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