BISHOP — Despite some of the heaviest snowfall of the winter in the past few weeks, High Sierra anglers will find more open water than anytime in recent memory for the opening of the general trout season next week.
Veteran guides are saying this could be one of the most exciting openers in years because of the open water and the fact that trout have been actively feeding in water free of ice for months. The light winter also means that spring flows will not be raging, providing additional excellent fishing conditions on some of the best creek waters in the Sierra.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that many popular ice-fishing locations will have no ice or at least not enough for safe ice fishing. But no ice means more fishable areas and anglers looking to cart home prizes from some of the many opening weekend trout derbies should have a better shot at the trophy fish.
There’s opening day excitement surrounding this season’s opener that many veterans say they have not experienced in years.
A look at conditions from Lone Pine to Bridgeport shows that the 2012 opener will provide something for just about everyone from the big lake angler to the small creek dipper.
Geoff Brackney at Lone Pine Sporting Goods said conditions on the creeks flowing down the east side of the Sierra are excellent. Lone Pine Creek has been stocked as far as the Lone Pine Campground, but the road to Whitney Portal is expected to be open and the creek stocked all the way up in time for opening day.
Lone Pine Creek is a favorite for opening day anglers, but Brackney said those who want to avoid the crowds might fish the lower portions of Cottonwood Creek, about eight miles south of Lone Pine.
“The lower portions of Cottonwood are open to the wilderness boundary and there is a chance to get a few goldens in there that have washed down from higher elevations,” he said.
Lakes and creeks in the Bishop Creek Basin are always a big opening weekend draw and roads to South Lake and Lake Sabrina are expected to be open. The road to North Lake is rarely open for the start of the season, and will most likely not be again this year, despite lighter than normal snowfall.
Jared Smith, operator of Parchers Resort and South Lake Landing said the lake level is higher than usual and there is still ice.
“I would urge extreme caution for any folks choosing to fish from icy, snowy banks or cross fields of snow to get to the inlet because it's very dangerous,” Smith said.
At a slightly lower elevation, Lake Sabrina already has open water at press time and ice conditions there are even more hazardous. Both of those lakes were well stocked at the end of the season and should provide opening weekend anglers with nice stringers of rainbows and maybe a few beefy browns.
Ron Scira at Creekside RV on the South Fork of Bishop Creek said flows are ideal this spring and the moderate flows should allow anglers to fish just about anywhere. DFG will stock the creek and popular Intake II prior to opening day.
Anglers fishing the Bishop area can also enter the annual Rainbow Days Trout Festival that offers prizes for several fishing categories. The event is hosted by the Bishop Chamber of Commerce, the City of Bishop and Inyo County and is held at Bishop City Park starting at 2 p.m. opening day.
Anglers heading north from Bishop can stop at Tom’s Place on Rock Creek where there will be an opening day derby offering cash and merchandise prizes for the blind bogey fish and biggest fish.
Convict Lake is ice-free and will be open with full service including boat rentals, fishing licenses, store and restaurant. The campground will not be open because of renovations that are being done with a completion date about the end of May. The Forest Service is allowing the resort to manage the trailhead parking area for up to 20 self contained RV’s on opening weekend.
Crowley Lake is another popular opening day destination, and the lake has been ice-free since January. With open water and easy shore access, the action here could be as good as it gets. Wind is always a major factor at Crowley in the spring, but often mornings are calm before the afternoon gusts. Anglers at Crowley can enter the Fred Hall Memorial Derby on opening day that offers a cash prize and runner up awards in several adult and kids categories.
Reports from the Mammoth Basin are vague. There is open water at Twin Lakes and ice and snow still covering the higher basin lakes. No reports were available as to the safety of the lake ice, but area tackle shops were urging caution because of the warm conditions.
Eric Hein at the Troutfitter in Mammoth Lakes said he has not had reports from the basin lakes, but the creek flows on Mammoth Creek, Hot Creek and the Upper Owens are excellent for spring fishing and should provide opening day anglers with some excellent fishing conditions.
Anglers heading for the June Loop will find all four lakes there to be free of ice with active trout ready to feed.
“We didn’t have much of a winter season, so we will be glad to see people,” said John Logue at Ernie’s Tackle in June Lake. He said weather and water conditions are more like later in the season and the fish will be far more aggressive for the opener.
“I think lures and soft baits might work better than bait. The moon will also be in the first phase, so that means the fish will not be feeding at night,” Logue said.
All campgrounds and landings will be open in the June Loop, the lakes are full and flows in Rush Creek are ideal. The June Lake Chamber of Commerce will be hosting the annual Monster Trout Derby at Ernie’s Tackle with prizes awarded in 13 categories. There is no entry fee.
Anglers fishing June Lake, Gull Lake, Silver Lake, Convict Lake, Crowley Lake, Intake II and South Lake should also be on the lookout for the Berkley Team so they can participate in the “Show Us Your Stringer” competition. Cash and prizes will be given out to anglers using Berkley products.
Virginia Lakes is one of the few areas in the Eastern Sierra that might be available for good ice fishing on opening weekend. Resort operator Carolyn Webb said there is open water on Little Virginia, but solid ice now on Big Virginia. The road has been open all winter and parking areas have been cleared.
“It should be safe to ice fish on Big Virginia, but not for very long,” Webb said.
Anglers who fish waters in the Bridgeport area are used to ice and snow on opening day, but they won’t find it this year.
Twin Lakes and Bridgeport Reservoir are free of ice and Rick Gieser at Ken’s Sporting Goods said things should be outstanding for opening day.
“Water temperatures are up 5 to 7 degrees and I think we are going to see a lot more fish than normal taken this year for the opener,” Gieser said. “Conditions are more like mid season, the fish are more active and they are eating.”
Flows on the East Walker River are at ideal levels and winter anglers there has been consistently reeling in 14 to 17-inch fish and that should not change.
The West Walker River if often not fishable on opening weekend because of high flows. The mild winter has flows at fishable levels and the river will be stocked by DFG. Other Bridgeport area waters that will be stocked prior to opening day include both Twin Lakes, the Little Walker River and Virginia Creek.
Mono Village at Upper Twin Lake will host the annual opening weekend derby offering cash and prizes in several categories.
The key to any Sierra trout opener is weather. Conditions in the high country can change quickly, so go prepared for rain, snow and ice.