FeatureArticle: Trout Regs

Proposed changes to new trout regulations posted by CDFW

BY MIKE STEVENS/WON Staff WriterPublished: Jan 22, 2020

Includes earlier closing date for popular Eastern Sierra waters, changes to gear/take regulations on key creeks

SACRAMENTO — The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) proposed changes aimed at “simplifying” the existing regulations back in March, then they took input from the public during six statewide “town hall” meetings and online submissions. That input included economic, safety, social and impact-on-the-resource concerns that were applied to the proposed changes, and the updated version was published on the CDFW website earlier this month.

The new document — which included existing trout regulations that, for now, appear unchanged — is 43 pages long and a lot to unpack, so WON first dove in to the areas affecting the most California anglers, the Eastern Sierra. Some of its affected waters include the most popular lakes in the region.

MANY OF THE most popular Eastern Sierra Lakes would close for the season on Oct. 31 rather than Nov. 15 under new proposed changes to regulations. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

Places like Convict Lake, Crowley Lake, the June Lakes Loop, the Mammoth Lakes Basin, Lundy Lake, Rock Creek Lake, Sabrina Lake, Bridgeport Reservoir, Twin Lakes, Virginia Lakes would be open to fishing from the last Saturday in April through Oct. 31 with a 5-fish bag limit and no gear restrictions. Short version: they would revert to the previous old closing date.

Considering a major component to the original proposals was widespread year-round access, cutting the final two weeks of the season off is pretty conservative, and it’s a non-issue almost across the board when it comes to resort and marina operators as well as local tackle shops and the bulk of the recreational angling community.

“Most of the seasonal resorts and marinas are closed on or before Oct. 31 anyway, so from an economic standpoint, shortening the season to close at the end of October has minimal impact,” said Jared Smith, General Manager of Parchers Resort and the operation at South Lake. “In fact, I think in some ways it’s probably better because any of the fish usually caught in November will instead hold over through the winter, making for a better season opener. The DFW doesn’t usually stock much after early October, so for your average Joe, the bite slows down by November anyway.”

There are some local guides that aren’t digging the idea of two weeks lopped off the end of their season at Crowley, which has always been a productive time to be on that particular body of water. It is already protected by special regs between Aug. 31 and Nov. 15: Minimum size limit 18 inches, barbless lures only, 2-trout limit.

A couple more interesting proposed changes include Laurel Lakes and McLeod Lake near Mammoth would remain zero limit and barbless artificials only, but they’d be open year-round.

Those fall into the “head scratcher” category considering access to Laurel and McLeod are very limited even following light-snow winters, and they also freeze over.

Lee Vining Creek would become a year-round option with zero limit and limited to artificial lures with barbless hooks between Oct. 1 and Memorial Day. This would only be the stretch between Highway 395 and Mono Lake, with the upper reaches buried behind the winter closure of Tioga Pass.

Protection of spawning brown trout was also a concern of both the fishing community and local stakeholders, and there are some clear reflections of that within the proposed changes.

Rush Creek between Silver Lake and Grant Lake in the June Lake Loop would close on Sept. 30, and it actually wouldn’t reopen until the Saturday before Memorial Day. This stretch of creek has been in the spotlight for years as a key brown trout spawning zone that receives a lot of traffic from “brown baggers,” both of the legitimate and poaching (snagging) varieties. So, a solid target for late-season brown trout hunters would be removed, but spawning browns would be protected resulting in greater long-term fishing in Rush Creek, Silver Lake and Grant Lake.

Both Smith and WON Eastern Sierra beat writer Ernie Cowan were among a long list who liked the idea, at least for the conservation aspect of it.

“We normally close at that first weekend regardless, and it’s nice they’re going to cut down on pressure for the Rush Creek fish,” said Jeremy Ross of Ernie’s Tackle Shop in June Lake.

“Hopefully they’ll patrol it.”

There are others who can’t wrap their heads around the idea of putting protections in place for brown trout but not for other species, and like so many legislative issues involving so many of our outdoor activities in California, it seems like science did not weigh as heavily on these proposals as much as say, angler pressure.

For example, Crooked Creek would move to year-round fishing (and remain under existing gear/take regs, barbless flies and a zero limit) but Hilton Creek would go from a 2- to a 5-trout bag limit with no gear restrictions. The Owens River will also see some changes, most notably between Benton Crossing and Crowley Lake.

“The inconsistencies in the proposed regulation changes has me baffled,” said local guide Fred Rowe of Sierra Bright Dot Flyfishing Specialists. “They closed down the Crowley Lake spawning tributaries in the spring and fall to protect the migrating and spawning trout moving out of Crowley Lake to increase the population of naturally spawning trout. Now we jump over to the upper Owens River from Benton Crossing to Crowley, the lower section of the main tributary to Crowley Lake, and the proposed regulations are to keep this section of the river open in the spring to any method of take and a five-fish limit. Why are we not protecting all of the spawning tributaries? If the other tributaries need protecting why are we not protecting the biggest trout-producing tributary?”

It’s important to keep in mind these are still just proposals, but it’s definitely looking like some level if change is going to happen in the near future. According to the CDFW website, they are scheduled to submit the final package in June. It does not say when new regs would take affect, but they would likely be applied in 2021.

There is a lot more in there for trout waters throughout the state, so, it would be a good idea to scan all the proposed changes and see what may affect the lakes and streams you fish the most. The link to that document and more info can be found online at Wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Inland/Trout-Plan/Regulation-Simplification.

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