BISHOP — Crowley Lake attracted another record-breaking crowd, an estimated 18,825, but little Gull Lake stole the fishing spotlight Saturday on a windswept opening day of the Eastern Sierra trout season.
That Gull Lake should take the play away from giants such as Crowley and Lower Twin Lake at Bridgeport was an improbable result Saturday. Crowley is a huge Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reservoir, 30 miles north of Bishop, and its average size throughout the summer is 5,183 acres.
By comparison, Gull is a puddle. The second in the four-lake June Lake Loop chain, Gull is roughly 65 acres, about one-sixth the size of its neighbor, June Lake. It rests in a spectacular setting, with snowy granite peaks, the Sierra's jagged spine, the backdrop to the west.
Nevertheless, by 3 p.m. Saturday, about 100 trout of more than five pounds had been caught by delighted fishermen at Gull. The largest was a 9-pound, 4-ounce rainbow by Pasqual Marjil of Los Angeles that measured 32 inches. By late afternoon, that was the largest trout reported anywhere in the Eastern Sierra.
Among the delighted fishermen at little Gull was a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department homicide detective, Don Garcia. He caught a 6-pound 15-ounce rainbow at 6:30 a.m.
"This is the 12th season in a row I've fished Gull, but I've never seen fish this size before," he said.
"And they started hitting immediately, right at dawn. We could hear shore fishermen hollering a lot, we knew they were getting big trout, but it was too dark to see them. After it got light, I saw about 10 trout over 5 pounds caught by shore fishermen before 6 a.m."
Two June Lake residents, Bob Root and Mel Bauman, did some trolling on Gull at mid-day and in 30 minutes caught four rainbows weighing a combined 27-8. Bauman had the topper, an 8-4.
At 3 p.m., Gull Lake Boat Landing owner Pete Levy estimated about 100 trout over 5 pounds had been weighed in, 25 of them over 8 pounds.
Eat your heart out, Crowley Lake.
And speaking of Crowley, officials there could only shake their heads in disbelief over the mob that poured through the gates all Saturday morning. Last year's opening-day turnout was a record, 16,650, but Saturday's topped it by a wide margin. Some Crowley employees pegged the crowd at more than 20,000.
Said Dave Griffith, who manages Crowley for the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department: "I can't believe the shore fishermen we have this year. I went by Layton Springs in our boat and I'm sure there are 10 times more people there this time than last year.
"We're estimating 12,000 shore fishermen and 1,950 boats carring an average load of 3.5 people, and that comes out to a total of 18,825. We actually registered 2,153 boats (by 10 a.m. Saturday), but not all of them are on the water yet."
And what of the fishing?
"I'm just a little disappointed," said Darryl Vega of Van Nuys, who was cleaning a limit of 1- to 2-pound rainbows. "I guess we're all a little spoiled after last year's opener."
The average size of Crowley trout caught on opening day last year was a record 18.3 ounces, and trout caught Saturday didn't approach that. However, the number of large trout appeared to be higher than at last year's opener. By 10 a.m., six fish over 6-0 had been weighed in at the Crowley store.
Tops by mid-afternoon was a 9-0 rainbow caught from a boat in Hilton Bay by Gordon Williams of La Mirada.
But the widest grin of all at Crowley belonged to Ryan Kelly, 7, of La Canada. He caught a 4-12 rainbow trolling by Crowley's east shore cliffs. When he showed up at the cleaning tables, news photographers dogged his every step. Finally, Kelly got so tired holding up his big trout for photographers, he turned it over to his father.
Fishing activity at Crowley and many other exposed Eastern Sierra sites slowed considerably at mid-morning because of hard winds from the southeast. The wind was so strong at Crowley, roughly half the boats on the lake appeared to be heading in to the marina to escape icy water spray. At the cleaning tables area, swirling sand and dust drove fishermen to their vehicles and tents, providing those hadn't blown away.
At 1 p.m., anglers who'd rented Los Angeles city boats were restricted to the relatively protected Hilton Bay and Crooked Creek areas.
Attendance seemed to be up at most popular Eastern Sierra lakes Saturday. June Lake had an exceptionally large turnout--about 200 boats were trolling at creep speed at 6 a.m., but the fishing seemed slow.
George Gecy of Lancaster and a friend had caught two rainbows in two hours from their boat, then quit to head for Crowley.
"I saw only six other trout caught on June this morning," he said.
Fishing was also described as slow to fair at another June Loop lake, Silver. It seemed slightly better at Grant, where nine rainbows over 4-0 were checked, topped by an 8-14 caught by Ron Dowell of Buena Park, from shore.