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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.
Sierra primed for Memorial Day
Waters loaded with catchable and Desert Springs rainbows 5-pounds plus


MAMMOTH LAKES--Looking at this weekend’s Memorial Day holiday, it's not a question of lack of trout, but Mother Natures weather mood. The past 10 days has seen conditions on the menu tanging from thunderstorms, rain, hail and snow. And long range forecasts are the pattern is to continue.

Looking at the trout picture, beginning around Wednesday DFW and Desert prongs stocking transports will begin priming local waters with a mature of catchable and heavyweight rainbows. This will be the first major stocking since shortly before opening day. The only hang-up could be access to some waters because weather conditions.

Anglers will find a mixture of 1/2-pound plus DFW catchable along along with Mono County and Town of Mammoth Lakes rainbows running to the 5-pound mark and better.

Swinging into a full operation mode will be resorts at Rock Creek Lake, Virginia Lakes and Lundy Lake. Saddlebag Lake Resort had planned to open, however because of the high elevation storms target date now is around mid-June.

Highway conditions have been a mixture. Depending on snow level chain controls may impact high elevation roads in Mono County.The past week the controls were short lived, lasting less than a day. Tioga and Sonora passes have seen periodic short-lived closures.

For updated weather conditions contact the National Weather Service, www.wrh.noaa/gov/rev, Road conditions CalTrans (800) 427-7623.

Full operation mode for opener
Barring any last-minute weather issues, the majority of high country locations will be in a full-operation mode for Saturday’s Eastern Sierra opener.

With the exception of a handful of locations, low-water conditions are not at the point of impacting the fishery.

LITTLE VIRGINIA LAKE will be off the early season ice fishing program this season, The 9,000-foot elevation water has been ice free since early April and is scheduled to be stocked shortly before opening day. WON PHOTO BY MARTIN STRELNECK

Stocking operations swung into high gear this past week. DFW targeted all accessible locations, including those off the agenda in past years because of snow and ice-related access problems.

Included this season for opening day stocking will be Little Virginia Lake, Rock Creek Lake, Mammoth Basin waters, lakes Mary, Mamie, George along with Twin Lakes and Lake Sabrina in the Bishop area. Look for catchables running in the ½-pound range and better.

On the heavyweight stocking scene, Mono County's Fishing Enhancement Program will be planting 3,200 pounds of Desert Springs rainbows hitting the 4-pound mark and up. On the program are Silver, Gull, Convict, Crowley, Upper and Lower Twin Lakes Bridgeport, Bridgeport Reservoir and the West Walker River.

Following last season’s official Nov. 15 closing, the Town of Mammoth Lakes enhancement program stocked 1,600 pounds of Desert Springs trophies in Lakes Basin waters, Lakes Mary, George and Mamie along with Twin Lakes. Adding to the opening day population, the Bridgeport Fishing Enhancement Foundation stocked 300- pounds of Desert Springs rainbows and browns spread out between Upper and Lower Twin Lakes, Bridgeport Reservoir and the West Walker River.

Two popular locations in Mono County are suffering from extremely low water conditions, Bridgeport Reservoir and Grant Lake. At the reservoir, the marina will be installing a launching site and providing rentals at a shore location just west of the dam. Last season the operation worked out well, providing the only access to the reservoir.

The picture of Grant Lake is not as bright. At press time, Doug Smith, who operates Grant Lake Marina, was doubtful that launching would be possible and because of the dropping water level, and concerned that rental boats would not be available. However, the campground at the lake will be in full operation.

To the south, Bishop-area streams along with Intake 2 are in excellent condition. Lake Sabrina Boat Landing will be up and running with a limited number of rentals, The launch ramp will be operational and cafe will be open. The lake is low but definitely fishable.

South Lake and Parchers Resort are down until around mid-May. The lake is ice free and very low, requiring a ½-mile hike to get to the water. Information is that the road to North Lake is clear and the water is ice free.

South of Bishop, Big Pine Creek is in ideal condition and will be stocked. However, some of the smaller streams will be off the stocking agenda because of low water. Check this week’s issue of WON for DFW's stocking location column.

Area road conditions are more like early July than late April. This opener will find that the Lakes Basin Road at Mammoth. usually "snowed in," will be clear for the opener and rental boats available at Barretts.

To the north, Sonora Pass and Monitor Pass are open. The Tioga Pass Road is open to the Yosemite National Park Boundary, 12 miles west of Hwy. 395, and closed in the park entrance. Tioga Lake is very low and covered with slushy ice. Ellery Lake about 1/4 ice-free and clearing fast. Work was in progress at this writing on opening the Saddlebag Lake Road, with predictions it would be clear by Saturday.

The picture is not favorable for the ice fishing clan. Little Virginia Lake has been ice-free for close to two weeks and is on the schedule for pre-opening stocking. At this writing (Sunday), Big Virginia Lake is covered with slushy ice and spots of open water, definitely not on the safe side, especially with the warm temperatures. Bottom line is, the lions share of waters around the 10,000-foot level are ice-free.

One issue is the long range weather forecast. The National Weather Service is calling for a mixture of isolated rain, snow and thunderstorms beginning early in the week with the forecast for the opener "scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms."

For updated information contact the weather service, Campground information, Inyo National Forest, (760) 873-2408, Toiyabe National Forest, (760) 932-7070, Road information, Caltrans, (800) 427-7623.

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.

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