Here’s an area-by area look at what to expect after a mild winter; which always means great fishing and camping access for anglers — and bigger overall fish that have been chowing down
SCENIC SHOTS OF Silver and June Lakes and the crowd in front of Ernie’s for the Monster trout Derby.
BISHOP — A High Sierra winter that produced little snow the last half of the season means opening day anglers will find all but the highest elevation waters free of ice and snow and full of fish already into the spring feed.
While spring Sierra weather can change on a dime, the weather guessers at press time are not calling for any major storms before opening day. Despite balmy predictions, veteran opening day anglers know to be prepared for just about anything.
A survey of guides and tackle shops up and down the Eastern Sierra offers a pretty good picture of what to expect on opening weekend. In general, mild weather and the lack of significant storms mean more open water, access to many area not normally open and fish that are about three weeks more active than usual on opening day.
WON will have a small army of reporters at the opener on that weekend of the 27th and 28th with reports for the following weekend. Photos, big fish, full reports and derby results. Next week’s WON issue, right before the opener, will have a last-minute look at conditions by WON staffer and High Country Sierra columnist Martin Strelneck who lives in Lee Vining.
Eastern Sierra Creeks south of Bishop are running a moderate to low levels, but they have been well stocked and should produce good limits of pan-sized trout. Deeper pools and shady culverts running under roads are always a good place to find fish in the smaller creeks.
Bishop Creek Basin sees heavy action on opening weekend. Historically anglers are drawn to the higher elevation lakes for the unique chance to enjoy ice fishing. That probably won’t happen this year.
“I don't believe there will be safe ice fishing conditions anywhere in the canyon for the opener this year,” said Jared Smith who manages Parchers Resort in the South Fork of Bishop Canyon. “I'm expecting South Lake to be like last year - partially frozen but some open water.”
THE TROUT BUSTERS — For 20 years the Andrews family from Santa Barbara have been fishing the Sierra trout season opener and call themselves “The Trout Busters.” They pulled this nice stringer from June Lake on opening morning last year.
Nearby Lake Sabrina sits at a slightly lower elevation than South Lake and operators Patti and Rick Apted are predicting the lake will be ice-free for the opener.
Apted said low water means anglers may have to hike a bit to get to fish, but the inlet should be good as it normally is. The front portion of the lake is already free of ice and the back natural lake behind the rocks is starting to break up.
Traditionally the road to North Lake is not open on opening weekend, and at press time it is still not known if the Forest Service will open the road. But anglers who make the one-mile hike up to the lake should find plenty of open water.
Traditionally Intake II in the Bishop Basin is an opening day hot spot. That should continue this year with the waters well stocked with fish and easy shore access all around the lake. Tube fishing and the intake pipeline on the far side near the dam are often very productive here.
Anglers fishing the South and Middle forks of Bishop Creek should find conditions very favorable with the absence of snow that has often restricted access on opening day. This means stocking trucks have had better access for planting trout. Flows are moderate to light and not the gushing runs often seen in the spring.
The Middle Owens River around Bishop should also be a good place to catch trout on opening day, according to Reagan Slee at Reagan’s Sporting Goods in Bishop.
“The river will be a little higher than normal for work on power plants but fishing should be great,” Slee said. The Middle Owens has been stocked during the winter months and with flows at ideal levels has been good for 15 to 20 fish per day for drift anglers.
Rock Creek is rarely a big area on opening weekend, but that could be different this year if crews can get the road into the basin open. A spokesman at Tom’s Place said it appears the road is ready to open, but no opening date has been announced by county road crews or the U.S. Forest Service.
Convict Lake has been free of ice most of the winter and the fish have been very active and should be more aggressive that normal for an opener. The lake also hosts a derby that begins on April 28 and continues through June 13.
THE MONSTER TROUT— Ken Dubiel from Lancaster caught the opening day big fish in the June Lake Loop last year and won the annual June Loop Monster Trout Derby with this 5-pound, 1-ounce rainbow the he pulled from Gull Lake using a gold Thomas Buoyant lure.
Crowley Lake normally draws the biggest crowds on opening day and this year anglers will find the lowest water levels in two decades.
Guide Kent Rianda from The Troutfitter in Mammoth Lakes said the lake is very well stocked, and received fish as recently the end of March.
“Although it is rising daily I think we will see the lowest water levels I can remember in 20-plus years for opening day,” Rianda said. “I say it will be good fishing but if use your GPS to go to your usual favorite spot you may run aground. Watch out for Pelican Point and the submerged islands as you head out of the Marina. The warning buoys they use are not very big.”
With Crowley free ice very early, that means more available food, larger and more active fish waiting for opening day anglers.
Rianda said successful anglers at Crowley will look for the warmest water on the lake. Trout prefer water at about 57 degrees, but only a few areas will have that ideal temperature. The smart Crowley trout hunter carries a thermometer and samples temperature on the bottom frequently.
At press time, county road crews were clearing the roads to Mammoth Basin Lakes and are hopeful of having roads open for opening day.
Rick Flamson at Rick’s Sportscenter said it looks like access to the lakes in the Mammoth Basin will depend on the weather.
“There is a good chance that for the first time in a long time the roads will be open and we will see open water around the edges of the lakes. If the weather holds, I think that’s what we will see,” Flamson said.
Flamson said more than 300 inches of snow fell in the area during the winter, but the majority came early in the season. It means lakes will be full, but little snow will be remaining for opening day.
With the closing of June Mountain Ski area last winter, June Lake businesses suffered over the winter months and are excited about the prospects of a wide-open weekend for the launch of trout season.
John Logue at Ernie’s Tackle said the community is again hosting the annual June Loop Monster Trout Derby on opening day with prizes for the biggest trout caught in the loop and in several other categories.
All lakes and creeks in the loop are free of ice and have been for several weeks.
“Things are about two to three weeks ahead of normal and that means the fish will be more acclimated and out of their winter funk,” Logue said. “We should see some bigger fish coming up on opening weekend.”
JUNE LAKE KEEPER — Trolling the middle of June Lake opening morning last year was a good bet for Dave Stephenson of Arcadia who landed this 3-pound, 2-ounce rainbow with a Rapala.
In addition to the extra Alpers trout that will be stocked at Silver Lake, June and Gull Lake have also purchased extra fish in addition to the normal DFW plants.
Virginia Lakes is another area that often provides ice fishing on opening day. Carolyn Webb at Virginia Lakes Resort said there has not been much snow this year and crews complete plowing the road in time for the opener.
“The Lake had a large dark area as of two weeks ago, and I'm thinking if the weather stays this nice the thickness of the ice will be the same or less than last year,” she said.
The lake had 22 inches of ice on opening day last year and was only safe for three to five days.
Like the rest of the Eastern Sierra, waters in the Bridgeport area have been free of ice for a few weeks. Jim Reid, owner of Ken’s Sporting Goods is predicting an outstanding opening weekend, as long as a late season storm does not blow in.
While Bridgeport Reservoir is only at about 60 percent of capacity, Reid said surface temperatures are already in the mid 40’s and trout have been very active.
“I think this is going to make for some excellent trolling over the opener this year. Sometimes when it's still really cold the trolling isn't very good but that shouldn't be the case this year,” Reid said.
The Twin Lakes in Bridgeport are often frozen on opening weekend, but are now ice free and nearly at capacity. With ice off the lake, Reid said the prospects of double-digit trout are reduced, because warmer surface temperatures will drive the hawgs deeper.
Other good news for Bridgeport area creeks is the low spring flows. Reid said this should make early season stream fishing excellent for the most part. Heavy spring flows often makes the West Walker River very difficult to fish for the first month or so of the season. Carolyn Webb told WON on Sunday night that “runoff has started on the West Walker and the flow is up to 364 cfs and very brown.”
Reid said runoff can fluctuate and is always a concern.
“Usually in low water years the only thing we really worry about is the late summer part of the season if the water temps get too warm but that's just something we have to keep our eye on later,” he said.
Fishing should be excellent on the East Walker River for opening weekend, but flows have been low most of the winter and if they continue, conditions could be very challenging as temperatures climb and summer flows drop.
For many, the April opener of the Eastern Sierra General Trout Season is a tradition, even a ritual involving groups frequently representing generations of trout hunters.
While everyone dreams of that once-in-a-lifetime trout, no one seems unhappy with a full stringer of fish of any size. There’s a good reason that veterans of opening day call it “Fishmas.’
Boat raffle means more Sierra trout
MAMMOTH LAKES — More than $10,000 was raised last year by the Eastern Sierra Fishing Coalition from the sale of raffle tickets for a fishing boat, and anglers this season will benefit from that with more fish planted in Mono County lakes.
The goal of the coalition is to increase awareness of the world-class trout fishing in the Eastern Sierra and to increase trout stocking. Mono County Anglers will see the results of that effort on opening day.
Silver Lake and Convict Lake sold the most raffle tickets last season and as a result will receive the most locally raised Alpers trout stocked prior to opening day.
According to Whitney Lennon at Mammoth Lakes Tourism, additional partners have joined the coalition this year and the program will now extend to Inyo County.
“Now that the entire Eastern Sierra is involved, expect the boat raffle to bring in a lot more fish for next year’s opener,” Lennon said.
Along with more trout, the coalition knows that fisherman want bigger fish and is introducing the Troutlaw Roundup.
On May 15, Alpers Trophy Trout over 5 pounds, being called Troutlaws, will be stocked in six lakes thanks to the sponsorship of Walker River Lodge in Bridgeport, Silver Lake Resort on the June Lake Loop, and Mammoth Lakes Tourism, Tamarack Lodge, Pete Gray’s Let Talk Hook Up Radio Show, and Seasons 4 Condominiums in Mammoth Lakes.
In addition to the bonus big trout, anglers can collect a reward for catching tagged fish. Prizes will include free lodging, airline tickets, boat rentals and a Shimano spinning reel.
Lakes receiving the Troutlaws for the Troutlaw Roundup include Bridgeport Reservoir, Silver Lake, Twin Lake in Mammoth, Lake Mary, Lake George and Lake Mamie.
For opening day, the Village at Mammoth will host the Opening Day Fishmas Festival featuring free live music by Jeffrey James and The Wanted Gang. Raffle tickets for this year’s boat will be on sale.
Winner of the boat will receive a 14-foot Klamath with an 8hp Honda Marine Outboard Motor and EZ Load Trailer. Second place is another 8hp Honda Marine Outboard Motor donated by Conway Ranch.
The Eastern Sierra Fishing Coalition will also be giving away a limited supply of free goodies on opening day.