MAMMOTH LAKES — For the second straight year, on the opening day of the Eastern Sierra trout season, one of the region's smallest lakes, Gull, outperformed lakes 2, 5, 10 and, in the case of Crowley Lake, 100 times its size.
Shivering fishermen, many of them in snowmobile suits, began weighing in five-pound-plus rainbow trout before 6 a.m. at Gull Lake's marina, and the parade didn't stop all day. By 8 a.m., 15 rainbows of more than five pounds had been weighed in. By 3 p.m., the count was near 50.
Fishing and the weather were generally good at most Eastern Sierra streams and lakes Saturday. The Crowley mob scene was only slightly smaller than last year's record crowd of 18,825. Fishing was slightly less productive than last year's opener.
The official Crowley crowd estimate Saturday was 16,800, about half of them shore fishermen and the other half in boats.
Gull, Silver and Convict lakes, in that order, seemed to be yielding the most trophy-size trout (five pounds or more). Gull probably had more than 50 for the day, Silver 25 and Convict 15 by early afternoon. Crowley, which was stocked with 500,000 sub-catchable rainbows last August, yielded few holdover fish. Only about a half-dozen fish of more than five pounds were spotted at the cleaning tables by noon.
At some lakes, fishermen had to brave early-morning cold. At Gull, it was 18 degrees at dawn. Fishermen looked like stuffed bears in little skiffs, bundled up in snowmobile suits and trying to manipulate quarter-ounce trout lures while wearing heavy gloves.
But by mid-morning, when an unobstructed sun had hit all the lakes, fishermen were quickly down to T-shirts.
Dave Griffith, who manages Crowley Lake for the Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, had no explanation for a slightly smaller turnout. Most other lake operators reported slightly higher turnouts.
"The lines at the (Crowley) gate were moving so smoothly early this morning, I knew we weren't going to have a crowd like last year," he said.
Crowley fishing was shy of a normal opener, too. Department of Fish and Game biologist Phil Pister estimated that the several hundred trout he checked averaged about 11 inches long, or three-quarters of a pound.
A tipoff: The first fisherman with a limit at the cleaning tables, Ken Gustafson of Ventura, arrived at 7:05 a.m. On some openers, limits have arrived at the tables by 5:30 a.m.
By late afternoon, the largest trout caught in the Eastern Sierra was an 11-8 Convict Lake brown brought in by Frank Russo of West Covina.
Convict had its best opener in several years. Both shore and boat fishermen were reporting limits by mid-day. Numerous limits were also seen coming out of Convict Creek.
Silver Lake started slowly, with few hookups reported until the sun hit the lake at about 6 a.m.
"That's how it is at Silver," said Gary Jones, owner of Silver Lake resort. "It's slow at first, but when the sun hits the lake, things start to pop."
Larry Kerr of Oceanside agreed. He had four rainbows on a stringer, all between 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 pounds.
"Ours was one of the first boats on the lake," he said. "We didn't do much until the sun came over the ridge. Then we had maybe a dozen fish in the boat and we released maybe 10 small ones in the next hour."
Jones reported a record number of boats on Silver, about 60.
Gull had at least a near-record turnout. A visitor at the 65-acre lake counted 125 boats on the water at 6 a.m. It was a classic marine traffic jam. No one trolled in a straight line all day. Many had been lured away from other lakes by reports of Gull's 1985 opener, when the trophy parade was even more impressive: Nine trout between 6-0 and 9-4.
Many of Gull's Saturday trophies were coming out of the lake's darkest and coldest corner, the east-side cove. That spot was the last to be warmed by the sun, yet five-pounders were hitting cheese baits, marshmallows, worms and lures all day. Waders-clad shore fishermen working a reedy area just west of the marina also contributed a heavy share of trophies to the leader board.
By mid-afternoon, the Gull leader was Pete Vincioni of Moorpark, with a 6-12 rainbow.
At 6:50 a.m. Saturday, John Logue of June Lake was a man in a hurry. He weighed in a limit, with a 3-12 the largest fish, then left, sprinting. "I've got to be at work at Ernie's Sporting Goods at 7," he said.
Jim Ego of Diamond Bar has Gull figured out. Fishing from exactly the same shore spot where he landed an 8-0 rainbow last year on opening day, he caught a 5-1 with a lure Saturday.
Dana More of Tiburon and his son, Braden, 12, had one of the day's better Gull stringers: 5-8, 4-12 and 4-4. And they did it with boat and outboard motor troubles.
First, More's inflatable boat developed a slow leak at around 6 a.m. He needed to return to the air pump every 30 minutes. Then the outboard wouldn't start. Out came the oars.
Rick Rockel of Ken's Sporting Goods in Bridgeport described action in his area as slow to average.