As hundreds of San Diegans prepare for the April 30 trout opener in the Eastern Sierra, expectations are running high.
The annual six-hour drive for thousands of Southern Californian anglers up Highway 395 — to what anglers call “Fish-mas” — will hopefully not be in vain. In the past two years, drought-caused low water levels, and surprise opening-day snow storms dampened dreams of double-digit lunkers.
Ernie Cowan, an Eastern Sierra ambassador of sorts, through his columns in Western Outdoor News, reported a couple weeks ago at a club meeting of the Senior Anglers of Escondido that many of the lakes from Bishop to Bridgeport are ice-free, and last year’s post-season trout plants should increase the fishing fun, if the good weather holds out.
Going up Highway 395, south to north, Cowan reports: above Bishop, South Lake and Sabrina, almost dry last year, have had good snow runoff and the lake levels will allow boating and shore fishing.
Flowing down from Crowley Lake, the South Owens River will not be very fishable this spring. Snow runoff is causing heavy flows, around 350 cubic feet per second. “Too fast,” said Cowan. But Crowley Lake, the big reservoir built in the 1940s for a thirsty Los Angeles, is the highest it has been in the past four years.
Above Crowley, fishing the Upper O will be just a scenic day for most. Although some of Crowley’s big fish have migrated upstream, “Only the very experienced will be able to catch anything,” said Cowan. “If you throw something they’re not used to, they won’t bite.” Convict Lake, the eastside’s most scenic, is well stocked and completely ice-free.
The Mammoth Basin: Twin Lakes, and Lakes Mamie, Mary, and George will still be iced over. “Depending on the weather between now and then, ice fishing might be possible,” Cowan advised.
On the June Lake Loop, June, Gull, and Silver, are full of water and fish. Grant Lake, the last lake on the loop, is one of the Sierra siphoning-off points for Los Angeles water. After four years of drought, it will take several years of average snowfall for Grant to be full again.
This year at Silver Lake the Jones Family will celebrate 100 years as being the oldest fishing resort in the Eastern Sierra. All the June Lake area resort operators, along with Mono County, supplement government plantings with three- to ten-pounders from hatcheries in Oregon. “There’s a lot of hold-over fish from last year,” said Cowan.
Virginia Lakes, at 9770 feet, are the highest in elevation along the Highway 395 corridor. They will be completely iced over and not fishable unless there’s a warm streak between now and opening day.
Bridgeport’s Twin Lakes and the Bridgeport Reservoir are ice-free and mostly full. The Bridgeport Marina went completely dry last year, and reportedly the landing was going up for sale. The owners have been encouraged to stick it out now that water levels have risen.
Good news for those who chase the big browns. Last year, under budget restraints, California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife began stocking smaller rainbows, only six to nine inches. “What do big browns eat?” questioned Cowan. “Small rainbows!” shouted a member of the club.
This year, there’s a region-wide contest with a top prize of a $10,000 boat, motor, and trailer. Weigh-in stations will be at Ken’s Sporting Goods in Bridgeport, Ernie’s Tackle in June Lake, Rick’s Sport Center in Mammoth, and the Bishop city park.
This will be the writer’s 16th opener. You’ll find him on the shore of Silver Lake by 4:59 a.m. — one hour before sunrise — the official 2016 trout-season start time.