Trout Season Started Quietly In Mono County (Updated)

Fishing returned to Convict Lake and other Mono County trout fisheries on May 23, about a month later than usual due to COVID-19 restrictions. But fishing pressure was far less than usual. (ALICIA VENNOS/MONO COUNTY TOURISM) 

Update: Private campgrounds and RV parks to reopen on Friday. Here’s the press release:

MONO COUNTY, Calif. (May 28, 2020) – The Mono County Board of Supervisors’ Special Meeting to discuss lodging originally scheduled for Friday, May 29th at 9:00 a.m. has been canceled.  This cancelation does not affect the release of guidance by the Mono County Health Officer regarding the reopening of private campgrounds and RV parks in Mono County, effective Friday, May 29th.

During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting, Acting County Administrator Bob Lawton agreed with an interpretation made by Inyo County that the reopening of private campgrounds and RV parks is not prohibited by current State orders, and that with the recent rescission of Mono County’s local orders, private campgrounds and RV parks may now reopen, subject to public health guidance.  The Board agreed that reopening, with modifications, should occur effective Friday, May 29th.  The proposed timeline allowed for the State to respond with any specific guidance or concerns, and provided private campgrounds and RV parks with a few days to prepare for reopening. 

The State of California is expected to modify the Governor’s Shelter-in-Place Executive Order in the near future to allow some commercial camping in order to mitigate the adverse effects of increasing unregulated camping on public lands in areas like the Eastern Sierra.  Those campground operators who choose to reopen prior to the approval of the California Department of Public Health and without accompanying guidance are reminded that all businesses must follow COVID-19 related county and state regulations, including the creation of a pandemic reopening plan and self-certification (accessed here).

In addition, Mono County Health Officer Dr. Tom Boo provided additional interim guidance in an order issued today (accessed here), restricting campground operators from advertising, and limiting campground capacity to 50 percent of normal, pending the expected guidance from the state, which may be released next week.

In addition to the discussion about private campgrounds and RV parks, Board of Supervisors Chair Stacy Corless (District 5) proposed the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee (Committee) consisting of Supervisor John Peters (District 4) and Supervisor Jennifer Kreitz (District 1) charged with the development of a strategic plan for reopening lodging within Mono County.  Following Board consent to establish the Committee and return to the Board on Friday, May 29th to present a plan, County Counsel Stacey Simon advised Supervisor Peters to seek advice from the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) regarding a potential conflict of interest related to his personal employment in the local lodging industry.  Supervisor Peters has reached out to the FPPC, which has advised that, unless a specific exception applies, Supervisor Peters would be prohibited from working or voting on a lodging plan.  Supervisor Peters, with assistance from County Counsel, is currently assessing the applicability of the exception.  A final decision is expected within the week. 

At the regular meeting on Tuesday, June 2 at 1pm, the Board of Supervisors will continue discussion and possible action related to the COVID-19 crisis response. The Board understands the importance and urgency of providing county business owners and community members with a plan to reopen lodging and to continue economic recovery during the COVID-19 crisis. The meeting agenda and details will be available here.

California’s stay-at-home order is still in effect, and non-essential travel should be avoided in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.  A complete list of private and public campgrounds can be accessed here.  Campers are advised to check with individual campgrounds regarding reopening plans prior to making arrangements or reservations.

By Chris Cocoles

A sense of normalcy returned to Mono County with the May 23 delayed trout opener, though it was anything but routine. 

“I counted 10 boats when we got on the water around 6:30 and there were 25 boats on when we got off the water at like 11,” local angler Jeff Simpson says of his experience at Bridgeport Reservoir. “Usually we’ll have a couple hundred on the water.”

But given that the Eastern Sierra is still limited due to the statewide COVID-19 shutdown and the quick announcement that the trout opener, which was delayed from its usual last Saturday in April start, the lack of angling pressure was understandable.

“For the most part, though, it was just locals. I think the quick decision by the state didn’t allow for a lot of people to plan ahead,” says Simpson of the Mono County Economic Development Department in Mammoth Lakes. “Most people out on the water were either locals or drive-ins from Nevada – within a couple hours’ radius.”

Indeed, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife put out a press release on May 22 – Mono County sent a letter to CDFW to request the season beginning before the original May 31 target date after the delay – and then announced fishing could begin the following day of Memorial Day weekend. 

Still, the short notice was only one reason why attendance for the trout opener wasn’t heavy. Lodging remains closed around the Eastern Sierra, though in Mono County private campgrounds and RV parks were set to open on Friday. Several boat launches were also closed, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power ramp at Crowley Lake.  

“I think there were a lot of people upset because they didn’t get a head’s up tourist-wise. There were a few local businesses that were caught off guard. And I think there were businesses that thought this was a great idea,” Simpson says. “It’s like with everything going on right now; people think we’re either going too far or not far enough one way or the other. So it’s kind of mixed feelings.”

Bridgeport Reservoir photo by Jeff Simpson/Mono County Tourism.

AS WITH THE LONG-TERM impacts that the virus will have on our lives, the prospects of summer in the Eastern Sierra are unknown. Surely more and more visitors will find a way to make the trip to Mono County – neighboring Inyo County also announced it would be open for fishing starting today. 

There are several scheduled derbies throughout the summer calendar, and while the plethora of events that were scheduled for the opening weekend in April are now canceled, Simpson says all upcoming tournaments and derbies are tentatively on for now. 

“I think (event officials) want to hold on as long as they can and see what the regulations are from the state and see if they can still move forward. Obviously you can still socially distance when you’re fishing,” Simpson says. “But I think if there’s a dinner afterwards or a weigh-in ceremony (it could be problematic). So at this point derbies are still on the books for the summer with the asterisk that can obviously change at every minute.”

 Simpson expects fishing to be solid throughout the Eastern Sierra. Many of his fishing trips will be hiking in the backcountry and fishing more of the remote lakes for wild trout, but Mono County still plans to follow through with its delivery of hatchery trout from Oregon’s Desert Springs Hatchery that will be stocked in 18 drive-in county fisheries. 

“We’ll start doing that in phase three in the governor’s plan, which is as soon as lodging is open. We’ll start bringing fish down right away and spend $100,000. That’s what we always do and again will this year,” Simpson says. “We’ll have mixed size – so anywhere from 2 pounds to 6 pounds – and mixed loads.”

Everything is looking solid in terms of water levels considering two of the last four winters have featured heavy snowfall – “The runoff is already happening at the West Walker River, so that time when the water gets super muddy has already passed,” Simpson adds.

When California hits phases three and four and restrictions begin to be lifted fully – much of the state remains between phases one and two – you can expect the usual summer rush of fishing fanatics that the local businesses desperately need. But it’s unclear just when that will be. 

“The word’s out that the fishing is open again, so we’ll just have to wait and see. I think I have a good mindset on what’s going to happen with this situation, which is unprecedented in every manner,” Simpson says. “So we really don’t know what the consumer behavior is going to be like. All the intricacies that COVID has interrupted have changed for everyone.”

These Silver Lake boats had been beached for the first month, but the hope is the summer will bring more opportunities for these boats to get launched. (MONO COUNTY TOURISM) 

FOR THE LOCALS WHO got back to fishing on that warm May Saturday, it was cathartic. The Simpsons, Jeff and his father John, are longtime residents of Mono County who have been fishing together on opening day for the better part of 30 years. 

“It was fantastic. It was also eerie, because there wasn’t that mad rush of people lined up at the launch trying to get their boats in the water,” Jeff Simpson says. “We were the only person there and we could take our time backing in and launching and making sure everything was fine. You weren’t worried about where you were going because there weren’t many boats in the water.”

While trolling, John caught the first couple of Bridgeport Reservoir brown trout. Finally, Jeff bounced back with his first brownie of the season, and the guys caught and released a few more fish before the heat of a delayed opener finally chased them off the water around 11 a.m.

“You get that first hit when you’re trolling and it’s game on – that rush of catching your first fish of the season,” Simpson says. “And it was a brown of about 2 pounds – all of the first we caught were of really nice size.”

For the scattering of boats on Bridgeport and fishing other local lakes and rivers that day, this was just one step in a process that everyone is going through these days.

Simpson recognized so many faces in the boats he and his dad passed on the lake. Everyone was practicing social distancing, so the communication among them was lots of waves and hand gestures of how many fish were caught. 

So the question can be asked if there is some optimism for the first time in a while. 

“I think so. I think everyone is looking forward to getting back to normal and having a nice summer season,” Simpson admits. “It was good for my mental psyche. Just being out on the water and doing a normal activity was absolutely incredible.”