By: Taylor Hill
Every year, on the last Saturday of April, anglers from across Southern California prep their freshwater gear and tackle for the Eastern Sierra trout opener, when some of California’s most productive and scenic fishing spots reopen.
For many anglers, the trip is just as much about tradition as it is about catching fish. But this season’s opener is lining up to be a good one, as this season’s diminished snow pack means more fishing lakes and streams at higher elevations will be accessible in the season’s early-going.
The area’s diverse landscape, lakes and streams give anglers a wide variety of options, with spots like Mammoth Lake-area Twin Lakes and Lake Mary traditionally pumping out large brown trout each year, Crowley Lake producing some of the largest rainbows (and crowds) and back country lakes and streams turning out some elusive native trout.
While the crowds may take some getting used to, the Department and Fish and Game’s extra trout stocking for opening week can make it worthwhile.
Below average snowfall this winter was bad news for skiers, but great news for anglers, as a much faster start to the season is expected than last year, when accessibility to many of the region’s best trout streams was delayed by record snowfall.
This early in the season, the fish are still lethargic and waking up from a five-month hibernation, so slow techniques like jig fishing and fishing deeper in the water column are good bets for catching fish.
For up-to-date road and campground information by region, call the following U.S. Forest Service offices:
• Big Pine to Lone Pine region; (760) 876-6222
• Bishop Region; (760) 873-2500
• Mammoth Lakes region; (760) 924-5500
• Lee Vining region; (760) 647-3044
• Bridgeport region; (760) 932-7070
For lodging and guide information:
• Bishop Chamber of Commerce (760) 873-8405, bishopvisitor.com
• Mono County Tourism (760) 924-1743
Top Eastern Sierra fishing report websites are: kenssport.com (Bridgeport region), thetroutfly.com, sierradrifters.com.
Here’s the area’s current fishing report from Jim Matthews at outdoornewsservice.com:
Bridgeport Region: The East Walker River continues to be very good even with flows fluctuating a little this past week, but staying down (around 40 cfs). Overcast days have had good dry fly action, but the nymph bite has been the hot ticket. The trout are averaging 14 to 16 inches, but fish 18 inches or better are showing each day. Information: Ken’s Sporting Goods (760) 932-7707 or kenssport.com.
Mammoth Area: The fishing has remained good on the Upper Owens with nymphs, streamers and egg patterns. There are still quite a few big lake-run rainbows to 26 inches (most 16 to 20 inches) and a few browns showing in the river. Hot Creek remains very good for fly anglers with daily mayfly and caddis activity, midges in the evenings and nymph fishing all day. Information: The Troutfitter at (760) 934-2517.
Bishop Area: Trout plants in Pleasant Valley Reservoir this week and two weeks ago have made for good action. The lower Owens has been very good with nymph, streamer and dry fly anglers all scoring. There were DFG plants in the Owens River last week and three weeks ago below Tinemaha. Fishing information: Sierra Drifters Guide Service (760) 935-4250, Sierra Trout Magnet Fly Shop (760) 873-0010, Culver’s (760) 872-8361, Brock’s (760) 872-3581.
Lone Pine-Independence Area: The early trout season on the small streams on the west side of Highway 395 from Independence Creek on the north to Cottonwood Creek continues fair to good, and there were DFG plants last week and three weeks ago in all the usual spots — Cottonwood Creek, Diaz Lake, Georges Creek, Independence Creek, Lone Pine Creek, Shepherd Creek, Symmes Creek and Tuttle Creek. Fishing information: Long Pine Sporting Goods at (760) 876-5365 or High Sierra Outfitters at (760) 876-9994.
Additional Sierra area information:
Owens River (Benton Crossing Road area): Classic Mammoth river fishing, and lots of fly fishing activity. South on Highway 395 to Benton Crossing Road, then about 3 miles to the bridge. Turn left on the dirt road and drive as far as you want, look for dirt roads leading to the river every so often – the farther the drive the less crowded it gets typically.
Crowley Lake: Opening day is usually a sight to see, with thousands of anglers showing up to take part in some of the best trout fishing in California. This is a big lake, and a boat is useful. They are available for rent. Float tubes are common. Crowley Lake is just a few miles south of Mammoth on Highway 395. There is a marina, general store, rental boats, campgrounds and RV sites. Crowley gets planted a lot.
Convict Lake and Convict Creek: A deep lake where big fish can lurk. South on Highway 395 a few miles from Mammoth to the Convict Lake turnoff. Easily accessible from the parking lot — this is a good place to go if you don’t want to walk more than 50 feet or so. The best fishing on the creek is just below the outlet. There are campgrounds here and a general store for fishing supplies, food and beer. Boat rentals are available, and so is a launch ramp.
June Lake Loop: June Lake, Gull Lake, Silver Lake and Grant Lake. The June Lake loop area is usually one of the first higher elevation areas to clear of ice and snow, and is usually open by opening day. When the Lakes Basin in Mammoth and Convict Lake are still frozen, the June Lake loop is probably clear. There are several fishable streams (Rush Creek, Alger Creek) in the area, as well. The area has easy access to marinas, campgrounds, restaurants and supply outlets within walking distance. Rush Creek is regularly planted.
Mammoth Lakes Basin: Twin Lakes, Lake Mamie, Lake Mary, Lake George. Planted often, popular, scenic, accessible by car, with campgrounds and lots of big fish (check with U.S. Forest Service for road information: Mammoth Lakes region — (760) 924-5500.) Fishing is usually good at the lakes, once they can be reached. Early in the season, ice fishing can be attempted at many of the lakes — just be mindful of dangerous ice conditions. Lake Mary often produces large trout, as it is stocked with trophy-size Alpers trout, and Twin Lakes have been known to produce large brown trout.
Mammoth Creek: Mammoth Creek runs down from the Lakes Basin, through Sherwin Meadows, and down to Highway 395 and on to Hot Creek and the Owens rivers. Below town, there are some good spots and along the Sherwin Meadows area, there is easy access to the creek. Panfish-size trout is the norm, and the creek is planted regularly.
Hot Creek: World famous, productive and near useful hot springs. Catch and release with barbless artificial flies only. This is the only place around where the fish are all natural: no plants. Fish to 18 inches are regularly caught.
San Joaquin River: The San Joaquin river begins at Thousand Island Lake, 10 miles north of Mammoth, and ends up in the San Francisco Bay. Most fish here are around 12 inches, but a few bigger have been caught. During the summer, there is a shuttle that takes you down into the valley. Up Highway 203 past Mammoth Mountain and down Minaret Road to Agnew or Red’s Meadow.
Owens/Bishop Area: Below Pleasant Valley reservoir, you can fish the Owens year-round. The Wild Trout section of the river comes out of Pleasant Valley Reservoir and flows for 4.4 miles downstream toward Bishop.
Rock Creek Area: A few miles south of Mammoth, there are a number of lakes stringing up the canyon, along with campgrounds, lodges and some basic services. Rock Creek Lake sits at the end of the road, then you can hike up to Serene Lake, Eastern Brook Lakes, Mack Lake, Marsh Lake, Hidden Lake, Ruby Lake, Heart Lake, Summit Lake, Golden Lake, Patricia Lake and Box Lake. Rock Creek Lake is the biggest and has access from the road and campgrounds. There is a five-fish daily limit. Go 2 miles south of Mammoth on Highway 395 and turn west at Tom’s Place, then drive a few miles up the road.