The following appears in the March issue of California Sportsman:
By Chris Cocoles
First, the good news: Starting March 1, there will be more available fishing opportunities for anglers in the Eastern Sierra that weren’t year-round options in the past. Not so good news: There are no guarantees many of those waters will be accessible for a while.
Remember, we’re talking about some of the highest-elevation fisheries in the state. The new regulations, which were officially announced on March 1 and went into effect that day, are part of a long-term effort to streamline the statewide inland trout fishing regulations. They opened many lakes, rivers and streams that may have been previously closed during the winter months to anglers.
“In the past, five of the seven state districts within the California Department of Fish and Wildlife really were year-round fishing. So that was part of the initiative to push the rest of the state into that one big regulation,” said James Erdman, a Bishop-based environmental scientist with CDFW. “But the two parts of the state that were really left out of that were the Sierra district and pretty much the northern region – the Trinity Alps, the Lassen area; the two areas most affected by winter.”
“(The decision) involved a lot of public input, revisions and time, and obviously you can’t please everyone all the time. But in general, it seems pretty
well accepted as a complete package. What we’re trying to do is maximize fishing opportunities at stocked waters, and at the same time protect native fish and wild trout spawning where the opportunity exists.”
And the “opportunity exists” part is crucial to this news. While a handful of Eastern Sierra waters have long been open year-round – “the Owens River, Hot Creek; maybe five waters out of a few hundred,” Erdman says – most of the higher areas of the region are snowed in and some waters are iced over until late spring.
So the decision to open select fisheries is, in Erdman’s mind, “trying to balance resource protection and angling opportunity.”
FISHMAS CELEBRATION REMAINS
The last Saturday in April is the date that will continue to be circled on anglers’ calendars (last year’s opener was delayed about a month due to COVID-19 restrictions). This year’s “Fishmas” opener is scheduled for April 24, and the new regulations – they can be viewed at fgc.ca.gov/ Regulations/2020-New-and- Proposed#3_00 – set aside the usual spots that trout seekers flock to.
That includes 20 fisheries in and around the Eastern Sierra, known as “resort lakes” such as Crowley and Convict Lakes, two of the most heavily fished destinations on the opener (see sidebar graphic for a complete list).
“All the lakes that have an entrance, restaurants or stores, boat ramps and marinas – what you’d consider a resort lake with campgrounds and amenities,” will open April 24, Erdman says. “In a sense, those are the lakes that people come up here to fish on opening day in general.”
“We really want to preserve (opening day). It’s a huge part of the economy of the small towns in the Eastern Sierra during Fishmas itself and a great time to visit,” he adds.
OPPORTUNITIES DICTATED BY MA NATURE
So what’s going to be open in March that has been previously closed? Essentially, all the areas that don’t have amenities. Erdman cites a couple such fisheries near Bishop that will open and are adjacent to other spots that will not be open until April 24. From Bishop, west off Highway 168 are Sabrina and South Lakes at 9,000 feet elevation; these will not be open but will be available for the Fishmas Day crowd (if they aren’t still frozen).
North Lake is in the same vicinity as Sabrina and South Lakes, but it is located off a dirt road and has no real amenities, so that lake opened to year- round fishing as of March 1, according to the statewide trout regulation. Like Sabrina and South, it is often frozen through the end of April.
Another body of water that receives stocked trout throughout the traditional season – when water temperatures are optimal for stocking – is known as Intake 2, which is around 7,000 feet. It will also open for business throughout the year as part of the new regulations. But Erdman offered a caveat that safety should be taken into consideration before setting out for any of these remote destinations.
“Right now, Intake 2 is accessible, probably frozen and probably thin, and I don’t know if ice fishing is safely available,” he said. “This is where we hit that nexus of, is it safe? Do we close it to angling to protect people? Just as it is the angler’s responsibility to know the fishing regulations, it is also the angler’s responsibility to know their own limits and recreate safely, in my opinion.”
Erdman also mentioned the opening of fishable waters around the Golden Trout Wilderness, which is located in parts of Tulare and Inyo Counties that are often difficult to reach in winter.
“Pretty much the entire Golden Trout Wilderness is a two-fish bag limit year-round and with artificial lures only. (But it’s) mostly inaccessible,” Erdman says. “If you’re going backcountry skiing, you don’t carry a fishing rod. And if you’re fishing, you’re not wearing skis. The two usually don’t go hand in hand. And I do both; I’m a backcountry skier and a backcountry fisherman. I do not do both at the same time.”
So while it’s plausible that some hearty anglers – probably locals – will find a way to take advantage of some of these new opportunities, Erdman doesn’t expect a crush of fishing pressure at these previously closed lakes and ponds.
“I doubt it. It’s just cold. The fish are hunkered down, they’re not biting very much. We do get quite a few (winter) anglers on the Owens,” he says. “It’s a warmer water and the fishing’s great in the winter when the flows are low. It’s a world-class fishery, in my opinion. It really draws people to both the catch-and-release sections and the catch-and-keep areas. But these small streams, I really don’t see them drawing people in.”
Erdman says the Owens River remains anglers’ best option for winter fishing opportunities in the area. The Lower Owens (from 5 Bridges Road to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s pumpback pond) and the Gorge (between Crowley Lake and Pleasant Valley Reservoir) will be open year-round with a five-trout bag limit.
The economic boost that the region gets once the trout season opens should continue, assuming there aren’t more pandemic complications.
And as for the other regulation changes?
“There are going to be people who say things like, ‘You can’t open Intake 2 year-round.’ We’re trying to provide angling to as many people as possible, while considering historic uses and fisheries science, which goes back to fishing opportunities and protection of the resource and that balance. I think these regs do a good job of balancing both,” Erdman says.
“Of course, everyone has a favorite lake or favorite spot. But if they continue to go back and read the regs, it’s not that big of a change. Obviously if the change is open (fisheries) or closed, people are going to be (more) upset with closed waters.” CS
WAIT UNTIL FISHMAS
The following Eastern Sierra fisheries – all have amenities – will remain closed until the traditional last Saturday in April season opener (April 24 this year):
Bridgeport Reservoir and tributaries; Convict Lake; Crowley Lake; George Lake; Grant Lake; Gull Lake; Horseshoe Lake; June Lake; Lundy Lake; Mamie Lake; Mary Lake; Rock Creek Lake; Sabrina Lake; Silver Lake; South Lake; Twin Lake (Mammoth); Twin Lakes (Lower and Upper, Bridgeport); Virginia Lakes (Lower and Upper). CS