Trout season in Sierra Nevada kicks off this coming Saturday

By: Jim Matthews

Trout fishing season opens this Saturday throughout the Sierra Nevada, but there are two dark clouds looming over the fishing season in the region that could make it a gloomy year.

First, Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) announced it would reduce trout plants by about 50 percent this year statewide, an impact that will be felt especially hard in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Second, the multi-year drought might threaten many waters in the Sierra Nevada, especially late in the summer and early fall, as lakes and reservoirs drop to all-time low levels. While worst-case scenarios are only being whispered about, some waters may actually become too low or too warm to support trout.

DFW completely ignored mentioning the trout stocking reductions in its rosy press release about the opening of trout season and glossed over the impacts of drought. Those kind of blinders are expected from the Inyo and Mono county tourism people (although, even they have all been more candid), but DFW should be providing anglers with details of how the stocking program is changing in the Sierra, what waters are going to get in way of fish this year, and how the numbers and sizes compare to the past three seasons. DFW owes it to the angling public to tell them where stocking programs are going to change from plants of catchable trout each week or every two weeks to plants of fingerling (two- to four-inch) or sub-catchable (four- to six-inch) trout that will grow into catchable trout by fall or next spring’s opener.

Know this: trout will be smaller and less poundage will be stocked by DFW.

But that’s the bad news.      

To DFW’s credit, most roadside waters in the region will be stocked for the opening weekend of the season, which, because of the almost non-existent snowpack, means more waters than normal will probably get trout for this coming weekend. The rainbows might be smaller than normal and plant sizes may be reduced, but there will be plants. (We really don’t know how big or the amount of fish DFW will be planting because they don’t tell us that, but you can go to the stocking page on DFW website for a complete list of waters that will get trout – and be sure to look at the plants for the previous two weeks, too, because a number of waters were planted last week or two weeks ago in preparation for the opener.)

If there is good fishing in the Eastern Sierra this year, it is partially because county, business and private groups in the region have continued to step up to the plate and have purchased trout from private hatcheries or found innovate ways to raise fish to plant for anglers.

In Mono County, the early season fishing should be as good as ever, perhaps even better than normal because so much of the backcountry is snow-free and already accessible, allowing for plants at most waters. All of the popular waters in the region are already ice-free, including the Virginia Lakes located off Highway 395 at Conway Summit. These lakes are frequently covered in ice until Memorial Day weekend. 

The reservoirs with flow level and continued water demands, along with some creeks and rivers tapped for domestic and irrigation use, are facing the most challenges this season. 

“If you love fishing the Bridgeport Reservoir, Grant Lake Marina or the West Walker, come early this year,” said Jeff Simpson, economic development manager and member of the Mono County Fisheries Commission. “We are stocking these locations heavily in the early part of the season, so the best time to fish will be during the opener and in May, June and July.”

Mono County has an annual stocking budget of approximately $125,000 and will be planting 21 lakes, creeks and rivers with 26,800 pounds of both trophy and catchable trout. The town of Mammoth Lakes contributes about 15,000 pounds of trout to waters in the Mammoth Lakes Basin.

The Bridgeport Fish Enhancement Foundation stocked tagged trophy trout in Upper and Lower Twin Lakes and Bridgeport Reservoir in March, and these were all six to 10-pound rainbows. Those tags can be redeemed for a $60 prize at Ken’s Sporting Goods in Bridgeport. Lower Twin Lakes Resort also had a grow-out pen that started as 200 pounds of six-inch rainbows. Those fish will be released later this year once they reach the one- to two-pound class.

Crowley Lake, generally the busiest fishery for the trout opener, was stocked by DFW last fall before the current cutbacks took place, and it should fish as well or better than most openers. The water level is lower than it has been for many years, which concentrates all the fish into a smaller area. Water conditions are excellent at Crowley right now and it should be a hot spot this year. The lake only had a brief period of sheet ice in mid-winter, which means the trout had a long winter growing seasons and should be bigger than normal.

DFW reported in previous years an estimated 10,000 anglers turned out for the opener at Crowley and about 50,000 trout were caught during the first week of the season. Most years those fish average less than one pound, but with this year’s mild winter, the fish are likely to average one pound or more.

Opening day events include the annual Fishmas Day Celebration at Tom’s Place, the Monster Fish Contest at June Lake Loop and the Mono Village Fishing Opener Derby at Upper Twin Lakes in Bridgeport. The Round-Up at the Lake Spring Fishing Derby at Convict Lake takes place April 26 through June 12.  For a complete list of events in the region this fishing season, go to the county website here.

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