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Conditions Appear Prime for Sierra Trout Opener

April 28, 2006|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

BISHOP, Calif. — To get an idea how much snow has fallen on Eastern Sierra slopes, tour the Lower Owens River.

It has been transformed into a torrent by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which has been releasing water from Crowley Lake at a near flood-stage rate of 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to make room for the impending thaw.

A similar scenario can be found 90 miles to the north on the East Walker River, which delivers water from Bridgeport Reservoir to farmers in Nevada.

And so begins the story of the 2006 Eastern Sierra general trout season, which opens Saturday and runs through early November. It's as much about water as it is fishing, simply because there's so much of it this year.

Fishing should be outstanding this weekend in mid-elevation lakes such as Crowley and Bridgeport Reservoir, as well as in most streams not influenced by dams. But conditions could change dramatically soon thereafter, especially if there is heavy rain or a prolonged heat wave.

If either happens, flooding in some areas is possible and many of those free-flowing streams will themselves become torrents, difficult to fish for weeks if not months.

"The West Walker River will have some Class 5 [rapids] by July during the peak runoff and I suggest you hit this place in May, unless you are into whitewater rafting," said Tom Loe of the Sierra Drifters guide service, in a preseason report to clients.

Record snow fell on Eastern Sierra slopes and the pack remains unseasonably high. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area logged an all-time high of 55 feet and boasts a base depth of up to 18 feet.

The opening of floodgates at Crowley and Bridgeport Reservoir -- and, to a lesser extent, the high-altitude lakes that feed Bishop Creek -- began last month. The DWP began releasing water at 400 cfs on March 30, making fishing extremely tough on the Lower Owens, open to anglers year-round.

That was recently increased to 600 cfs and Loe, a fly-fishing specialist, remarked of the river's swiftness, "You can get into a few fish in the larger pools with a chunk of battleship chain to get your nymphs down."

The East Walker River has been running at 378 cfs and fishing will be difficult this weekend unless the Nevada Irrigation District reduces the flow, as it has previously, to accommodate weekend anglers.

The West Walker River, Robinson, Buckeye, Swauger and Green creeks are flowing adequately now, says Bridgeport fisherman Hank Cole, but waders should be wary of an increasing afternoon flow caused by melting snow in the higher elevations.

Once the nighttime freeze ends, the area creeks will be "rocking and rolling," said Steve Marti, owner of Twin Lakes Resort at Lower Twin lake, which last year produced two brown trout topping 10 pounds on opening weekend.

Along the June Lake Loop, prospects are best at June and Grant Lakes, which have been ice-free the longest. June Lake is at capacity and the soil behind the marina "is like a sponge because it's so saturated," concessionaire Mickie Frederickson said.

Typically, higher-elevation lakes throughout the Eastern Sierra remain iced over and fishermen may require auger extensions to reach water.

Convict Lake, a picturesque and highly popular fishery north of Crowley and west of U.S. 395, is ice-free and has only patches of snow on its banks.

Bridgeport Reservoir and Crowley Lake, the largest waters aside from alkaline Mono Lake, have been ice-free for months. Recently, hatches have occurred. Insects are landing on the surface and being pecked at by rainbows and browns.

These are among the more subtle signs that spring around here has finally sprung.

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