Feature Article: Trout Opener Approaches

Enthusiasm building as Eastern Sierra trout opener approaches

BY ERNIE COWAN/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Apr 23, 2019


About now, Western Outdoor News asks Eastern Sierra guides and tackle shop owners to gaze into the crystal ball to find out what opening weekend of trout season might be like in a few weeks. There’s a problem, however. The crystal ball is still buried under record amounts of snowfall.

Everyone agrees there will be plenty of water for the opener and for the entire season, for that matter. The big question is, will it be liquid or ice come April 27?

At press time, some of the major opening day waters are still under ice, including lakes in the Bishop Basin, Crowley, Mammoth Lakes, June Lake Loop, Lundy Lake, Virginia Lakes, and Upper Twin Lake in Bridgeport. Surprisingly, Lower Twin Lake and Bridgeport Reservoir are free of ice and bursting at the seams with high water.

Landing staffers at Crowley and June Lake actually went out on boats to break up ice. A cooperative period of weather helped. Mid-spring is ­coming, and a quick warm-up or high winds can quickly turn a frozen lake into open water. Everyone is hoping that happens.

So, here’s what the veterans of many openers have to say. The Bishop Basin is always a popular opening day location. This year, anglers will no doubt find ice fishing at South Lake and Lake Sabrina. The road to North Lake will be closed by deep snow. Creek flows in the South and main forks of Bishop Creek will be high, so anglers will need weight to get bait or lures down into the pools. Road conditions will determine if the creeks are stocked before opening day.

Jared Smith runs Parchers ­Resort and South Landing in the South Fork of Bishop Creek. When he went in on skis in the middle of March, the resort was buried to the rooftops under a snow pack that was 150 ­percent of normal.

LAKE CROWLEY IS popular on Opening Weekend for both shore and boat anglers, and access and ice shouldn’t be a problem. Over the last five or so Openers, the Crowley faithful has had every imagineable (other than rain) weather pattern, and they fish right through it. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

“The lakes and streams are sure to be full and there will be no shortage of wildflowers and waterfalls this season for sure,” Smith said. The heavy snow also means it’s not likely the resort will be open until late May. It will be up to county road crews if they open the road to South Lake. Depending on snow conditions, plowing may only go as far as Parchers, and anglers must hike about a mile to reach the lake. If conditions warm enough, the road will be cleared to the South Lake parking lot. Opening day will mean ice fishing at South Lake and Sabrina. The worst conditions would be partial ice that would not be safe for anglers, but too much for boats.

The road to Lake Sabrina is generally cleared to the lake, and you can count on Rick and Patti Apted to have hot coffee and food available at the café if they get cleared by the Health Department. Parking can be challenging if snow is deep.

Intake II should be open and well stocked, but it can also be shoulder-to-shoulder on opening weekend, especially when higher elevations are still iced in. The lake level is low, so this could impact fishing.

Anglers who want to escape ice and snow will have the Owens River around Bishop. Flows will be high, but waters should be well stocked and ­anglers who know how to fish fast water can do well, especially in the section between Line Street and Collins Road.

Pleasant Valley Reservoir will be a good opening day location, however, high water might limit access, and crowds could be heavy near the boat ramp.

Snow conditions will determine road access to Rock Creek Lake, but as of April 1, snow at Rock Creek Lake Resort was up to the second story of the main building. Resort operators are predicting they will be open on the Friday before Memorial Day.

mammothcreekdoesntMAMMOTH CREEK DOESN’T get much attention in April, and it can be a good area to get away from the crowds. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

Tom’s Place at the turnoff to Rock Creek on U.S. 395 will be hosting a Fishmas Day celebration with cash prizes in various categories. Advanced registration is required. Call (760) 935-4239 for details.

Convict Lake will be open for business as usual, and despite ice in mid-April, it is usually free of ice by opening day. Winds often swirl around in Convict Canyon and this can help clear the water. Open water at Convict can mean excellent opening day fishing from both shore and boats. The inlet is typically a good place to connect with larger fish. Sierra Drifters guide Doug Rodricks worries about flows if a hot spell hits before opening day.

“If we see a really warm April, that could start things flowing in a hurry, but I think once again like in past massive snowpack years, the stillwaters will be the best places to fish for May and the majority of June,” ­Rodricks said. He warns that most creeks and rivers, especially the freestone ones, will de­finitely be moving fast.

The cutthroat run up the Owens and McGee Creek from Crowley Lake will be a toss-up. They could come in as early as opening weekend or delay until May and stick in the rivers through June, according to ­Rodricks. Crowley Lake is ­always a big draw on opening weekend. As this report is being prepared, crews are working to clear the marina of ice. It will be up to wind and weather to determine how much of the lake is open to fishing on opening day. I can recall past years when there was serious ice on Crowley right up to the day ­before opening, but winds the night before cleared the ice. It would be unusual for ice to be a limiting factor at Crowley.

Guide Eric Hein from The Troutfitter in Mammoth Lakes said the entire upper arm of Crowley is ice-free because of relatively warmer Owens River water flowing in. He thinks the main body of the lake will be ice-free for opening day. “When it goes, it goes fast and I think it will go,” he said. Mammoth Lakes will be a different story. “If you like ice fishing, the Lakes basin will have plenty of ice,” Hein said.

lowertwinlakeLOWER TWIN LAKE in Bridgeport set this scene last Fishmas, and anglers should always be prepared for high winds. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

Don Barrett at Lake Mary ­Marina said the goal now is to be open by Memorial Day. “That’s a realistic shot at this time as long as the rest of April is light on snow,” he said.

The road into the Mammoth Basin will be open to Twin Lakes and there should be some open water there. Some good-sized brook trout are often caught there on opening weekend. Hardy anglers can hike or ski into basin lakes to ice fish and frequently some monster trout are taken through the ice with traditional baits and lures. Mammoth Creek offers a lot of open water for opening day but expect it to be running high come the opener.

With four lakes and Rush Creek, June Lake Loop always offers opening weekend anglers lots of variety, along with the annual Monster Trout Derby on opening day. At press time, Gull and Silver lakes still had mostly ice covering the surface, Grant was beginning to ice off and June had open water and crews were working to break up remaining ice.

Andrew Jones at Silver Lake is a veteran of 43 opening days, and admits this was a tough winter. He called this winter “about normal,” when compared to the “normal” of 10 years ago.

“I just think we have been somewhat spoiled by the lighter winters and forget how much work it takes to get things open and going after a good solid winter,” Jones said. He is predicting that warmer weather and wind will have the loop lakes free of ice for opening day. If ice is gone, the loop lakes traditionally produce some monster fish on opening weekend.

June Lake can be good for trolling and the reeds to the left of June Lake Marina will usually hold plenty of fish, along with some footballs. Gull Lake sees good action off the park near the marina, as well as in the shallow bay on the far side.

Silver Lake sees a lot of action for anglers along the shoreline by the boathouse, but can also kick out some huge fish as the lake narrows down to flow into Rush Creek.

brwontroutincreeksBROWN TROUT IN creeks will be aggressive even in high, cold water. This one ate a Sierra Slammers jig in Convict Creek. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

Rush Creek fishing will depend on flow levels. Hope­fully the spring melt will be gentle, and anglers will have good access. Salmon eggs and worms have traditionally been a good bait choice opening day, along with small Kastmaster and Thomas Buoyant lures.

Grant Lake should be ice-free unless there is a late freeze. Grant offers both excellent shore and boat fishing for the opener, with the biggest factor being wind. High winds will move anglers into the back portions of the lake where there is more protection. Grant can be good for both rainbows and browns on opening day.

The June Loop Monster Trout Derby is open to any fish caught in the loop on opening day. Anglers must check their fish as Ernie’s Tackle Shop by 6 p.m. Prizes are awarded in several ­categories, along with the overall Monster Trout winner.

Lee Vining Creek should offer some good opening day fishing, but flows might be high. Access to Saddlebag, Tioga and upper elevation lakes will have to wait until Highway 168 into Yosemite is cleared, and that might not be until June. Lundy Lake should have some open water, but no services will be available for opening day.

Virginia Lakes is another high-elevation area, and both snow and ice should be around to greet opening day anglers. At press time there were still reports of 72 inches at 9,445 feet, which is below Virginia Lakes Resort. Resort operator Carolyn Webb said she has not been up to the lake yet. If road crews are able to open the road to the resort, expect ice fishing on Big and Little Virginia lakes. I have ice fished Virginia Lakes on opening day, and the action was hot enough to keep away the icy chill.

Bridgeport Reservoir is the biggest water in the Eastern Sierra and it will be free of ice and full, thanks to a snowpack in the area that logged over 160 percent of normal. Bridgeport Marina will be open and renting boats. Jim Reid at Ken’s Sporting Goods is generally optimistic about conditions for this opener. 

“I’d expect the Twins to kick out a few double-digit browns during the first couple weeks, as well as lots of good rainbows,” Reid said. “And if it’s anything like last year, Bridgeport Reser­voir should kick out a handful of double-digit browns as well as tons of 2- to 8-pound rainbows again.”


The East Walker River will certainly be in spring fishing mode. “It’s hard to predict the EW as far as the flows go, but I’d say that if they stay below 350 or 400 cfs, the fishing should be great,” Reid said. Anglers should not overlook the smaller feeder streams like Buckeye, Robinson and Green Creeks.

“With the higher water we’ve had the last couple years, it seems that the natural recruitment has been good on Buckeye and Robinson as well as Green, and last year there seemed to be better numbers of wild fish. It should only be better this year,” Reid said.

Misti Sullivan at Twin Lakes Resort on Lower Twin Lake said they plan to be open for business on April 15.

“Lower Twin is expected to be stocked by Mono County with trophy rainbows and we’re going to be doing a private stocking, plus the normal stockings from DFW,” Sullivan said. She also announced the launch of Twin Lakes Trout Foun­dation, a non-profit to support a sustainable fishery in the Twin Lakes drainage. “In 2018 we grew our private stocking to over $17,000 just in Lower Twin. We have been working hard with DFW, local fishermen and women and business owners in Northern Mono County on what we can do to protect this fishery and the browns, and we have also received the approval to start planting browns again,” she said.

Mono Village at Upper Twin Lake will be open and is hosting an opening weekend fishing derby. Cash and merchandise will be awarded in several categories and registration is required. Call (760) 932-7071 for details.

And of course, we can’t ignore the small feeder streams that drain the eastside of the Sierra. Those creeks from Independence Creek south opened last month to fishing, and anglers heading north often stop off to cast a few lures or bait. Diaz Lake, Tuttle, Lone Pine, George, Shepherd and Independence creeks should be stocked and ready, however, high flows could make fishing a challenge.

Typically, there will be more snow between now and opening day, sometimes even on opening day. Anglers should be prepared for any type of weather conditions and carry tire chains in case they are required.

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