St. Croix


Mike Stevens – KNEE DEEP

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Friday, September 20, 2019
The Weekly Fishing Form

Falling up
I have long acknowledged that fall is the best time to be in the Eastern Sierra, but I have only done it a few times. It’s just harder to get up there post-Labor Day when you’ve got three kids between 2 and 8, and your wife’s a teacher, but it didn’t take more than that first visit to recognize the draw of the season in those few opportunities.

It starts with the same “before school gets out or after Labor Day” rule-of-thumb that applies to so many things “outdoor destination” and means less people. With a quarter-century of Eastern Sierra fishing in my rear-view mirror, I’m used to seeing, working around or completely avoiding packed shorelines, stuffed trailheads, gaunt­lets of rods through campground creeks and a longer wait at Mammoth Brewing.

THIS LAKE MARY rainbow ate a Thomas Buoyant on a fall evening in 2018. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

The 180-degree reversal of those factors that occurs as early as the first week of September is so obvious, it’s a shock to a trout angler’s system if not downright eerie. All those perfect holes, pools, runs and undercuts that get salmon egged to death all summer are now yours for the casting now that the campground’s a ghost town due to frigid nighttime temps or to them (the dates vary) being formally closed.

I remember exploring the likes of Bishop Creek, Convict Creek and Rock Creek in October and noticing I wasn’t necessarily running across stocker rainbows fresh out of the truck lined up like cordwood, but the fish I was catching were now trending toward the German brown variety. Also in the mix were semi-seasoned rainbows savvy enough to evade the aforementioned gauntlet: full finned and wary but now chock full of aggression brought on by signs that winter is indeed coming.

Brown trout and rainbows that will now punch way above their weight class. I’m all in.

Historically, Department of Fish and Wildlife stocking programs call it a year sometime in September even though the general season runs through Nov. 15. So, previously, you were only looking for hungry browns and holdover rainbows, but now, local-tourism management

types in trout-dependent areas throughout the Highway 395 corridor have banded together with resorts and marinas to throw down their own cash for not only additional trout stocking, but planting upgraded top-shelf rainbows in the 2-pound to trophy-sized range to keep the party going well into fall. This is going on in the waters of Bishop Creek Canyon, Mammoth Lakes, “21 bodies of water” further up the road all the way to Bridgeport. Convict Lake also buys its own supplemental trout, and other programs like the Bridgeport Fish Enhancement Foundation are also in the self-funded trout stocking game.

ONE OF 20 OR SO South Lake rainbows that fell victim to a Sierra Slammers jig thrown by Brian Stevens on the new Daiwa Kage trout rod. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

The DFW isn’t exactly sitting it out either. While stocking might come to an end well before the fishing is over, the department has also resumed stocking diploid (as in, trout with the ability to make more trout) from Bishop all the way to Conway Summit.

Basically, while the fall is rightfully regarded as a time to target big brown trout, there is now — more than ever — plenty of fish to catch for anglers of all levels of experience.

Even after the end of the general season was extended from Oct. 31 to Nov. 15, a substantial amount of operations including marinas, cabin resorts and campgrounds do shut down well ahead of the closer. It’s something to think about before planning a trip in terms of getting your lodging ducks in a row, but with the dramatic decrease in foot traffic, there’s always places available to hang your hat.

Also, folks love to beat the “you never know!” drum to death when it comes to weather in the region even in summer, but it’s even more a concern (personally, I look forward to the unknown nature of, well, Mother Nature) in the fall where inclement weather means more than an afternoon thunderstorm or out-of-nowhere snow in June.

Try waking up in October to heavy snow blowing in sideways. The thing about that situation is, there’s always a backup plan: retreating downhill as far as you need to go to get out of it. When it happened to me, I just made a day of it and left Mammoth and shot up Bishop Creek Canyon. The weather was in the mid-40s but it was not snowing or blowing, so I just fished through the endless ghost-town campgrounds and had a grand ol’ time.

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