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SPORTS WEEKEND | THE OUTDOORS / PETE THOMAS

Snapshots of Recent Sierra Trout Opener Reveal Fishing to Be Ridiculously Good

April 30, 1999|PETE THOMAS

There was last weekend's trout "opener," and now, this weekend, there is the "quiet opener" for those who prefer to wait a week to beat the crowds.

There won't be nearly as many people lining Eastern Sierra shores, river banks, launch ramps and fishable water this weekend.

But will there be any fish?

A ridiculous question? Perhaps.

But so many trout were caught during the real opener last Saturday, and again on Sunday, that people were calling it one of the most ridiculous openers ever.

A few snapshots:

* Shawn Arnold, publisher of Fish Taco Chronicles, and Joe Trgo of Huntington Beach climb into an aluminum boat in the chilly dark of dawn, motor out to their usual spot at Gull Lake, drop their lines at 5:45 and over the next six hours reel in 87 rainbow trout, the largest being a 3 3/4-pounder.

After breaking for lunch, they go back out and finish the day with 115 fish, Trgo catching 58 to Arnold's 57. Only one was kept, the 3 3/4-pounder, which Arnold hopes will win a prize among a large group of friends that have fished Gull every opener since 1956. It doesn't win anything, but Arnold doesn't care.

"It got to the point where if you didn't get a strike within three minutes, you wanted to reel in and check your bait," he says. "It really was ridiculous."

* Ronnie Kovach, host of "Fishing Expeditions" on the Outdoor Channel, films the predawn fireworks extravaganza to kick off the opener at Crowley Lake Fish Camp, putters out with his son, Matt, trolling Rapalas with green backs and orange bellies. Jig strikes are frequent, and free-casting Husky Jerk Rapalas is also productive. The two catch 54 rainbows in less than four hours.

The show, "Mammoth Lakes Odyssey," also features Convict Lake and is expected to be shown within a month.

* Kovach speaks as though he is the only one doing so well, but everybody is catching fish at Crowley, and some as many as or more than Kovach.

"Fishing was incredible," says Rich Holland, a writer for Western Outdoor News, before walking away from the cleaning station with a sack full of gutted rainbows, which someday will become table fare. "We're having wahoo tacos tonight," he says. "I brought a bunch of that up with me."

* Leon Nadolski and Dennis Kaiser, ordinary Joes from Huntington Beach, slide their boat into the water at Bridgeport Reservoir and let out their fire-tiger Rapalas. Hookups are frequent and the fish are all colorful and healthy. In their log are 15 fish heavier than two pounds, a seven-pound hook-jaw male rainbow and two beautiful browns.

"And we lost a huge brown that rolled on the surface before breaking the line," Nadolski says.

* Steve Freer of Calabasas emerges from the tackle store on the June Lake waterfront, commenting on all the new-fallen snow, shaking his head and saying he has never experienced an opener quite like this one.

"We were trolling Needlefish and by the time we got to that beach over there, we already had our limits," he says. "And then we just kept on fishing. And fishing was just fantastic."

Ridiculously so.

WEEKEND PROSPECTS

Those heading up to the Eastern Sierra this weekend probably will not be disappointed, but they may find that things are quieter than last weekend in more ways than one.

"It's nothing like opening day where they're catching fish at every turn, but fishing is still very good," says Tracy Rockel at Ken's Sporting Goods in Bridgeport.

A second 10-pound brown in as many days was caught in Bridgeport Reservoir on Monday. Jerry Rago of Independence weighed in the 10-pound 15-ounce lunker, saying it had struck a Husky Jerk Rapala.

At Crowley, the midge hatch finally began earlier this week, which means the trout--already averaging a healthy one to three pounds--will be putting on some more weight.

"All the fish [at the cleaning station] are just full of midge larvae," says Jeff Topp, concession manager.

LOCAL SALTWATER

Yellowtail are still patrolling the shores of San Clemente and Santa Barbara islands in good numbers, and anglers on overnight boats are not finding them at all picky.

One of the top scores was posted Monday at San Clemente aboard the Thunderbird out of Davey's Locker in Newport Beach: 114 yellowtail caught by 16 anglers. The fish took both live squid and iron lures and averaged eight to 15 pounds.

White seabass, meanwhile, are still being targeted with fair success at Catalina. The Dreamer out of Pierpoint Landing returned Tuesday night with limits--one fish per rod--of fish averaging 20 pounds with a few pushing 40.

Closer to the mainland, the spring barracuda bite needs only a few days of good weather to become a wide-open affair. Twelve anglers aboard the Southern Cal out of Pierpoint on Sunday sacked 102 fish. The counts were decent on Tuesday, but along came the wintry wind and with it the end of the bite.

SOUTHERN BAJA

The incredible tuna counts posted by the Cabo San Lucas fleets last week aren't nearly as high this week, but mostly because of an influx of striped marlin.

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