Martin Strelneck's Blog

Martin Strelneck has been entrenched in the Eastern Sierra for almost four decades. A residet of Lee Vining with his wife Beth,  former Mono County Sheriff and writer for the local newspapers in the regions, the avid hunter and fishermen  has served as WON’s Eastern Sierra Field Reporter and columnist for  almost two decades.
Water ’n trout plants
Just what kind of Eastern Sierra season will we have? Hard to know what nature might bring, but the opener looks, well, snowless. Lot of access, dry camping, beautiful scenery, lot of hungry fish, planted and holdover.

March is gone, and the April 25 opener is coming. Last month saw high country weather in the Eastern Sierra more like June than early spring. And it wasn't a one-day event in March, as the same weather profile has been consistent. That is, 80-degree-plus days in the Owens Valley and high 70s in the high country. And little or no snow.

The big question is how this fourth year of drought and minimal snow will impact the upcoming Sierra trout season. Bottom line is the trout will still be in local waters but conditions may be challenging and requiring a degree of adjustment as compared to past seasons.

On the plus side, early season access to all waters, including high-elevation, drive-to locations, won't be an issue. Campground locations will be high and dry with backcountry locations seeing early season access. All lakes below the 8,000-foot mark were ice-free by late February.

With the warming late winter water temperatures, the holdover trout population will be active, on a summer feeding profile, slamming baits and lures and flies in early morning and late evening hours. In other words, get up early opening day. And fish the evening bite. I live up here year-around, and last week after the evening sun was off Grant Lake. The hatch was on and the lake was alive with surface feeders.

So where are we on the trout planting business? Not as bad as you might think. Last season saw the Desert Springs Trout Farm, based in Merrill, Oregon, fill the considerable void created when Inland Aquaculture (Alpers rainbows) terminated operations. Feedback from marina operators and anglers has been positive. The Desert Springs operation is top-notch.

Mono County and the Town of Mammoth Lakes Fishing Enhancement Programs have signed on for the same program this season, which will provide season-long stocking of heavyweight rainbows. In addition, private landings and resorts will provide additional fish with initial indications that numbers of fish planted will be increased over last year.

Coming online this season will be 40,000 pounds plus of Enhancement Program Desert Springs heavyweights. Private funding will generate an additional several thousand pounds. In addition, in early April the Mono County Fisheries Commission just funded an additional 9,600 pounds for stocking by the end of June. So those quality fish will be out there, and the holdovers will be in a feeding mode and hefty with a longer feeding season with ice-free waters.

On the other side of the coin, DFW stocking program has taken a budget hit.

This season will see a significant statewide reduction in stocked numbers of catchable rainbows. For Inyo and Mono counties, last season saw 744,507 pounds, while this year the projection is 352,000 pounds. Still in the planning stage is the stocking schedule which probably will see “frequency reductions” over past seasons.

Because of the drought conditions, late summer and fall could find some smaller streams taken off the planting schedule and drought-induced low-lake levels will impact private boat launching at some locations. However, operators are adjusting to the problem.

An example: If Bridgeport Reservoir is faced with a high and dry marina, Marina operator Jeff Wenger will be basing his operation off the beach area near the dam, a project that worked well last season. In other words, there will be plenty of water, but if you bring a boat to launch, call ahead to the marina for updates on services.

Icefishing: Early season ice-fishing has become a tradition with many anglers on high elevation lakes. Don't count on it this year unless you plan on walking on water. In the words of John Webb at Virginia Lakes Resort who is at an elevation of 10,000 feet, "It ain't going to happen."

Of course, some things will feel the same. The brisk morning, the beautiful scenery, crowded tackle shops, the smell of tall pines and fresh coffee. And Quagga mussels. Looking at Crowley Lake, LADWP inspections will be again mandatory for boats targeting the water-- no inspection, no fishing. Pre-launching inspections will be available at the Von's parking lot in Bishop and the Crowley Lake Fish Camp.

So, where do we stand going into the opener? Unless we see an Arctic blast, conditions should be ideal for the April 25 opener and during the summer months. Fall and late season could see some drought-induced issues, but not to the point of impacting the catching in the majority of area lakes. Shortly before the opening, WON will be updating conditions, including stocking location dates and numbers.

* * *

Martin Streleck has been WON’s Eastern Sierra field reporter for nearly three decades. He resides in Lee Vining.

Southern Sierra Opener March 7
Diaz Lake Derby set for same day

Anglers looking to jump start the Sierra trout fishing season will be taking to the waters of the Southern Owens Valley Saturday, March 7, targeting waters marked by the Southern Sierra trout opener.

The small streams from Independence Creek south on the west side of Hwy. 395 are the target along with the year round open waters of Diaz Lake.

Barring any last-minute weather related problems, anglers can look for stocked DFW catchable running ½-pound and better.

Because of ongoing drought conditions stream stocking locations will depend on water levels with the possibility some of the smaller waters could be off the menu. Consistent producers, even with low water conditions, have been the Sand Traps on Lone Pine and Georges creeks along with Independence and Lone Pine streams.

Highlighting the early opener is the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce annual trout derby headquartered at Diaz Lake, a few miles south of Lone Pine. Catches from any waters covered by the opener can qualify for prizes including fishing tackle, lodging and outdoor gear provided by local merchants.

Prizes will be awarded in several divisions for the heaviest catch, heaviest stringer, and tagged fish. In addition the derby features a "Bling Bogey " prize, $800 cash for a winning weight unknown until derby closing time.

Shortly before the derby lake is scheduled to be primed with 800 pounds of DFW broomstick rainbows running in the 2- to 5-pound range in addition to ½-pound and better stockers.

On site derby registration at the lake runs from 6:30 and to noon, $10 for adults and $5 for kids. For complete information contact the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce, (760) 876-4444,

Wait and See
Opening day, April 25, is still a little distance down the road, but there seems to be a significant anxiety level in some of the angling community focusing on the announced cuts in the DFW trout rearing budget.

Bottom line: From the opener to around July, it's going to be business as usual. Right now, what happens to the hatchery program beginning in July with a new fiscal budget is anybody's guess.

In the meantime it looks like it's going to be a great opener. Early season DFW stockers will be the same as past years, averaging a half-pound and better. Mono County trophy trout programs are up and running with early indicators private operators are going to increase purchasing numbers of trophy trout.

With the closure of the Inland Aquaculture facility in Northern Mono County, the Desert Springs Trout farm will be going into the second year of supplying heavyweight trout for local enhancement programs.

For Mono County's and Mammoth Lakes trophy trout enhancement program’s 40,000 pounds of heavyweights are on the agenda, targeting 25 local waters. In addition, several thousand additional pounds will be funded by private resorts and landings.

Shortly before the opener, Desert Springs will be stocking Mono County waters with 3.200 pounds of rainbows running up to around the 8-pound class. Locations stocked will depend on any last-minute ice conditions.

Northern Mono County waters, West Walker River and Bridgeport Reservoir, received a shot in the arm late December with a donation from Desert Springs of 1,200 pounds of brown trout running close to a pound.

"I couldn't be happier with the program," said Andrew Jones at Silver Lake Resort. "I didn't hear any complaints last season. The quality of the plants was great and they didn't miss a beat stocking. This year we're going to double up on our funding in addition to the county program."

By way of background, the Desert Springs Trout Farm, based at Sumner Lake Oregon, has been in operation for more than 20-years. Their stocking menu includes 40 waters for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife along with numerous waters in Northern California.

On another subject, there is the question of “where's winter?” January ended as one of the driest on record. Early season storms that dumped significant moisture at other locations in the state bypassed the high country. This past weekend saw (hopefully) a change in the weather pattern with two days of rain at lower elevations and high-elevation snow.

Many lake and stream levels are low. However, looking back on my 50 years in the Sierra there's still time for water. The year 1969 was a similar year until the Presidents Day holiday. Mother Nature changed her mind, and snowfall closed down the county and by spring there was more than enough water for the trout population.

The "March Miracle" in the early 80's changed the water picture from bleak to overflowing in a one-month period. Right now it's a question of wait and see.

Owens Gorge gets its due

Famed fishery guaranteed  higher flows

After 24 years of litigation It had to happen eventually, and now it can be said, the famed Gorge of the Owens River in the Eastern Sierra is on the road to recovery.

 A slow road, and a bumpy one, but a road nonetheless.

Following more than two decades of studies and negotiations, Jan.7 saw the Mono County Superior Court approve an agreement involving Mono County, DFW and LADWP focused on restoration of a 10 miles section of the Owens River Gorge below Crowley Lake. The court action follows litigation that had been initiated in 1991 after the previously dry gorge section was re-watered because of a rupture in the DWP aqueduct system.

The long range benefit of the agreement will provide anglers with an additional dimension for productive Eastern Sierra wild brown trout angling. It is already a fishery best utilized in the cooler months of the spring and fall and can produce 50-fish days. Not trophy fish, but there are huge numbers of small, eager brown trout in the pools.

A little background:DWP'S Crowley Lake dam was completed in the late 1940s. At that time until 1953 the Owens River continued to flow downstream below the dam and was recognized as a premier brown trout water. August of 1953 saw completion of DWP hydroelectric power plants in the downstream gorge.

The end result de-watering of the river and the death of thousands of trout. In 1991, with the pipeline rupture, water flow returned to the river. With the re-birth of the river flow, Mono County filed a lawsuit citing DWP's requirement to maintain the water flow under statutory provisions of Fish and Wildlife code 5937.A temporary agreement was reached establishing an interim stream flow and the re-watered section was stocked withbrown trout.

Fish and Wildlife code 5937 was the backbone of litigation that resulted in the court ordered restoration of the Lower Rush Creek fishery, below Grant Lake dam in the late 1980s. Provisions of the code set forth a dam owners responsibility "to allow sufficient water to pass at all times through a dam to keep in good condition any fish that may be planted or exist below the dam."

The interim water flow was set at 36 cfs and has been at that level during the more than two decades while studies and negations were being conducted. The river became a popular location for the "off the beaten path" angler looking for a less crowded environment and the challenge of taking wild brown trout. However, it became apparent the interim flow was not sufficient to maintain the water in a "healthy" condition. Siltation was a significant issue, filling deeper pools and impacting spawning gravels.

Under conditions of the agreement, levels have been set for an increased base flow along with periodic flushing flows with the objective of improving and restoring aquatic and riparian habitat. Fish ladders will be installed to allow free movement of the trout population.

All that said, restoration of the fishery will not be a "overnight" scenario. They never are.

"Implementation will require modification and reinforcement of existing DMP power facilities," said DWP Public information Officer Chris Plakos. "The estimated cost is $5.5 million to prevent potential damage to maintain long-term power production. Initially the base flow will be increased to 40 cfs based on results of the studies."

By way of footnote, the agreement focuses on that 10-mile section of river downstream from the upper gorge power plant to Pleasant Valley Reservoir.Upstream 9 miles from the power plant to Crowley Lake dam the flow will remain at the existing level, maximum 16 cfs,t o protect habitat for the endangered Owens Vally Tui chub.

"We have come a long way in bringing back a substantial fishery to the way it was," said DFW Bishop based biologist Steve Parmenter who spearheaded to project from its outset. He should get some sort of award for that after 24 years.

Martin Strelneck is a long-time Sierra resident, ouitdoorsman, outdoor writer and Sierra region field reporter for WON and three-term Mono County sheriff. He is now retired and living in Lee Vining.

Must be the big fish!
With the exception of a handful of waters governed by special regulations, season end is two weeks down the road, and it’s been a positive year for the high country.

Early season concerns focusing on shut down of the Alpers trophy trout program and impacts from a three-year drought didn’t develop into major issues with the year closing on a positive note.

Stepping in to fill the Alpers void, Mono County, Town of Mammoth Lakes and a handful of private resort operators finalized agreements with Desert Springs Trout Farm, based in Merrill Oregon, to stock local waters with heavyweight rainbows. End result? Close to 40,000 pounds of heavyweight rainbows, in addition to DFW plants, were on the menu for this year’s anglers.

Going into the final days, DFW stocking for catchable rainbows has ended for the year. Oct. 30 marks the final day for Desert Springs stocking with Mammoth Lakes basin waters, Mary, Mamie and George along with Convict Lake on the agenda.

“We have signed agreements for next year’s stocking,” said Ethan Negus at Desert Springs Trout Farm. “We’re looking at the same numbers of fish, running to 5 pounds and larger. The program worked very well this year and we hope to continue down the road. We will begin stocking April 20 for next season.”

Bottom line this season there was no shortage of heavyweight rainbows, all you had to do was check the WON weekly Sierra report. The photos tell the tale.

Looking at local waters, if you like a little more elbow room, angler numbers are down, but there’s still fish for the catching. Check out the inlet and outlet areas for fall spawning brown and rainbows. And if you’re into light tackle action, a short hike to off the road brook trout waters are good for non stop action.

And then there’s the clan of anglers looking for a wall hanging trophy brown trout. Motivated by spawning hormones, trophy class brown trout begin staging near stream inlets and outlets at a good number of lakes—and they are heavyweights ! Last season saw Pomona angler Paul Gonzales, during the final days of the season, nail down one of the heaviest catches in several decades with a 20-pound, 8-ounce catch from Rush Creek, a short distance below Silver Lake.

Last week, Long Beach angler Timothy Korgie kicked off the brown trout action with a 10-pound, 9-ounce brown taken from Lower Twin Lake. My picks for trophy producing locations this year would be Upper or Lower Twin Lakes along with Grant and Silver lakes.

An annual rite of fall is priming Crowley Lake for next season. Last week saw the 80,000 pounds of Coleman rainbows hit the water with Eagle Lake rainbows and cutthroats next in line.

On the down side fall weather is taking on all the appearances of a continued drought. Late this summer water levels at all lakes was at lower levels and many stream locations were reduced to trickles. Hopes were that a predicted El Nino pattern would impact the high country with heavy snow. Earlier in the year, weather service predictions were for a strong moisture-generating El Nino. Bad news is most recent predictions have downgraded from strong to weak.

For the winter Sierra angler, the year round open Owens Valley, Lower Owens River and Pleasant Valley Reservoir target. Word from DFW is the locations will continue to be on the stocking agenda on an alternating schedule.To the north, fly fishing will be focusing on the Upper Owens River, Hot Creek along with the East and West Walker rivers. Check the special winter regulations for these waters.

If you’re planning a end of the season trip to the high country, check ahead for resort or campground status. Many locations have closed until next spring.

Over the past 17 years I’ve become a sounding board for anglers, both visitors and locals, expressing complaints focusing on the fishing scene, sometimes justified, sometimes just whining. My only comment is when it comes to this past season, it’s been a quiet year. Must be the big fish.

Page 1 of 10 First | Previous | Next | Last