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.
Opening Day Conditions A Mixed Bag
Waters Are Primed, weather big question

JUNE LAKE — Going into four days before Saturdays opener, high country waters are in prime conditions, but Mother Nature has thrown a curve ball with unsettled weather.

Long range weather predictions are calling for erodes of rain and snow showers over opening weekend. On the other hand, in the past 55-years I've never seen a little cold and wind causing lockjaw with the trout population.

Overall, with a few exceptions, despite four years of drought water conditions are excellent thanks to this winters near average snowfall. All waters below 8,000-foot have been ice free since mid-March. The majority of landings and resorts are in full operation and roads are in good condition. Barring any major storm issues, the majority of campgrounds will be up and running.

If ice fishing is on the agenda, conditions could be iffy. Some waters have been in a thawing mode with the past week of warm weather. Others have remained ice covered, but are in a thawing mode making for hazardous conditions. In the words of John Webb at Virginia Lake Resort, "I wouldn't go out on them."

The Virginia Lakes Road is scheduled to open along with the Rock Creek Lake Road. State Route 120 (Tioga Pass Road) is on the opening schedule for early this past week as far as the Yosemite National Park entrance station, and closed in the park. The Mammoth Lakes Basin road is on schedule for a May 10 opener and is clear to Lower Twin Lake, which is ice free.

Looking at the low water picture, Bridgeport Reservoir Marina is off the launching site agenda with only a few feet of water in the basin. The marina and RV park will be operating with rental boats available at the beach area. The only launching location will be at the "Bath Tub," a short distance west of the dam. This location has proven adequate for the past couple of years.

Grant Lake is on the low side with the improved launch site high and dry. However, operator Doug Smith advises launching for smaller craft at the landing could be possible with a four wheel drive vehicle. The RV park is in full operation.

Lake Sabrina is scheduled to be up and running. Lake Sabrina Boat Landing will have rental boats and the cafe will be in operation.

South Lake remains very low. The landing will be closed with only access to fishable water by hiking to the lake.

Stream levels have been on the rise this week. The West Walker River was flowing high and off color late last week. The Lower Owens River in the Bishop area was high because of releases from Crowley Lake. Opening day status is unknowns at this time.

For updated information contact the National Weather Service,;

Road information — CalTrans (800) 427-7621.

Campgrounds — Inyo National Forest, Conway Summit south — (760) 873-2500.

Toiyabe National Forest, Conway Summit north — (760) 932-7070.

One more month
What happened to El Niño? After all the early winter hype we ended up with an El No-No. The extra firewood won't spoil and the new snow blower will be dormant until next winter. Even though we didn't have an epic snowfall, we had a good snowfall, lot more than the past four years — a plus for the trout population and anglers. Mid-March found the snowpack right around 100 percent of normal for this time of year.

By the third week in March, I couldn't find any lake below the 8,000-foot level that was ice-covered. Campground locations were high and dry and any ice on the highway was history.

It may not be a good year for the ice fishing enthusiasts. My information is, some of the lakes around the 10,000-foot level were beginning to show "blue spots" by mid-March, a sign of thawing from the bottom upward. The one location that hasn't failed "yet" is the Virginia Lakes. Last year, even with the drought conditions, opening weekend anglers were scoring catches, along with wet trousers and cold feet.

But most anglers coming up are looking to stay high, dry and warm. It should be a great opener at the lower elevations for those folks. Due to the calendar and the leap year, April 30 is one week later than last year’s kickoff, improving the chances for comfortable weather conditions. But to maintain my credibility as a resident up here for four decades, there's always the escape clause of "barring any last minute storms."

Like last year. Prior to the opener, sunny skies, open lakes. A snowstorm slammed the upper elevations the night before opening day, two feet of snow fell all night, then more on opening morning with heavy snow on the ground and it was still falling by midmorning. As crazy as it seems for those coming up from SoCal, the beautiful white stuff suitable for a winter wonderland postcard scene was gone from the streets by Sunday.

At the lower elevations, there's not going to be a shortage of trout. DFW transports have been on the road since late March. Desert Springs Trout Farm will be rolling probably a week or more before the first day, again "barring any last-minute storms."

Early season lake levels are still on the low side at many locations. Boat launching at Bridgeport Reservoir, Lundy and Grant lakes will be a challenge. South Lake definitely is off the list but has a good chance of recovering this year once the runoff kicks in.

Opening weekend, anglers will find stream levels on the low side unless we see a runoff-generating warm spell.

Depending on the weather, it's doubtful Tioga and Sonora passes will be open. There is the possibility the Tioga Pass Road will be clear to the Yosemite National Park gate, providing access to Ellery and Tioga lakes. However, the chances the Saddlebag Lake Road being cleared are minimal.

Check WON and (my blog) for last-minute update the week before the opener and updated conditions.

Sierra’s new attitude
On the heels of four years of drought conditions, Mother Nature has opted for a change. Going into late February, the high country snowpack for the Sierra Nevada is right around 125 percent of normal, and there’s plenty of time for more. It’s a good feeling for anglers, and concessionaires, as the season unfolds.

The spin-off, of course, is that nagging issues caused by low water levels will be history in 2016. Launch ramps at popular locations will be up and running along with higher stream flows making for productive fish holding habitat.

Bottom line? All signs point to a banner year for high country waters.

THE FRED HALL LONG BEACH row of Eastern Sierra concessionaires of lodges and lake marinas is a perfect place to get the lowdown on the upcoming trout season.

At this time, there’s a possibility high country anglers will see a 20-percent increase in poundage for DFW catchable rainbows averaging two fish to the pound. Conditions at high country hatcheries are improving. Water sources at Hot Creek hatchery and Fish Springs hatcheries are showing signs of increasing making for more favorable production levels.

Looking at heavyweight catches, Desert Springs trout farm is back on the trophy trout program. Mono County is on line for 25,000 pounds of rainbows weighing in to around 10 pounds. There could be additional funding for increasing the numbers. Mammoth Lakes will be stocking several thousand pounds of trophies destined for lakes Mary, George and Mamie along with Twin Lakes.

In addition, several private landings will be stocking additional poundage of oversized Desert Springs rainbows.

For updated conditions, check out the Eastern Sierra section at the Fred Hall Show this week. No one will benefit more than The Bishop Drainage at South, North and Sabrina lakes.

At the Hall show, all the Inyo, Mono County and Mam­moth Lakes tourism departments, along with the Bishop Chamber of Commerce, will be on hand with the latest conditions along with staff providing predictions for potential “hot spots” and what’s in the plans for the upcoming season.

Looking at current conditions, Bishop-area anglers are have seen productive catching in between storms thanks to DFW and plants along with Bishop Chamber of Commerce funded Desert Spring rainbows. Feb. 15 saw Desert Springs targeting the Owens River and Pleasant Valley Reservoir with 1,600 pounds of rainbow running in the 1- to 3-pound class. DFW hit the reservoir with a load of oversized brood stock rainbows running up to the 5-pound mark.

“Early birds” will be taking to high country waters the first two weeks in March. Streams in the Southern Owens Valley, from Independence Creek south will see the Southern Sierra opening day March 5 with the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce hosting the annual derby the same day.

March 12 will the see the year-round open waters in the Bishop area, Owens River and Pleasant Valley Reservoir primed with heavyweight rainbow and brown trout for the Bishop Chamber of Commerce’s annual Blake Jones Derby. Several thousand dollars in prizes will be up for grabs.

Southern Sierra season ‘begins’
Although the Sierra Nevada fishing season never completely closes, 90 percent of it shuts down Nov. 15, and reopens the final Saturday in April.

The big bash. But the Early Opener precedes it, and it’s a great chance for a fun weekend, a derby and a good excuse to maybe add a few days of High Sierra fun by continuing onto Bishop and the Lower Owens River and the Pleasant Valley Reservoir that are among our year-round waters. It’s been a great “off-season” for those and other year-round waters, between storms, of course.

LONE PINE CREEK’S sand trap will be primed with DFW catchables for the March 5 Southern Sierra opener.

So, put it on your calendar, March 5, where the Southern Owens Valley waters from Independence Creek south along the west side of Hwy. 395 will be the target for early-season high country trout anglers. For several decades, the “Southern Sierra Trout Season” has jump-started the late-April general trout opener. The weekend has witnessed increasing numbers of anglers looking for a change of pace from the urban trout fishing scene.

Productive locations in past years have been the Grays Meadow area on Independence Creek, Lone Pine Creek and the upper section of Cottonwood Creek and a handful of smaller streams.

Sand Traps on Georges and Lone Pine creeks are consistent producers. These are oversized “ponds” providing easy shoreline access, located near the lower sections of both waters marking input locations for the LADWP aqueduct system.

Thanks to the return of winter storms, water levels are much improved compared to the past few drought years. Our state DFW will be stocking most locations shortly before the opener, with planters running two to the pounds and heavier.

An added bonus for the opener is the annual Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce trout derby located at Diaz Lake, a short distance south of Lone Pine. Diaz will be primed with DFW catchables along with heavyweights running 2 pounds and better. Prizes will be awarded for a variety of categories. In addition, four tagged trophy-class rainbows will be worth $100, $50 and $25 will be on the menu. And a Blind Bogey catch will be good for $800. That’s pretty good. I might enter for a shot at that!

In addition to Diaz Lake, catches from any of the early opening day waters are eligible for the derby.

For information on the events and camping beside Diaz Lake and lodging in Lone Pine, contact the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce, (760) 876-4444, There’s a lot of fun things to do, including the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery, the docent center for the historic mountain, the Manzanar Museum and the Museum of Western Film History. Make it a family weekend and get out of town and breathe the fresh air and check out the historic Alabama Hills, the scene of many a Western movie.

Looking back, ahead
The final days of the high country trout season that concluded Nov. 15 was a carbon copy of a good number of traditional Eastern Sierra openers: wind, snow and cold. End result? Last-minute trophy hunters on local waters were on the scarce side.

The late-season scoreboard for wall hanging brown trout was zero. It seems that the early season has taken the spotlight for heavyweight catches with a half dozen heavyweights, 10 pounds or better, making the scales the first couple of weeks after opener.

The one bright spot for the opener was several rainbows in the 7-pound range and better making a showing at Convict Lake. Credit goes to Convict Lake Resort and its stocking of heavyweights for their season end derby.

HOT WINTER START — Capt. Tom Ferrari left the sportfisher Red Rooster III in San Diego and headed to the Middle Owens River with Sierra Drifters Guide Service and despite the “small craft warnings” from the stiff winds, connected with some beautiful rainbows.

Even with early season predictions of “tough times” because of low water due to ongoing drought conditions, there was no problem for WON posting photos of impressive weekly bragging rights catches. And our DFW held to its stocking schedules for “bread and butter” catchable in the half-pound range and better.

The clan of wintertime high country anglers will now be targeting the year-round open waters of the Bishop area. New on this season agenda is the Bishop Chamber of Commerce funding plants of Desert Springs “super-stockers.” Last week saw 1,600 pounds of the chunky rainbows stocked in the Lower Owens River and Pleasant Valley Reservoir, the rainbows running in the 1- to 2-pound range, and an additional stocking is on the menu for mid-January. In addition DFW will be stocking the same waters alternating on a once a month schedule.

The year round open waters at the higher elevations, Upper Owens River, East Walker River, Hot Creek and the West Walker River consistently produce heavyweights for the barbless hook , catch and release fly and lure anglers. Going into early winter snow induced access problems have not been an issue, but this can change depending on what predicted El Nino conditions bring to the high country. Water levels are on the low side, especially for the West Walker angler.

An early look at the upcoming year is positive. On the DFW catchable stocking program, the Eastern Sierra has been exempted from the earlier four-to-the-pound mandate with local waters remaining on the two-to-the-pound program. Mono County and the Town of Mammoth Lakes will continue with their fishing enhancement programs, providing increased numbers of Desert Springs trophy rainbows. Last season saw seven resorts and landings add to the big-fish population with privately funded “extra” plants.

Early indications are Desert Springs big fish numbers will be on the increase for the upcoming season. Mono County has signed off on 26,800 pounds, a significant increase from last season. And, 7,600 pounds was privately funded, and Mammoth Lakes funded 14,000 pounds for their four waters. In addition Inyo County and the Bishop Chamber of Commerce along with possibly a handful of resorts will be on the agenda.

All indications are Mother Nature has determined that it’s time to terminate the dry winter pattern with the high elevations already seeing more snow than has been the norm for the past five years. And that equates to more favorable conditions for local waters, the trout population and filling a stringer.

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