Countdown To The Trout Opener: Ideal Conditions For Eastern Sierra ‘Fishmas Day’

We’re counting down to Saturday’s statewide trout opener with stories from our April trout preview issue. Today: Perfect weather set for Fishmas Day celebration weekend.

Last spring, frozen lakes elsewhere in the Eastern Sierra left Bridgeport Reservoir as the only realistic spot to fish on the statewide trout opener, though low water made for a difficult Fishmas there too. Conditions look much better this April 27, with most lakes being open for business. (MONO COUNTY TOURISM)

By Chris Cocoles

The big freeze that cooled off 2023’s Fishmas Day celebration shouldn’t affect the Eastern Sierra’s April 27 trout opener.

Last year’s big day was limited by a tumultuous winter that left only one of the traditional destinations, Bridgeport Reservoir, as a feasible option – and it was tough there too.

Jeff Simpson, the economic development director for Mono County Tourism and a regular at Bridgeport on the opener, said that with usual suspects like Crowley and Convict Lakes yet to thaw at the time, it was more like Freeze-mas than Fishmas.

“It was just crazy,” says Simpson of all the troutheads whose frozen lakes forced them to join the masses at a drawn-down Bridgeport Reservoir. “Walker River Irrigation District drained the entire lake to probably the lowest point that I’d seen. And it was in anticipation of all the water that was going to melt and fill up the lake. And when opening day came around, even though we had a monster snowpack, the lake was extremely low and then you had double if not triple the number of boats on the lake because it was the only place to fish. It just made for very crowded conditions.”

That, and a very slow start to fishing season for the Eastern Sierras’ trout-centric population and a main tourist draw for the region. Eventually things got back to normal during the usually busy summer months. Fast forward to 2024 and with key lakes free of ice and ready to go, it should be a merry Fishmas for locals and out-of-town anglers once more. Saturday’s forecasted high is 74 degrees with sunshine. Similar conditions are predicted for Sunday as well.

Bridgeport doesn’t face any draining issues either this year, so it should be good to go and likely will provide a better annual experience for Simpson and his family.

Other lakes a bit higher up in elevation, such as most of the June Lake Loop and Twin Lakes, should be open as well. And last spring’s delayed campground openings shouldn’t be a problem for the end of this April and well into May ahead of the summer rush either.

“I think the main difference from last year is all the lakes are thawed. They didn’t really freeze; maybe some in the June Lake Loop. But the (fisheries on the Highway) 395 level like Crowley and Bridgeport Reservoir are already thawed,” Simpson says. “So there’s no worry about the opener.”

From the larger lakes to smaller creeks and streams, there should be no shortage of water to wet a line this spring. (SIERRA DRIFTERS GUIDE SERVICE)


Again, last year’s wintry conditions and slow thaw forced the region’s usual liberal trout stocking process to be delayed.

“We had to wait so long to plant. Usually we have stocking before opening weekend, and normally have a June stocking at Virginia and Saddlebag Lakes, but we couldn’t do that either,” Simpson says of Mono County’s contributions.

“But what was better: The water was so full and the temperature so cold when we got them in later, the second half (of the season) was so great. This year should be on schedule with no problems,” he adds.

Mono County is planning to send down two truckloads of hatchery trout to plant in various spots in the region prior to the April 27 opener. Desert Springs Trout Farm in Oregon is providing a lot of the stocked larger-sized trout for the county, as it has for almost a decade now.

Mono County’s overall contribution is about $100,000 worth of planter fish over the course of the season. The community of Mammoth spends a similar amount, and other chambers of commerce and private marinas arrange for trout plants as well. So there should be no shortage of fish.

“It provides two things: Additional fish but also a different fish type. You have a chance to catch a 5-pounder instead of just those little suckers from (California Department of Fish and Wildlife stocking),” Simpson says. “It makes the chance of catching that big one that much better.”

“This signifies the end of winter hibernation up here for the locals. And it’s like, ‘OK, this is the day we open things up and can get back to normal living,’” Jeff Simpson of Mono County Tourism says. “Businesses are open and welcoming tourists. We’re back, baby!” (MONO COUNTY TOURISM)


With more fisheries expected open, the Fishmas weekend derby circuit should be in full force on April 27, including the Fish of the Month Contest that starts at Gull Lake, the Fishmas Day Derby at Tom’s Place near Crowley Lake, June Lake’s Monster Trout Contest and Annett’s Mono Village Opening Day Fishing Derby at Upper Twin Lake.

Also, two days after the opener marks the start of Convict Lake’s Roundup at the Lake tournament, which runs until June 2.

“Everyone’s kind of back up and running post-Covid and post-snowmageddon, and it’s kind of business as usual,” Simpson says. “Whether it’s fires or smoke or drought, it feels like there’s always something that interrupts our year up here. But I know for sure that the lakes will be open and full.”


Simpson’s yearly Bridgeport Reservoir opening weekend outing includes multiple generations of family members wetting a line. And that’s a common thread throughout the tiny communities and businesses that dot this natural wonderland of mountains, lakes and rivers/creeks.

“It’s one of the reasons we live up here, to pass on those things. It makes you proud to live up here and proud to raise your kids here,” Simpson says. “You’re passing on all that generational stuff.”

Simpson was asked if the folks living in his neck of the woods are bears in a cave chomping at the bit to enjoy spring trout fishing after a winter of shoveling snow and scraping ice off windshields.

“This signifies the end of winter hibernation up here for the locals. And it’s like, ‘OK, this is the day we open things up and can get back to normal living.’ Businesses are open and welcoming tourists. We’re back, baby!” CS

Editor’s note: For more on Mono County fishing and event information, go to


Sidebar: A Guide’s Take On The Eastern Sierra

Doug Rodricks, who owns and operates Sierra Drifters Guide Service (, offered up the following forecast for the Eastern Sierra opener and beyond:

“Most of the snow has fallen at higher elevations this year. Most areas below 6,800 feet are clear of snow now or have patchy snow on the ground. The lakes which are set to open this year for the general trout season are still at high levels from last year’s winter season. Water levels will remain at good flow rates all the way through the fall months. Rivers and creeks will see high flows and high runoff conditions early this year, but by mid- to early July we should start to see some stabilization of water flows, which will be ideal for fishing. Tailwaters like the East Walker River may see higher than usual flows through July.”

“With the milder winter we have had, which brought warmer than usual ambient air temperatures, we will not be seeing the issues we had last spring pertaining to frozen lakes. Most lakes in the area are thawing already, and some never froze over to begin with. This has presented the trout with ideal feeding opportunities through the winter months and an earlier feeding season on the lakes, which are thawing earlier than usual.”

“Backcountry lakes, lakes which can be accessed by vehicle, and rivers and creeks should all fish very well this year. Good fishing should continue well into the fall months for all areas … Good water levels will not only keep the fish spread out well throughout the rivers and creeks, but will provide for more aquatic insect activity in all waters.” CS