Notes from the 2017 Eastern Sierra Trout Opener

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Let’s get one thing straight about the annual circus known as the Eastern Sierra Trout Opener – I’m not wild about them.  As a general rule, I don’t go, but the fact is that legions of San Diego anglers have made this a ritual for years, so I decided to join them and report back to SDFish on what I found – so here are a few of my observations:

Got Worms?

For more years than it seems anyone I found could remember, the senior class of Big Pine High School (all ten of them in the class of 2017) sells worms by standing on the curb of Highway 395 holding signs and waving in an effort to attract  passing anglers headed north.  Judging from the results they did pretty well, selling 504 cartons at $5 each for a dozen night crawlers with proceeds going toward the Senior Class Trip to Magic Mountain later this month.

Big Pine High School Seniors Anah-Kee Mason and Genevieve Lewis take their turn on the curb advertising worms for sale.

The first time I stopped by was over 30 years ago and at that time a young lady on the curb told me her class had spent weeks “flipping cow patties in the pasture and grabbin‘ the worms” in order to get enough to sell and fund a senior class event.  That changed in recent years as the class decided to purchase night crawlers from a wholesaler rather than flip cow patties.  Asked why, the school secretary sighed and explained, “I think it is a sign that times have changed.”

Not So Good Now, But Better Later?

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  • The evening before the opener I attended an outstanding  press reception put on by the Bishop Chamber of Commerce at the Bishop Country Club and was impressed with a few things that came out of the gathering.  First and foremost was the fact that rather than officials from Bishop touting the immediate area and businesses exclusively, the event included representatives from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Mammoth Lakes, Inyo and Mono Counties – and there was a genuine effort to ensure that visiting anglers will have ample information about the stretch of visitor services and fishing conditions from Lone Pine to Bridgeport.  It is the kind of collaboration and cooperation that would well serve San Diego’s angling community of businesses and patrons – if only we could find some leadership in this county that understands the value of collaboration and cooperation as well as our vast fresh and saltwater sport fishing opportunities and services.

    Secondly, much credit is deserved by the Department of Fish and Wildlife which showed up en masse and in uniform, some arriving in a tank truck with a glass side panel for viewing of the kinds of fish that the Department had been stocking in area waters in preparation for the opener.  Best of all, was a presentation by Biologist James Erdman who presented those present with welcome information about everything from the number of trout scheduled to be planted in area waters (way up from recent years) to the production of sterile triploid rainbows for stocking in order to prevent crossbreeding with golden, cutthroat and other rainbow trout – and the resumption of aerial planting of golden trout in high elevation lakes.

    There was also an update on water conditions at local lakes and streams for the opening days of the season which can best be described as frozen, cold or too damned much of it for optimal fishing conditons.  Popular high elevation lakes like Sabrina, North, Rock Creek Lake, the Mammoth Basin Lakes and many more were either frozen over or inaccessible due to road conditions.  The Owens River was running over its banks in most areas and mountain streams for the most part were running higher, colder and faster making for difficult conditions.

    If that is the bad news, the good news for anglers later this season is that those waters will still receive their scheduled allotments of hatchery rainbows when conditions permit, making for more fish available over the course of a shorter period of time.  That is not to say that there were not some good catches made at lakes like Pleasant Valley Reservoir or Convict which were supplemented by larger rainbows purchased from a private hatchery, or Lake Crowley where its rich waters favor a “put and grow” approach in which planted fingerlings grow rapidly to catchable size with many holding over from season to season to become genuine trophy catches.

    One last note from the reception that I believe will be of value to anyone with an interest in the region flanked by US 395 – Tales Along El Camino Sierra by David and Gayle Woodruff is a 144 page treat that is rich with history of little known stories from the region.  Well researched and written and easily read it is a bargain at $11 from area businesses and the Bishop Chamber of Commerce.

    The Fish Report

    Certainly there were some notable catches with big trout lifted from Bridgeport Reservoir, Crowley, Convict, Intake 2, Pleasant Valley, the Upper Owens and other waters, but after talking to anglers from waters far and wide over three days, there were far more reports of disappointing fishing overall.  Some of that disappointment comes from predictably unrealistic expectations and some from comparison to past openers.  I heard from long-time anglers who gave two thumbs down to their observations from June and Grant Lake in particular in the June Lake Loop as well as many other waters in the region.  I saw and heard little to get excited about at the waters I visited, including Intake 2, Bishop Creek, Lone Pine Creek, George’s Creek, Robinson Creek, Bridgeport’s Lower Twin or even heavily stocked Convict Lake, although a fair number of cookie cutter DFW Quarter-Pounders found their way onto stringers.  Keep in mind those observations could be unfair as in most cases they were snapshots from brief visits, but when combined with reports from experienced anglers who’d fished most or all of opening day my overall perception was of just fair fishing.

    The best I saw or heard of came from Crowley, but a trip to the cleaning tables  and shoreline late in the morning turned up less than spectacular results by that time as I spoke to more anglers without fish than those with fish – but again it was early and you can bet that boat anglers, including those trolling the lake and fly fishermen offering midge patterns just inches off the bottom in 15 feet of water likely did well as they usually do.

    The first time I walked the south shoreline of Hilton Bay decades ago, it could be described as the “Velveeta Shoreline” as bait anglers lined up cheek to jowl in lawn chairs behind rods in rod holders while watching the tip of those rods for the indication of a strike.  A few years later Zeke’s, a floating cheese bait came out causing me to think of the area as belonging to “Zeke’s.”  A bit later Berkley Fishing came out with PowerBait which has morphed to a dozen combinations of colors and flavors that range from Green Pumpkin to Captain America – all of which were on display and leaving no question that Velveeta and Zeke’s have long given way to PowerBait Shoreline for today’s anglers!

    Former San Diego County resident Tatiana Sanchez shows off a mixed bag of  seven rainbow and cutthroat trout on a stringer she shared with her husband after fishing for just a few hours along the south shore of Hilton Bay.  The fish were caught using Berkley Power Bait and Mouse Tails.

    My aim on this trip was threefold for the purpose of introducing San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist Bryce Miller, who is an avid fisherman, to the Eastern Sierra, provide SDFish readers with a first hand report from my perspective and of course, enjoy the trip, particularly the unparalleled scenery, as I never get tired of the views offered by the region or sharing them with others, with or without a rod in our hands.

    Bridgeport’s Lower Twin Lake

    I’ll wrap this up by saying that while it is always great for me to visit and enjoy the Eastern Sierra, opening weekend is my least favorite time as I find too many people and too much commotion demean the importance of the fishing experience for me.  Most seasons I have waited until after Labor Day when the crowds have diminished and I can enjoy drifting a dry fly at Hot Creek, the East Walker River, or maybe sitting in my tube and stripping some streamers at Lake Crowley.  That said, I am not a fly fishing purist and have enjoyed many a day casting Thomas Buoyants at Lake Mary or drifting a salmon egg, worm or live grasshopper down any of a number of mountain streams.

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  • My best advice to anglers with limited time to visit is to be patient and wait for the higher elevation lakes that are now frozen over or are inaccessible to open up and receive a few plants from their scheduled allotments.  The same goes for the streams that are running so fast, high and cold right now – they will be better later than they are right now.

    For those with ample time on their hands and a fishing itch that needs scratching, by all means go now, go early and go often – because there is no place in reasonable reach like the Eastern Sierra for fishing or family vacations.

    To that end there is no better place to start than the Bishop Chamber of Commerce which free of charge will provide newly produced fishing maps and vacation planners that cover the region from Lone Pine to Bridgeport as well as contact information for Inyo and Mono County tourism.  These folks are doing it right and can be reached by calling the Bishop Visitor Information Center at (888) 395-3952.

    About Author

    Jim Brown

    Jim Brown ran the San Diego City Lakes Program from 1974-2003, where he oversaw the operation of the fishing programs of the county's biggest and best fisheries. Over his 70 years as a native San Diegan, including 65 of them as an avid fisherman, Brown describes himself as someone who has fished most bodies of water in and around the county that hold fish, and all of those that don't.

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