St. Croix


Feature Article: Prime Sierra Conditions

Prime conditions await late-season Sierra anglers

BY ERNIE COWAN/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Aug 22, 2019

MAMMOTH LAKES — With a winter that kept dumping snow well into May and increased trophy trout stocking programs throughout the Eastern Sierra, late season anglers can expect some excellent conditions this fall.

Labor Day typically marks the end of heavy trout fishing pressure in the Sierra, with fewer and the more serious anglers on the water once the summer crowds have vanished.

browntroutareBROWN TROUT ARE primary targets between now and the end of the general trout season, Nov. 15. This one was caught by Whittier angler Danny Corral who was using a Sierra Slammers Mini Swim.

In recent drought years, late season trout fishing was a challenge in some areas because of low to no water, stocking programs that were suspended because of conditions, and the few available hot spots were hammered throughout the season.

That’s not the case this year.

Lakes and creeks are in better condition than they have been in many years and the excellent stocking effort of trophy trout started a few years ago by the Bridgeport Fish Enhancement Foundation has now spread to other areas with local government and private funds being collected to buy big fish.

Anglers this summer season were showing up with so many 3- to 4-pound fish that it almost became routine. And even bigger ones are lurking in deeper, cooler water waiting for things to chill.

Fall offers a lot for Sierra visitors. Fewer people means anglers often have creeks or lakes all to themselves, especially on weekdays and for those willing to take short hikes. Then there’s the fall color that begins at higher elevations in the last few weeks of September and spreads down to lower elevations with aspen groves ablaze in orange, red, gold and pale green. It’s breathtaking.

The icing on the fall cake is the chance of hauling in a trophy rainbow or brown that often wait until fall to begin biting. Typically, the biggest fish of the season are caught in the final few weeks before the season ends on Nov. 15.

Fall is a time when highly specialized “brown baggers” ply the waters of trophy lakes like Upper or Lower Twin Lakes in Bridgeport, Virginia Lakes, Grant, Silver Lake or Rush Creek in hopes of bagging that monster double-digit brown.

THE UPPER OWENS is one of many great fall fisheries. PHOTO COURTESY CHRIS LEONARD/K

They do this for good reason. Upper Twin Lake is home of the state brown trout record at 26 pounds, 8 ounces. Neighboring Lower Twin is behind that record by just 3 ounces.

Some years the big browns never bite, but when water temperatures, conditions, food availability and everything else that matters is right, some nearly 20-pound browns have thrilled dedicated fall anglers.

So, let’s take a look at Sierra waters by region from the eyes of the expert guides and veteran trout hunters.

Like other areas, waters in Bishop Creek Basin are healthy. South Lake and Lake Sabrina are full, North Lake is prime as is Intake II and the forks of Bishop Creek have plenty of water.

Labor Day typically is when summer runoff begins to subside, and Jared Smith at South Lake Landing said that’s when creeks will enter the prime zone.

“Creeks have been blown out all season and no one has really been able to get all those fish that were stocked. I don’t think anyone will be grumbling this fall,” Smith said.

Waters in Bishop Creek have also been stocked all season with Idaho and Oregon trophy rainbows along with DFW trout.

“There are more big fish in the basin than in recent years and that will be good for fall fishing,” Smith said. “Con­ditions are right for this to be one of the better fall seasons.”

High water levels at lakes also means anglers can get right up to flowing inlets where fishing has been outstanding.

Rock Creek Canyon also has plenty of water and fish, and trail access to backcountry lakes offer anglers everything there from stocked streams, big trophy trout in Rock Creek Lake and the chance at wild rainbows, brookies and browns just a short distance from road’s end.

The wide variety of fishing opportunities around Mam­moth Lakes should only be ­better this fall.

HOT CREEK COULD very well feature optimum conditions this fall thanks to heavy snowpack after last winter. This is Chris Leonard who guides out of Kittredge Sports in Mammoth Lakes with a fine specimen.

Sierra Drifters Guide Doug Rodricks said Crowley Lake is almost at capacity and some fish have already moved into the Owens River to take advantage of the hoppers. 

“This may be the year they actually go in early, but it’ll all depend on fall weather. If it gets cold early, they will go,” Rodricks said.

Convict Lake always gets more active with cooler fall weather and has also been well stocked this season. The inlet at the back of the lake has been hot all season and should continue with healthy flow. Convict Lake also hosts the annual Ambush at the Lake Trout Derby from Sept. 6 to Nov. 15.

Anglers will have a chance to win up to $6,000 in resort prizes along with $2,200 in cash prizes for the winners of the Morrison’s Bonus Cash Weekend Oct. 26-28. Entry fee is $15.

Mammoth Basin lakes are likewise in great shape with plenty of water and waters well stocked. As temperatures cool, look for the bigs to come up to feed. Larger patterns, Mice Tails, Pinched Crawlers and artificial worms are good choices for fall anglers in Mammoth Basin.

Guide Eric Hein at The Trout Fitter in Mammoth Lakes said there is both good and bad news for places like Hot Creek, Upper Owens, Lower Owens and San Joaquin River.

He predicts good creek flows throughout the remainder of the season and lighter crowds, which will be ideal for fall fishing.

The bad news is that some areas have been hammered this season because of ideal conditions. He suggests anglers will find the best conditions if they avoid peak times.

“If the parking lots are full, keep driving,” he said.

BRAD JONES OF Grand Terrace and his sons show off the grade of brown trout that can be caught all over the Sierra in the fall.

Hein suggests small streams will be an excellent place for fall anglers because there will be water.

“If you want to hike, this will be the place to go this fall. Plenty of water and if size doesn’t matter and you don’t mind hiking, this will be great,” he said.

June Loop is another spectacular fall fishing location. Some of the Sierra’s best fall color displays are found in the loop and June, Gull, Silver and Grant lakes have been stocked with tons of bigger fish all season. Many of these bigs have spent the summer hiding out in the deep holes. Look for them to surface as temperatures cool.

June Lake Marina also ­re­leases larger trout each fall that have been raised in the lake all year. When they hit the water, they are ready to go.

Jeremy Ross at Ernie’s Tackle in June Lake has long recognized the value of the prime brown trout fishery in Rush Creek. Fall can bring a migration of big browns bumping 20 pounds into the creek from Silver Lake upstream and Grant Lake downstream.

Anglers walking in the creek can destroy the nesting redds of these magnificent fish, and Ross urges anglers to use care when fishing this fall water. Barbless hooks should also be used if you are hunting big browns and they should be carefully hand­led and released since these are wild fish.

Normally, the best thing about fall for waters around Lee Vining is the brilliant colors of the aspen groves. Creek flows can be thin many years, but not likely this year.

Lee Vining Creek has been stocked well all season with trophy rainbows and most of those fish are still lurking in the healthy waters, according to Wayne Beaver at Beaver’s Sporting Goods.


MAMMOTH LAKES LOCAL Jeremy Sherwin with a nice Eastern Sierra score.

Ellery, Tioga and Saddlebag lakes can also ignite in the fall as fish begin to feed aggressively before winter storms bring snow and ice. You can add Lundy Lake to that list as well.

Weather can add another challenge to fall anglers at the high-altitude Virginia Lakes, but a little snow or cold hardly matches the excitement of a 7- to 10-pound trout that often show up as the season winds down.

Last winter’s snowpack and seemingly endless storms delayed the opening of the season at Virginia Lakes, so those lakes still have some monster fish waiting to be caught.

Until fall storms arrive, Virginia Lakes is a perfect kick-off for short hikes into remote waters holding wild brook, rainbow and browns that will take just about anything as they gorge before winter ice locks them in.

Jim Reid at Ken’s Sporting Goods in Bridgeport knows the trout waters of that area about as good as anyone. He’s optimistic about late season fishing this year.

In addition to the excellent 7- to 11-pound BFEF stocking program, there’s lots of water.

“We’re still getting a little run-off in the East and West Walker drainages right now. It’s going down but there’s still snow up there and this should make for some really great stream fishing in the late season, especially on the East and West Walker rivers,” Reid said.

He predicts it will be “game on” once flows on the Walkers drop below 25 cfs.

“Plus, with all the lakes being full, I think when the temperatures start to drop, typically after the first of September or so, the fishing should just keep getting better and better throughout the season,” he said.

Bridgeport Reservoir continues to enjoy high water, all-season trophy stocking and also offers anglers a spectacular fall perch bite. Guide Ray Robles has been thinking the lake could soon produce a state record perch because of the excellent conditions.

Green and Robinson creeks will be running strong this fall and that could mean bigger fish moving into them from deeper lakes to spawn because there will be enough water come autumn.

Misti Sullivan at Twin Lakes Resort on Lower Twin predicts a longer bite this fall.

“I expect the season to go longer this year due to the late end of winter and so much snow runoff. There is still lots of snow in the crags, so we expect water levels to remain high also,” she said.

Sullivan said they have permits to stock brown trout but are looking into raising them on-site. Lower Twin plans to operate until Nov. 7, weather permitting.

Fall anglers can participate in the Mono Village Labor Day Fishing Derby at Upper Twin Lake from Aug. 31 through Sept. 3. Cash and merchandise prizes will be given in several categories. Registration fee required. Contact (760) 932-7071 or visit They will also be hosting a fall derby Oct. 10-15.

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Ernie Cowan is a veteran outdoor writer and photographer who focuses on the Eastern High Sierra. He can be reached at

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