Countdown To The Trout Opener: Eastern Sierra Preview

Editor’s note: With this Saturday’s statewide general trout opener attracting anglers to many high Sierra lakes, rivers and creeks, we wanted to share a story each day from our April issue leading into opening day.

Today: Mike Stevens breaks down how a wet and snowy winter will affect the opener.

By Mike Stevens  

If the weather and water conditions for the Eastern Sierra trout opener weren’t so famously variable, we might not like it as much.

Spanning the last four openers alone, we have had snow and wind on the day of, whiteout conditions the night prior, and one year may as well have been July, with most anglers shedding to T-shirts by 10 a.m. 

Keeping this each-year-different- than-the-last streak in mind, we might be due for a rainy “Fishmas,” which would probably be the most miserable of them all, but you have to admit that this would be the year for it. 

While troutheads need to be ready for anything weather wise for the April 29 season premiere, there are ways to prepare for the hugely popular event based on years past and on what we do know. Key terms that will and should keep coming up leading up to the last Saturday in April this year include snowpack, runoff, flow rate and water levels. 

The “atmospheric river” dumped precipitation in the form of record-breaking rain and snow all over California, recharging reservoirs from Shasta to San Diego as well as aquifers everywhere in between. More importantly, the weather brought on enough snowpack – which is essentially the state’s water savings account – to the point where, off the record, Californians won’t have to worry about water supplies for a relatively long time. Naturally, it will also affect the popular spots for the Eastern Sierra trout opener. 

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AN OWENS CRISIS 

Starting from the “bottom up,” the Lower Owens River might be the biggest question mark in the region. In fact, it’s already pretty banged up. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), which governs the river’s flows, already declared it as well as Pleasant Valley Reservoir unsafe to fish in March. This, in turn, caused the City of Bishop to cancel the annual Blake Jones Trout Derby, the 50th installment of the event, no less, making it a difficult call to make. But they simply could not risk having that many people along the banks of PVR and the Lower O when they could be forced to uncork the river and let all that water fly. 

There will be weeks over the coming month where heat waves (for lack of a better term) will quickly thaw the snowpack. When that happens, the Owens will swell to unfishable and even unsafe levels, and if it happens during the opener when it’s on your radar, you’d better have a plan B.  Like the weather, there’s no way to predict when that will happen, but to give you an idea of the seriousness of the matter, state officials are starting to throw the phrase “state of emergency” around when talking about how the spring thaw can affect the entire Owens Valley. 

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BETTER NEWS ELSEWHERE 

Bishop Creek gets a lot of attention during the opener, and as long as it’s not one of those extreme thaw weeks, it should be manageable. Access above the 9,000-foot mark will be limited due to heavy snow, but both forks of the creek will be stocked and accessible. There is also a good chance for the return of ice fishing at Lake Sabrina, South Lake and North Lake. If that’s not your deal, Intake II should be ice free and heavily stocked.

Crowley and Convict Lakes are very popular opening weekend fisheries, and regardless of what the runoff throws at them, it’s almost impossible for them to be rendered completely unfishable. Crowley Lake has already been drawn down to accommodate all the new water heading to it through multiple tributaries, including the Upper Owens River. When that fills, LADWP will have to let it fly through The Gorge into the Lower O. 

OLD STAPLES ARE EFFECTIVE 

At those lakes, early-season tactics remain the same, regardless of conditions: boaters will score by flatline or leadcore trolling with Owner Cultivas, Rapalas, Needlefish and Tasmanian Devils. Shore walkers should stick to the sheltered coves, fish slowly and not shy away from scent. Floating baits, including the jarred stuff as well as Berkley Pinched Crawlers, Mice Tails and inflated nightcrawlers, will fill stringers for those who stick to it. 

Usually, of the top 20 fish caught on opening day at Crowley (they keep track), 75 percent of them are beautiful cutthroat in the 4- to 6-pound range; the rest are quality browns and planter rainbows. The same game plan will work at Convict Lake. 

You can pretty much forget about the Mammoth Lakes Basin, which is a shame because even when they are accessible, all the angler pressure is at Crowley, Convict or the June Lake Loop, leaving heavily stocked lakes almost untapped. But it’s extremely unlikely Lake Mary Road will be open past Twin Lakes, and even if it is, there will be too much ice to deal with anyway. Unless it is safe for ice fishing, that’s about it. 

NO LOOPHOLES HERE  

There’s a good chance opening weekend in the June Lake Loop will be business as usual for the most part. Grant Lake will be the most positively affected by all the new water, as it was looking pretty low for a while there. That might be the big sleeper this opener as it’s a historical big-fish producer, an ideal lake for trolling, and it’s been kind of left off the radar for a few low-water years now. 

Rush Creek is a big question mark and should be treated the same way as the Lower Owens: If it’s fishable, consider it a bonus without putting all your eggs in that basket. The rest of the Loop – Silver, Gull and June Lakes – can be expected to be good to go on Fishmas weekend.

Up in Bridgeport, the East Walker was blown out and unfishable in late March, but just because it happened then doesn’t mean it won’t happen again, or a third or fourth time. The good news is, the big lakes in Bridgeport suffered from very low water levels throughout last season to the extent that some docks and launch ramps weren’t usable. That is no longer a problem, especially at Bridgeport Reservoir, and this area has the potential to crank out huge brown trout right at the start of the season, as well as in late fall. If big fish is what you are after, Bridgeport needs to be an option and trolling big minnow baits is how you want to get after it. And for that type of fishing, don’t let the inclement weather scare you off the water. CS

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