Mike Stevens – KNEE DEEP

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019
The cookie-cutter Fred Hall Show excuse

Sierra bullets: Opener and beyond
This time of year, with the Eastern Sierra trout opener looming, there are plenty of topics bouncing around in my head that are worth mentioning heading. While a full article could be written on most of them, here are the essential guts on a few that should come in handy.


— At the Fred Hall Show in Long Beach, Mono County Economic Development Man­ager Jeff Simpson said, “I expect everything along the Highway 395 corridor to be ice-free in time for the Opener.” At that point in March, the snowpack was at 158 percent of normal for that point on the calendar. Two years ago (“Miracle Winter”) the snowpack ranged from 180- to 200-percent of normal depending on where it was measured.

— Looking again (a month later) at snow/water equivalents for April 2019 versus April 2017 in the Southern Sierra (which, for these intents and purposes, includes our Eastern Sierra) was at 160 percent of normal for April 3 and 153 percent at that point in 2019. That’s only about a 7-inch difference. So, it’s pretty safe to say you could flashback to your 2017 trips and look at the advantages you had and challenges you faced, and plan your 2019 trips accordingly.

— For me, I went in mid-June that year (and will again this year along with some later trips), and I had to work pretty hard to find biters. When I did, I piled them up and was releasing double-digit numbers of trout over several spots fished. The key that season for my creek success was finding spots that normally get pounded during normal years but were vacant due to the whitewater visual that made it appear unfishable. I’d explore the adjacent holes hidden from casual view, or flooded spots that are normally dry land, and throw Sierra Slammers jigs or Mini Swims into deeper water behind obstructions and small pockets of calm around the fringe of the whitewater. The fishing in those spots ended up being so good, that we’d return to the same holes several days in a row, and it never slowed down. Also, it was primarily brown trout we were catching. Some of those spots were so tight, that my brother and I would alternate every time one of use would catch one, because there was no room for us both to hit it at the same time.

— I’m no fish biologist, but I went ahead and assumed the way-above-average spike in brown trout numbers was due to the high flows and low water temps. Trout don’t have calendars, so, it must have just “felt” like spring there in mid-June.

— Based on the winter we had, you can pretty much bank on any backcountry lake above 10,000 feet to be inaccessible until late May or early June. This could tilt one way or the other based on how the weather is for the rest of April through May, and even if it’s iced out, all that snowmelt could spell questionable trail conditions and getting there could be an issue.

— Mono County will spend $100,000 on fish stocking in 21 bodies of water. Most of them will be in the 3- to 8-pound range, and they are coming from Desert Springs Hatchery in Oregon. That outfit took over as the supplier of “premium” trout a few years ago when Alpers trout became a thing of the past. Desert Springs used to supply the eggs that ultimately became Alpers trout. The DFW will also pepper the area with their own trout, so there will be no shortage of fish to catch at any time this season.

— Saddlebag Lake has been purchased by the owners of Tioga Pass Resort, and Saddlebag will be open this season on a limited basis. The good news is, one of the services that will be available is the popular water taxi that brings anglers from one end of the lake to the other where they can access the 20 Lakes Basin loop. Tioga Pass Resort, however, will not open in 2019 as they continue to rebuild after the damage they took on from the big winter. Speaking of snow, this winter was no slouch as you probably know, and that means we’re looking at mid-June (safe bet) for Tioga Pass to completely open, along with the partial-dirt road-turnoff to Saddlebag.

— Also according to Jeff Simpson, the DFW is going to start mixing in diploid trout in their fish stocking from Conway Summit to Bishop. These are fish that have the ability to reproduce, so eventually it could result in some natural reproduction to go along with all the stocking. Most stocked trout are triploid, meaning they cannot reproduce. The reason for stocking those is primarily because they don’t want them spawning with wild fish in order to protect genetics, and triploid fish grow to stockable size more quickly.

— Convict Lake management is kicking in $25,000 for fish stocking above and beyond the standard trout plants the lake is already slated to receive from the state. That means, from Opening Day until Nov. 15, there really won’t be a bad time to target Convict.

— This will be my sixth Opener as far as covering it for WON, and I have noticed a couple trends, and this is regardless of weather. Number one, you don’t have to get out there before the crack of dawn to do well. I’ve yet to hear “the bite was great from 6 to 7:30 a.m. and then it shut off!” It’s actually quite the opposite: “We got here at 6 but got most of our bites between 8 and 11.” Yes, I know you’re pumped and you’re going to get out there rockin’ a headlamp anyway, just don’t feel like you have to.

Also — and this might be upsetting to many of you — bait and trolling rules opening weekend. That’s not to say you can’t catch Fishmas trout chucking minijigs or throwing lures, but when the dust settles and I take a look at the full catch logs (list of the bigger fish caught those days and what they ate) as well as my own notes, generally speaking, bait and trolling does the most damage, and it’s usually not even close.

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