TROUT OPENER UPDATE -- Jim Matthews ons 16apr03
Eastern Sierra trout season opener slated for April 26, 2003
It ranks as one of the most popular fishing events in the country. Tens of thousands of anglers fishing the Eastern Sierra on the last Saturday of April is the proof. While most of the Eastern Sierra slope waters have been closed to fishing for nearly six months, anglers all over the West are breaking out their fishing rods and preparing for what is expected to be another great opener. All waters in Inyo and Mono counties open to fishing one hour before sunrise on Saturday, April 26. The anticipation is already mounting.
"Right now I'm looking out my window and the skies are clear and the air is crisp like a spring day, a day that would make for great fishing," said Mike Haynie, the Department of Fish and Game's (DFG) Hatchery Supervisor for the eastern Sierra Region as he peeked out the window of his Bishop office. "However, Eastern Sierra weather conditions change every 15 minutes. Come prepared with lots of sun screen and warm clothing. Anything can happen here, and that's part of the early season fishing experience in the Eastern Sierra. There will be plenty of opportunity for people to catch fish."
The DFG is poised to plant dozens of roadside waters from Lone Pine to Topaz Lake, mostly with half-pound rainbow trout. The DFG plans to plant the traditionally stocked waters when conditions allow.
Because of icy conditions, several waters will not be planted prior to the opener in these following locations: in the Bishop Creek Drainage -- South Lake, Lake Sabrina and North Lake; in the Mammoth Lakes Basin -- Lake Mamie, Lake Mary and Lake George; in the San Joaquin River Drainage -- Sotcher and Starkweather lakes; in the Lee Vining Creek Drainage -- Ellery Lake, Tioga Lake and Saddlebag Lake. Trumbull Lake, the Virginia Lakes and Twin Lakes in Mammoth will be last minute decisions as to whether or not the DFG will be able to stock fish. Dependent on weather conditions these waters may become ice free if warmer weather arrives, which would permit stocking.
"California's budgetary crisis has not hampered Fish and Game's roadside stocking program," Haynie said. "The numbers and pounds of fish planted in roadside waters are expected to remain the same this year as in year's past. As far as fishing opportunities, I don't see there to be any change. However, some of our programs we implement this year will affect our program in years to come. There will be plenty of fish for anglers to catch on the opener."
At press time, lakes below 8,100 feet are ice free and should provide quick limits as long as the good weather holds.
Crowley Lake will see more trout anglers on opening day than any other single body of water in the country. Crowley's concessionaire estimates that on average over the last decade, 7,500 anglers fish the lake on the opener. The DFG says as many as 50,000 fish are caught at Crowley on opening weekend.
Crowley is one of the state's most prized trout waters. Each August, the lake is planted with close to 500,000 trout. Because of excellent feed in the 5,280-acre lake, those fish grow to catchable size by opening weekend. In August of 2002, Crowley was planted with slightly more than 150,000 Eagle Lake Trout subcatchables, 150,000 Coleman strain subcatchables, 100,000 Kamloop strain three-to-the-pound fish, 15,000 cutthroat subcatchables and 30,000-50,000 brown trout subcatchables.
"The fishery at Crowley is largely supported by the stocks that are put in eight months previous to the opener," said Curtis Milliron, the DFG biologist who has overseen the Crowley program for many years. "The fast growth that trout achieve at Crowley Lake allows them to grow from one-tenth of a pound when they are stocked in August, to at least three-quarters of a pound by the opener. The carryover fish that were stocked two years ago should be at a pound-and a-half or more each. More than half of the fish that are carryover size are Eagle Lake strain fish. We've had some fish that have carried over several seasons. We've seen those over five pounds."
In fact, this year, according to the DFG, Crowley may even see a slightly larger than normal fish. "I would say, based on Crowley being ice free right now, we are looking at a good class of healthy fish," Milliron said. "My guess is that the trout will be just slightly on the larger side of the long-term average. When they are actively sight-feeding on midge larva and pupae, as occurs during ice-free periods, they grow faster. As far as this year, the ice is off earlier than average, so we may see a slightly larger fish on opening weekend."
Crowley won't be the only lake in the region to yield good catch rates. Several other waters throughout the Eastern Sierra, including, but not limited to Intake II, Rock Creek Lake, Convict Lake, Pleasant Valley Reservoir, Lundy Lake, Bridgeport Reservoir and Twin Lakes Bridgeport will also offer excellent and heavily stocked angling opportunities.
"The roadside waters catchable trout program is fully intact. Fish and Game, even under the state's budgetary crisis, at least for this season, is able to maintain this portion of the stocking program," Milliron said.
Fish and Game will be stocking rainbow trout prior to the opener. Nonetheless, brown trout will also be available. "Most all of the brown trout people catch in the Eastern Sierra are wild fish. They aren't stocked," Milliron added. "They are our most common wild fish in lower elevation waters. That means just about every stream up and down the Eastern Sierra that has permanent flow has brown trout. Most of the small, little creeks that get stocked with rainbow trout also have wild browns."
If you want to catch larger brown trout you need to go to the lakes. Twin Lakes Mammoth and Twin Lakes Bridgeport, Convict Lake, Crowley and Bridgeport Reservoir also have browns.
According to the California Department of Water Resources, their California Cooperative Snow Survey snow pack in the Sierra snow accumulations are between 60 and 90 percent of average as of the March survey. These numbers are based on 50-year averages. Runoff was expected to be less than normal prior to the most recent storms that added fairly significantly to the snowpack in the southern Sierra.
Because of colder weather this winter, anglers can expect streams to be very fishable. In some years heavy snow pack and warm weather can cause streams and rivers to swell and become difficult to fish.
"It's timing. The timing of when we get whatever high flow may come can affect fishing," Milliron said. "Usually when you have a good snow pack you don't really have streams swollen with snowmelt runoff until late May and June. In a season like this, the peak stream flow might come earlier in the season, but that peak flow may not be large enough to affect angling."
One thing anglers should consider is that colder water can make trout less likely to chase lures. For better results slow down your retrieve or use bait.
"Trout are sluggish when the water is cold and you may have to change your tactics to get them to bite, but fish feed year-round. They even feed under the ice," Milliron said. "Water temperatures may affect the aggressiveness of trout, but you can still catch trout on lures in the early season."
While some waters will surely be iced over during the first few weeks of the trout season, the DFG urges anglers to be extremely cautious when approaching the ice and in no way recommends ice fishing. Before venturing out on the ice make sure to check with the local Forest Service office or sheriffs department for updated conditions
A reminder to all heading to the Sierra is that all persons age 16 and older must possess a valid California fishing license when angling within the state's borders. For 2003, a standard freshwater fishing license costs $30.70 and can be purchased at regional DFG offices or authorized dealers, and the license must be displayed visibly above the waist.
While most Sierra lakes, rivers and streams have a limit of five trout per day and 10 in possession, there are many exceptions to the general rules and regulations regarding season opening and closing dates, bag limits, minimum and maximum size limits and gear restrictions, especially in the Sierra. For regulations on a specific body of water, anglers should get a copy of the DFG's free 2003 California Sport Fishing Regulation booklet available from license agents or available online at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/fg_comm/fishregs.html.
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