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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.
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.

Opening day Sierra conditions continue to improve
With the exception of a few issues caused by low-water levels, high-country conditions are mixed going into two weeks before the opener. Daytime temperatures have been hitting in the high 60s, with nighttime running from the high to mid- 20s and any remaining snow from last year’s “no snow” winter rapidly disappearing.

As a reminder, WON will be again covering all major areas of the Eastern Sierra opening day from Bishop to Bridgeport, and will have full coverage the issue mailed right after the April 26 opener. The digital North and South edition full-color versions will be posted mid-week at (click on Forum), and are still being offered free.

Here’s the latest on conditions:

BISHOP AREA — Bishop Creek drainage, Bishop Creek, Intake 2 ideal condition. Lake Sabrina extremely low down to original lake level. Around a 3/4-mile hike or 4-wheel drive required to reach trout population. Ice probably will be out by opener. Lake Sabrina Boat Landing will be in operation, serving meals.

South Lake basically same condition. Ice iffy after a little ­hiking to reach the lake. Rock Creek Lake road open, lake will be ice-free. Rock Creek Lake Resort closed.

CROWLEY-CONVICT LAKES — Both locations in prime condition. Crowley Lake Fish Camp and Convict Lake Resort in full operation.

MAMMOTH LAKES — Road to lakes basin (Twin Lakes, Mamie, Mary and George) open. Lakes are thawing fast with any ice fishing questionable.

JUNE LAKE LOOP — All four lakes in good condition with Grant Lake on the low side. Launching at Grant Lake Marina probable, but make a last-minute call. Shore launching possible near dam with a 4-wheel drive. Rental boats and campground at marina along with all other locations in full operation.

LEE VINING AREA — Tioga Pass Road (State Route 120) open from Hwy. 395 to closure at Yosemite National Park Gate. Tioga Lake very low. Ellery Lake medium level with ice rapidly thawing. No information regarding road to Saddlebag Lake. Lundy Lake extremely low. Lundy Lake Resort closed. Road to Virginia Lakes open. Little Virginia Lakes off the ice fishing menu. Possible ice fishing at Big Virginia Lake depending on last-minute conditions. Virginia Lake Resort closed.

BRIDGEPORT — Upper and Lower Twin Lakes in good condition. Mono Village and Twin Lakes resorts in full operation, Bridgeport Reservoir low. Launch ramps at Bridgeport Reservoir Marina and the county park high and dry. With the exception of the launch ramp, the marina will be in full operation. Shore launching is available just north of the “Bathtub” near the dam, However, parking is limited. Efforts are underway to provide additional parking at that location.

NORTH MONO COUNTY — West Walker River in excellent condition to the town of Walker — no problem with high water runoff. Topaz Lake low, with launching available at county park. Launching also available at Topaz RF Park, located at the California/Nevada State line. For information regarding Topaz Landing, call (775) 266-3550.

Snow conditions at the 9,500- to 10,000-foot level right around 2 feet and rapidly melting. The local bear population is active. Take care when storing food items in vehicles or at campsites.

Southern Sierra trout opener March 1
Diaz Lake Derby set for same day; West Walker River also debuts that day for first-time early opener with Mono County officials planting the river for early season anglers

LONE PINE/BRIDGEPORT — Saturday, March 1, marks the opening of the Southern Sierra trout season with diehard anglers taking to the waters of the Southern Owens Valley. And to the north, a new “early” opener water, the West Walker River, will be stocked and ready.

The small streams from Independence Creek south on the west side of Hwy. 395 are the target. Barring any last minute weather related problems, anglers can look for stocked DFW catchable in most waters.

Stocking operations for some locations have been adjusted to meet low water conditions. On Independence Creek ,the lower section will be off the menu. Fish are scheduled to be stocked at the upper section of the creek near the Grays campground area. Location for Cottonwood Creek will limited to the upper section close to the end of the road. Look for plants in Georges Creek from the Sand Trap upstream. Water level at the Sand Trap is low, but on the stocking agenda. Lone Pine Creek Sand Trap is on the low side, but last information is it will be stocked along with upstream waters.

Highlight of the early opener is the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce annual Trout Derby headquartered at year-around water Diaz Lake, a few miles south of Lone Pine. Catches from any waters covered by the opener can qualify for prizes including fishing tackles, lodging and outdoor gear provided by local merchants.

Prizes are 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. The derby winner could be a half-pound trout but lures will be thrown thousands of time by regulars hoping to hook some big trout in the lake.

That’s because Diaz will be primed with heavyweight Alpers rainbows to the 8-pound mark along with DFW catchable and oversized broodstock.

On-site derby registration at the lake runs from 6:30 and to 12noon, $10 for adults and $5 for kids. For complete information contact the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce, (760) 876-4444,

This year, there’s a new kid on the block. Mono County got the A-Okay from the CA Fish and Wildlife Commission last year to open the West Walker River to year-around The West Walker will also be governed by catch and release regulations with only barbless hooks with only lure or flies ((no bait), with a zero possession up to the April 25 opening of the general season. Following the Nov. 15 closing of the regular season, the river remains open under the special regulations.

But March 1 is the debut of the West Walker River as a year-around water, and the Northern Mono County Chamber of Commerce and Mono County will be stocking the river with rainbow trout averaging around the 2-pound mark. For complete information contact the Northern Mono County Chamber of Commerce, (530) 208-6078,

WON will be on hand to cover both openers in Into and Mono counties, as well as the April 25 traditional opener with eight pages of coverage.

Winding down

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.

* * *

Martin Strelneck is a long-time WON field reporter and columnist living in Lee Vining.

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