With the statewide general trout opener set for this Saturday, April 29, we have a series of stories in our April issue previewing the big day. Today: Fishmas will be affected by the heavy snowfall this winter.
Editor’s note: The following appears in the April issue of California Sportsman, but a heavy winter will make many usual opening day options difficult to fish. Jeff Simpson of Mono County Tourism offered the following update to what to expect this weekend:
“Most places still have ice on them as of today, including Crowley Lake, Convict Lake, all lakes on the June Lake Loop, Upper and Lower Twin Lakes BP, and Lundy Lake. Bridgdeport reservoir is 100-percent thawed. Rivers are accessible but flows will be extremely high: West Walker, East Walker, Robinson Creek, Lower Rock Creek, Lee Vining Creek,” Simpson says. “Bridgeport Reservoir will be the place to go. The lake is low due to draining it to make room for the incoming water. Launching is only available at the Bath Tub right now.”
By Chris Cocoles
As the Eastern Sierra has shoveled itself out of one of the snowiest winters any local can remember, Jeff Simpson, economic development director for Mono County Tourism – and a diehard trout angler – advised fishermen not to panic about this month’s opener.
“We’re getting a lot of calls left and right and that’s back to the perception of, ‘Hey, are they going to move ‘Fishmas’ because it’s not going to be thawed out yet?’” Simpson says. “Opening day happens whether we like it or not. It’s just a matter of if you can fish. But we’ve never had a lot of these places not thaw out; I think we’re all anticipating that (they do). But I think it’s still kind of a wait and see. But as we move into April and things warm up and it starts to thaw, I’ll be on social media and at those places immediately and trying to get people to realize that these places are opening.”
Still, don’t underestimate how much snow has fallen in this region, along with so many other parts of California during this drought-reducing winter. Most calculations put this among the top three to five winters ever recorded in terms of how much snow has fallen. Simpson, part of a third-generation family in the Eastern Sierra, can’t remember this much snow falling in a single season. Neither can his dad, also a longtime resident.
“And my grandma, who’s lived here her whole life, she says maybe 1969 or (1982-83) are the other years that come to mind for her. But it’s definitely in that top three conversation,” Simpson says. So definitely don’t expect the higher-elevation fisheries to be ready for business if you’re among those who celebrate and participate in Fishmas. But in the big picture, the white winter of ’23 is an important step in getting out of the state’s drought disaster.
“We needed every drop. The whole state does, right? We’re getting a top off on every single water system in the Sierra and throughout the rest of the state, so it’s hugely beneficial and definitely welcomed,” Simpson adds. “It’s just getting all that at once that has been tough on everyone across the state.”
STAY IN THE LOWER ELEVATIONS
The funny thing about the Eastern Sierra’s trout opener is anglers never know what that first Saturday and Sunday will bring in terms of weather. “Potentially, you can get sunburned or you could be wearing seven layers of clothes chopping around with snow coming down. It’s a crapshoot in terms of what it’s going to be like,” Simpson says. But whatever the weather looks like on April 29, it’s clear that some fisheries that in years past would have been accessible won’t be for a while. The good news is that expectations are for business as usual at many Fishmas staples.
Mono County stretches of Highway 395 that had been closed due to the heavy snow should be fine by opening day and with that, popular early-season trout destinations like Crowley and Convict Lakes will be ready to go. Other spots should also be fishable as well – albeit with the potential to have snow concerns.
“I think it’s the 395 corridor elevation level, which is Bridgeport Reservoir, Twin Lakes and the West Walker River, Lee Vining Creek, Robinson Creek – those are definitely going to be flowing fine,” Simpson says. “And you may have an advantage because I think some places might have snow around the creeks, and if you’re willing to walk through some snow, you can get into some honey holes that no one else would even think about that opening weekend.”
Simpson added that one benefit of the cold winter is that it should pay off in a longer trout fishing season.
“Sometimes in August, especially at Bridgeport Reservoir and other places, the water temperatures go up and the fishing kind of dies off. I don’t anticipate that happening. We’ll have fresh, cold water entering the system continuously all summer long. So I think that’s something we can benefit from,” he says. “But the negative is we’re not going to be able to get to some places during ‘normal’ times – places like Virginia Lakes, Saddleback Lake, Rock Creek Lake. I don’t see those places being able to comfortably fish until the end of June or the beginning of July.”
PLENTY OF STOCKINGS SCHEDULED
As usual, Mono County has a $100,000 budget to plant fish in various waters throughout the year. But again, the unforeseen weather that hit the area this year will have Simpson and his colleagues having to adjust on the fly.
“It’s just going to deviate slightly. I think we’re bringing the same amount of fish to every body of water, so one place isn’t going to get more than another. It’s just the timing and having to push things back until things thaw out or the roads are plowed and cleared where we can get in,” he says. “Normally, we’d be getting into some places in June and we would do that. It’s just going to be July now.”
But make no mistake: There will be plenty of fish planted throughout the season.
“This year I’m buying mixed-load fish, which is anywhere from a pound and a half up to 5-pound trout. Again, we’re buying from Desert Springs (Trout Farm), our fish provider. Every location that I’ll be stocking will be 1,000 pounds of trout. They’ll come in multiple loads, so it’s not all at once. And it will be focused primarily in the spring and summer. We don’t have anything coming in the fall. But typically, we’re worried about water flows and temperature doing those times.”
What should get Eastern Sierra anglers excited is the size of the trout that will be planted in various Mono County fisheries. While the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s “catchable” trout can be as small as half a pound, the private Mono County plants from Oregon-based Desert Springs Trout Farm offer plenty of bigger fish to target.
“Our catchable is at least 1 pound. We’ll have a whole bunch of pound-and-a-half fish; we’ll also have some trophy fish mixed in there. But nothing under 1 1/2 pounds,” Simpson says. “Desert Springs also stocked Bridgeport Reservoir with a bunch of brown trout this past year as well.”
LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
Everyone in the Eastern Sierra would probably agree that despite the positive impact of the heavy snowfall, it’s been a challenging winter. So the anticipation of another Fishmas weekend will likely reenergize the communities – not to mention help out the local businesses with the arrival of trout anglers eager to continue the last-Saturday-in-April tradition.
“I generally think lots of snow equals lots of water and great fish. And I think that it was clear that based on the consumer trade shows at Sacramento and (Bart) Hall Show down in Del Mar, people are generally really excited about the fishing and that it should be a fantastic year as soon as we get that ice thawed,” Simpson says.
“Looking forward to just relaxing and getting out of the city. Most people get up here to escape the hustle and bustle and enjoy the mountains. And catch some fish.” CS
Doug Rodricks, owner of Sierra Drifters Guide Service (760-935-4250; sierradrifters.com), previewed Eastern Sierra prospects for the trout opener and the season in general:
“The record amount of snowfall this year will have a major impact on all areas of the Sierra for opening day. As this winter has been unusually cold and continues to be as of the first week of spring, with more snow on the way, there has not been much in the way of snowmelt between storms.”
“While all of the lakes in the Eastern Sierra will fill up this season, with some to full capacity, the rivers and creeks are where we will really see limited decent fishing conditions through mid-to late June. The lakes will fish well, but you can plan on the trout holding very deep this spring by the time the general trout season opens.”
“As water levels begin to rise through the month of April, most moving water – especially freestone creeks, which are composed of straight snowmelt or runoff – will be very swollen and flowing at fast speeds. They will not only be difficult to fish, but can pose some hazards and be dangerous to the careless angler. These waters will also be very cold and can cause hypothermia in a hurry.”
“Tailwaters like the East Walker River may see a good window of opportunity for good fishing around the opener, since the floodgates will not be dumping water out until probably later in the spring. Bridgeport Reservoir has suffered from extreme drought for two to three seasons now, with water levels so low boats could not be launched from the marina. You can count on a full reservoir by this summer, and by opening day fishing should be very good, with great access around the entire lake.”
“Upper-elevation lakes that are usually accessed by vehicles around opening weekend will not be accessible by opening day, and places like the San Joaquin River will also need road repairs and snow clearing before the opener.”
“The best (bets) will be any lakes that are open and accessible. With such a cold, long and harsh winter this year, the trout will be very receptive to taking whatever flies, lures or bait are put in front of them.” CS