SoCal, Eastern Sierra Fisheries Struggle Despite More Water

Photos by Mike Stevens



Good piece in the L.A. Times about certain instances of Southern California fishing success not benefitting from the increased water levels after drought-busting rain- and snowfall in the last couple wet seasons.


Here’s more from reporter Hugo Martin of the Times:

Anglers and fishing gear vendors rejoiced when the 2016-17 winter dropped one of the largest snowpacks in California’s recorded history, filling up lakes and reservoirs to pre-drought levels while turning dry rivers into fast-moving rapids.

So far this year, sales of fishing licenses are on track to match the 1.07 million recreational licenses sold last year, according to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

But the wet winter has yet to deliver a dream fishing season.

Knee-deep rivers that are prime hunting grounds for fish have become waist-deep torrents, moving too fast to fish.

“Fishing is pretty slow in all areas,” said Tom Loe, owner of Sierra Drifters Guide Service, located near Mammoth Lakes in Mono County. The Owens River, which runs through the Owens Valley east of the Sierra Nevada mountains, is swollen with snowmelt in many sections, making the water too deep and the current too rapid to fish.

“The Owens River is running too fast, 10 times what it was running before this winter,” Loe said.

Although fishing season typically begins in late April, many of the popular high-elevation lakes in the Eastern Sierra — such as Saddlebag Lake west of Lee Vining and the Twin Lakes near the town of Mammoth Lakes — are still frozen or have only recently thawed. That has shifted demand to the lower-elevation fishing lakes, such as Crowley and Convict lakes, Loe said.

“We are seeing a huge influx of people visiting this area,” he said.

And even for those high-elevation lakes that have thawed, anglers say that the snowmelt continues to make access difficult.

Our correspondent Mike Stevens wrote about the difficulties summer trout anglers in the Eastern Sierra might experience after the heavy snow that fell in the winter. Here’s Stevens in our June issue with some good advice for anyone hoping to fish in higher elevations this summer:

There is no doubt that the miracle winter California experienced is pretty much a positive thing across the board when it comes to Eastern Sierra watersheds. But the remaining question marks – many of them unanswerable – are enough to keep Highway 395 trout guys up at night. 

Everyone knows that conditions in the region are predictably unpredictable for the most part – week to week, if not day to day or even hour to hour – but all that glorious snowpack adds unique variables to the situation. 

While those factors are out of the control of any human being, it’s wise to think about the possibilities this year and how to “improvise, adapt and overcome” when conditional elements up there change the way a Sierra fishing trip will be executed. Heading up with a business-as-usual attitude is not the way to go in 2017. I know I’m going up with not only a plan B, but also C, D, E and, heaven forbid, F.  …

AS FAR AS CALLING audibles if conditions go to hell in your favorite spots, my pieces of advice are as follows:

• If runoff blows out your creeks or rivers, move to lakes where the fishing isn’t as adversely affected by new water. 

• If you just have to fish moving water, take a meat-and-potatoes approach with attractor-type lures and flies that are visible in off-color water. Target side-channels, eddies, undercut banks and deep pools that trout will use to stay out of the fast current, and fish slow. Plastics – especially scented ones – are ideal for this. 

• If trails are clear of snow and passable, hike into the easier backcountry spots to get on top of much of the runoff. Trails Mosquito Flats (out of Rock Creek Lake) or the Duck Pass Trail (Lake Mary) come to mind. This will not likely be an option early in the season, as snow will be covering trails well into early summer. 

Keep in mind that new water in the form of runoff was snow not very long ago, so it’s near freezing. It will affect lake temperatures, so slow, scaled-down and possibly scented tactics are advisable in lakes, too. A cold trout is a sluggish trout (more sluggish than usual, anyway). 

The good news is, the lake-cooling factor brought on by runoff will be in play much later in the summer, so this year, August will fish more like a typical June or July. Over the last few drought years, if you got up there in August, you were dealing with water pushing 70 degrees, in which most trout are caught trolling leadcore line or fishing bait deep. 

Those are just a few things to think about. Otherwise, be open-minded to areas you might not be familiar with, like when I headed up Tioga Pass to beat the heat. It instantly became a favorite area for a guy who has been fishing the Eastern Sierra for a quarter of a century. 

Thankfully, snowplowing is already underway up Tioga Pass, but it takes one to two months, barring a late May snowstorm that pushed it even further back. 

Get out a map, use weather apps on your phone, go with your gut feelings, brainstorm or just guess on some new areas. It feels pretty cool when desperate times call for such measures and it pans out.