The Eastern Sierra's general trout season ended on Nov. 15 and until April, hardcore anglers and those looking for a change from the urban trout fishing scene will be focusing on the year round waters of the Owens Valley and specially regulated streams at the higher elevations.
Of course, season heavyweight honors go to southland angler Paul Gomez for his 20-pound, 8-ounce brown taken mid-November from Rush Creek. His trophy was the heaviest June Lake Loop catch since 1991 when Gary Leese weighed in a 20-pound, 3-ounce from Grant Lake.
Paul's catch came from the popular stream a short distance below Silver Lake. Theory among the locals is during the late fall spawn, the big browns move up from Grant Lake for their reproduction ritual. I can remember many times, after the season closed, jump shooting ducks late November spooking torpedo class browns along the stream.
The historic big brown waters of Upper and Lower Twin Lakes ended the season with a handful of respectable catches around the 10-pound mark, but nothing to make the front page. Early in the season these waters produced nine browns from 10 pounds to 17 pounds;. Maybe it's time for a slot limit if we expect continued catches of trophy class browns.
Looking at the rainbow trout picture catches up to the 10-pound were a weekly event, thanks to Inland Aquaculture plants of Alpers rainbows along with DFW broodstock. Unlike other years, very few complaints surfaced regarding DFW catchable stocking. However, several comments were made relating to the smaller size of the plants.
One reason cited was crowding at the hatcheries in order to meet numbers for stocking quotas. I have heard that next season our stocking quotas may see a 10 percent reduction. Nothing is set in concrete at this point but a benefit of this could be larger plants similar to those filling heavy stringers two years back.
Last week, the DFW stocked right around 300,000 fingerling and sub-catchable rainbows in Crowley Lake. These will be the bread and butter fish for the next opener along with a healthy population of larger carryover fish. Last week, a drive along the lake's north arm, Green Banks and mouth of the Owens River, angler numbers resembled a "mini" opening day. Floattubers were scoring good numbers of rainbows in the 12- to 16-inch range. Fisheries biologist tell me these fish will be in the 2-pound range by the opener.
Checking with area tackle shops and resorts and from personal observation, end-of-the-season angler numbers were down during the final weeks. It wasn't the weather. With the exception of an occasional "weak" cold front moving through, daytime temperatures at the 7,500-foot level were in the low 60s and very little wind.
Theories of a low turnout range from the condition of the general economy to the Southern California trout scene swinging into high gear. One other factor to consider, DFW and Inland Aquaculture terminate high country stocking late October except for the Owens Valley. It appears a good number of anglers have become dependent on "truck trout" when it comes to planning their Sierra vacation. Shortly before closing day, privately funded Alpers rainbows up to the 8-pound mark were stocked in June and Grant lakes and will be showing on the stringers opening day.
It's mid-November now and precipitation has been nonexistent except for a few showers. Right now, water conditions for next season are a major concern. Lake levels are low. For the first time in my 46 years of living in the high country, islands could be seen forming in Crowley Lake. Lack of water and resource management resulted on South Lake and Lake Sabrina being extremely low,and were taken off the DFW stocking schedule, resulting in the landings closing late August. The spinoff was that fish earmarked for those low-level lakes were stocked in the Bishop Creek drainage, making for non-stop catching.
It's still early for the winter season with December, January and February big snow months if mother Nature cooperates. Bottom line, there's going to be fishable water, but conditions could be questionable.
Looking down the road, contrary to past years, the DFW will be stocking the year-round waters of the Owens Valley through next year's opener and plants will alternate between the Owens River and Pleasant Valley Reservoir, depending on access. On the river, look for a mixture of catchables and occasional heavyweight brood stock fish at locations from directly below Tinnemeha Reservoir north to the Hwy. 6 bridge crossing. As in past years,there will be mega plants shortly before the Blake Jones derby early March.
New on the upcoming agenda will be an additional water included on the Mono County year round fishing menu. The West Walker River joins Hot Creek, East Walker River and Upper Owens River as a special regulation water. Effective March 1, until opening day the river will be catch and release, no possession, barbless lure or fly. After the opener general regulations will dictate until Nov. 15 , then back to the special regulations until the next season opener.
On a positive note, in early November, the DWF and California anglers prevailed in a lawsuit litigated in the U.S. District Court challenging the stocking of hatchery reared trout alleging the stocking program was a violation of the Clean Water Act by "adding pollutants. "I can assure you, if the case had gone wrong, there would have been major problems for the stocking program for our state as we know it today. And on another positive note, 2013 was another year where quagga mussels, Willow Fly Catchers, New Zealand mud snails and whirling disease failed to impact high country angling.
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Martin Strelneck is a long-time WON field reporter and columnist living in Lee Vining.