If you are among the thousands of rainbow warriors traveling north on U.S. 395 today, then you probably already know that you're in for a slaughter come Saturday morning, opening day of another trout season in the Eastern Sierra.
You can thank the spring-like winter, which removed the ice, warmed the lakes, hatched the
bugs and basically put some zip into the fish you're after earlier in the year than usual.
Of course, Mother Nature could suddenly tip the odds in favor of the trout. Anybody check the wind gauge lately?
Either way, says Dick Gaumer, a marketing director for the Mammoth Lakes area and a lifelong fisherman, "It'll be a wild opener."
So as you meander up the high road through the high desert, with visions of rainbows dancing in your head, and of butterflies splattering against your windshield, there are a few things you might want to consider to make your trip more enjoyable.
Foremost among these, of course, is safety. The highway to trout heaven is a dangerous place to be today, what with the sharp increase in traffic, late-season skiers in their fast cars whizzing around fishermen in their clunkers, overloaded RVs gathering dust as they cough their way up the grades--which tempt even those in the clunkers to pass.
"This is what we call a maximum enforcement period," says officer Charlie Jones of the California Highway Patrol in Bishop, "meaning we will have extra officers out there to encompass all the duties we have to perform, mainly to assist people whose vehicles have broken down so they can get to their destinations in time to go fishing."
Once there, you might want to find your fishing license. On opening day, Department of Fish and Game wardens are out in force, and they won't buy your claim that your dog ate your license. This is the day they lay down the law.
They will cite dozens of anglers for dozens of reasons, from fishing without a license to violating gear restrictions. And, as seems to happen every year, they will probably nab some idiot who thinks it's OK for him to keep 50 trout, when the daily limit is five.
"There are different odd things that happen every year," says Patrick Moore, a DFG spokesman. "Jumping the gun is also a big one. Some people get up there early and can't wait to get their lines in the water."
Another thing to think about: If you're planning on fishing through a hole in the ice, think twice. Because of the unseasonably warm weather, the ice is probably "rotten," or unsafe, and you risk becoming a human Popsicle and spoiling everyone else's day.
"You've got to be braver than me to go out there, I'll tell you that," says Alan Pickard, DFG fisheries supervisor in Bishop.
Not that there will be much ice left. Traditional ice-fishing spots such as South Lake, North Lake and Lake Sabrina, high above Bishop at 10,000 feet, have been freezing over at night but breaking up along large portions of shoreline during the day.
"There's a lot of rotten ice up here," says Gary Olson, concession owner at South Lake. "There may be some people who go out there, seasoned veterans, who know what they're doing. But to recommend it? That would really be asking for trouble. If you go out there . . . that could be really ugly."
With this in mind, no ice-fishing lakes will appear on this week's region-by-region pre-opener best bets list, starting in the south:
--Big Pine: Though most zoom through this small town on the way to and beyond the Bishop area, Big Pine Creek is worth mentioning because of Reid Watson, a trout farmer who has stocked the stream with about 800 pounds of rainbows weighing 3-6 pounds. By doing so, the Big Pine Chamber of Commerce, which initiated the project, hopes to put the town on the map of those seeking to get their hooks into something with more than just a wiggle.
--Bishop: Bishop Creek, which tumbles so beautifully down the canyon above town, will be a popular place this year because, for the first time in years, anglers won't have to trudge through snow to get to its upper reaches.
"The creek is going to be great because the flows are down and the creek from Parchers [Resort, at 9,000 feet] is accessible without any snow," says Bill Stoll, general manager of Bishop Creek Lodge. "The DFG is planting the creek, but also there is a great population of natural browns in the creek. I caught a one-pound brown in the South Fork last year."
--Mammoth Lakes area: They will be packed like sardines around the shores and on the water at Lake Crowley, but they will be catching lots of trout. Last year limits were being filled as early as 7 a.m. and similar results are expected this year. Nearby Convict Lake will not be as productive, but will yield bigger fish, possibly the biggest of any Eastern Sierra lake.
Twin Lakes might be worth considering because the ice recently melted--the adjoining lakes are usually iced over on opening day--and the holdover Alpers-raised rainbows and big resident browns ought to be perking up about now.