding with daytime temperatures above normal.
The up ide is cooling night time water temperatures have stimulated the feeding urge for the local trout population. Trout that were holding in the 30-foot and deeper summertime thermoclines are moving into a shallower environment looking for food.
This fall will see low water levels on many lakes and reservoirs making the catching a little more challenging. Some of the smaller streams will probably be off the DFG stocking schedule around mid-October.
Locating a productive location will be a little more difficult. The “rock pile” on the south shore where you usually fill the stringer could be high and dry. Your favorite hole on your favorite creek might not be there.
Dropping water levels play another role in the fall challenge. I experienced this last week at Grant Lake. One late evening produced some of the best fly/bubble action of the season: nine browns and kamloop /rainbow hybrids--two kamloops kept for the dinner table.
The action motivated my better half for the next evening’s fishing. Same location-same technique and one strike, no fish. The water level had dropped another six inches.
My "bar room biology" theory is the constantly changing water level consistently changes the feeding zone. Bottom line is the same lures will still produce, and trout will still like the same bait, but you’re going to have to do a little searching to find out where they’re hanging out.
Historically, fall spawning brown trout make a good late season showing congregating near inlets, making an upstream run around the end of October. This year, they still will be gathering near stream inlets, but making it farther into the upstream spawning grounds could be a different story, especially for Grant Lake and Bridgeport Reservoir.
Because of low water, silt-laden deltas have formed at the inlets to both locations with the water depth only a few inches. It's going to be a difficult upstream spawning journey, and if the fish make it to the deeper water they'll be stressed. Go catch and release, no bait, barbless hooks if Rush Creek or the upper East Walker River are on your agenda.
Don’t expect to take a late-season limit by chasing the hatchery truck. Around mid-October, stocking will slow down and end by the first of November. The exception will be the year round open waters in the Owens Valley which will see plants right through the winter months.
Trout rancher Tim Alpers will continue to prime Inyo and Mono waters until the end of October. Look for plants of oversized rainbows and browns from Bishop area north to the West Walker River.
My favorite fall fish is the brook trout, providing nonstop catching and in my estimation are the finest of table fare. They aren't heavyweights, usually measured by inches rather than pounds. And they readily take any offering, fly, lure or bait.
Unfortunately, birth control is not practiced by brookies and they tend to overpopulate. Hence, too many fish for the food supply resulting in a stunted, big head, small body catch in many back country waters. With a few exceptions, you're not doing the fishery any favors when it comes to catch and release. Thinning out the population can make for a healthier brook trout environment.
Roadside waters aren't the most productive locations for brook trout.
However there are scores of small lakes within an easy one day in and out hike. Look for the fish schooling near inlet and outlet areas. There's a special Eastern Sierra limit on brookies. You're allowed 10 fish under 10-inches in addition to a regular 5 fish.
My favored locations are the Gaylor Lake basin on Tioga Pass with its four small lakes and Blue Lake above Virginia Lakes. In the Mammoth area, Heart, Crystal T.J. and Barrett lakes are a good bet. If Bridgeport is on your agenda check out Green, East and West lakes.
From the local standpoint, October until the season ends is the best time of the year. The summertime crowds are history, the weather is tolerable and the brilliant fall colors of the Aspen trees rival the best that New England has to offer.