Will There Be HOT Fishing at the COLD Trout Opener?

By January 30, 2017Spring 2016

by Shawn Arnold

Last year anglers were fishing on dirt at Crowley Lake but I am pretty sure they will be in snow this year - Photo Mike Stevens

Last year anglers were fishing on dirt at Crowley Lake but I am pretty sure they will be in snow this year – Photo Mike Stevens

The Eastern Sierra trout season starts the last Saturday in April (this year it’s April 30) and ends November 15 in Mono County and parts of Inyo County. A lot of people who fish the opener call Opening Day Fishmas. This weekend is like a holiday to them. That is how much they look forward to it. Some one once said to me about the opener, this is where kids go and hope they can be adults and adults go so they can get away and be a kid. I have been fishing the opener since 1977 and we have a group of 30 or so who come back each year. We lose a few and add a few but us die-hards (or nuts?) are always there. There are plenty of other groups just like us of 10, 20, even 30 people who make the trek each year.

As always I have no idea what to expect up there weather wise this year. The eastern sierra version of Mother Nature has a nasty curveball and throws it every year at the eastern sierra opener. If you think it is going to nice, it snows. If you think it is going to snow it is warm. I have seen it snow and be freezing on the opener and be 60 degrees on the next day. As of this magazine going to print I assume that with El Nino coming that a lot of lakes will be iced over and perhaps there will be ice fishing. But with the eastern sierras you just never know. Just come prepared for anything.

The author bundled up fishing as it snowed last year on the opener. The good fishing made the cold not so bad.

The author bundled up fishing as it snowed last year on the opener. The good fishing made the cold not so bad.

Lone Pine to Big Pine

When driving from southern California the first fishable area you will arrive at from Highway 395 is the town of Lone Pine. This is about 240 miles or so from Orange County. The last spot is Bridgeport, which is about 420 miles from Orange County. I would recommend you fill your tank with gas in southern California as the prices are better in southern California than in the eastern sierra. And as you are driving up there I recommend you fill up again at the Fort Independence Casino just past Independence. Their prices are usually 10 cents a gallon cheaper than any where else you will see in this region.

The Owens River in Lone Pine is more of a bass spot and the trout fishing really starts in Independence which can be excellent for bass in addition to trout. Try a night crawler in the Owens in the Independence area and you could end up with a bass or trout.

Diaz Lake is an 80 acre lake 3 miles south of Lone Pine that offers up trout, bluegill, catfish and bass in a rather sterile environment. I can say the restrooms have been clean every time I have stopped there and they have some nice picnic benches so it is worth a stop to take care of business if needed and relax there and throw out a line.
When you go up to the eastern sierra, if you have not done so in a while change the line on your reel. While I use two-pound test, you should have no more than 4 pound on your reel unless you are trolling. The fish can be quite line shy in the crystal- clear waters of the sierra. When using light line just make sure to tie a strong knot and take your time bringing in a big fish. If you catch a nice fish let it tire it self out. And if you catch a nice fish make sure to retie your knot afterwards.

In Big Pine there are some nice spots on the Owens River. What to use and how to use it depends on water flow and other variables. Just stop in a local tackle shop and get their advice. If you are looking for a nice place to have breakfast, lunch or dinner in Big Pine I highly recommend the Country Kitchen. It has a big yellow sign and is right on 395. It is run by Andre Nersesian and his brother. Andre is from southern California and is a well known trout fishermen.

Bishop Area

In the city of Bishop there are numerous good fishing spots. The Owens River is open year round for fishing as is Pleasant Valley Reservoir. And this year the Bishop Chamber of Commerce is buying some BIG fish to be planted before the Blake Jones tournament in February and March. All those fish will not be caught that weekend so there should be some 5 pound plus hold-overs into the summer. Not all bodies of water are open though. Make sure that it is legal to be fishing where you are fishing before you toss out a line. The state of California needs money and what better way to get it than giving a ticket to some guy fishing in the wrong area. Check with any of the tackle shops in town for what bodies of water are OK to fish. The local tackle shops are full of information, as they want you to catch fish so you will come back and keep their economy going. Reagan’s Sporting Goods on the main drag usually has a free bbq while supplies last on the Friday before the opener.

This year Western Outdoor News is putting on a fishing derby from Lone Pine to Bridgeport with Bishop being the main weigh station. The winner will win an aluminum boat according to the Bishop Visitors Bureau. Contact the Bishop Visitors Bureau for more information about the derby. There is a $20 entry fee to be eligible to win the boat and all of the other prizes in the contest.

When fishing the Owens I usually use mini-jigs in the cricket color and they usually work well. Also a Rooster Tail in the ¼ ounce size usually will get you some fish. I like to walk from spot to spot and am in constant movement. If I don’t get something in about 20 casts, it is on to the next spot. There is a lot of brush so you might have to walk 50 yards through some brush to the next spot. Some areas become a dead end so you might have to get back in your car and look for another opening along the dirt roads that take you through the valley. Just be careful on some of those roads. Common sense should dictate.

This past October I fished off Warm Springs Road with a nightcrawler and a #10 hook and a splitshot. I cast upstream and let it drift down and caught 10 small browns in an hour. Luckily they were all lip hooked and released to live and fight another day.

The lower Owens from Pleasant Valley Reservoir down stream to Five Bridges Road is a wild trout river. Check with a tackle shop like Reagan’s in Bishop for constantly changing regulations. Like I said earlier, you want to make sure you are fishing in the right place or you may end up with a ticket. The state does not do the best job of letting you know if you are fishing in a legal spot or not.

Fifteen miles above Bishop, at around 8500 feet elevation, the trout filled waters of Bishop Creek, Sabrina Lake, North Lake and South Lake all offer excellent possibilities. You can easily get to this region by making a turn in the middle of Bishop on West Line Street, which is also known as the 168. It used to be on opening weekend this region was usually snowed in. Last year it was not and was not advisable to ice fish. This year with El Nino my guess is that you will be able to but better safe than sorry. As this goes to print there is no way to know if that region will be safe for ice fishing. Your best bet is to call Jared Smith at Parcher’s Resort or the Bishop Visitor Bureau and ask them.
Intake 2 is always jam packed on opening day. There are usually some nice fish taken there on the opener.

During the summer and fall the Bishop Creek Canyon is a magnificent area to be in. The fall is really nice up there as the leaves start to change color and turn brilliant colors of orange and yellow. The fishing is usually very good. There are some nice backcountry lakes to hike to and fish at but be warned that you will be hiking at around 10,000 feet and you should give yourself a day or two to get acclimated to the elevation. For more information about backcountry hikes see Jared Smith at Parcher’s Resort booth at the Fred Hall show in Long Beach or Del Mar or read his book Fishin Trails or the soon to come out Fishin Trails 2.

Once you are in the Bishop Creek Canyon lodging options include Parcher’s Resort, Bishop Creek Lodge and Cardinal Village. All provide clean lodging and are very close to the excellent fishing up there. They are all 15 to 18 miles away from downtown Bishop and offer a nice change from the city down the mountain.

Bishop has numerous nice motels and most of them are geared for fishermen. My favorite is the Best Western Creekside Inn. The Creekside Inn has a real nice breakfast buffet and even though they are a bit pricier than most Bishop Hotels, those of you who like an upper end hotel will feel you got your moneys worth. The other Best Western is a good one too. Also the Holiday Inn is a nice place.

Restaurants are plentiful in Bishop. The real hidden gem if you like good food is the bowling alley. Great steaks and seafood (can you believe it?), very reasonable prices, full bar and the owners Tom and Jackie are just real good people. This is where the locals go. The ambiance is pretty casual but the food is good. For more info on the Bishop area call the Chamber of Commerce/Visitors Bureau at 888/ 395-3952.

As you work your way up route 395 from Bishop towards Bridgeport, lots of fishing spots await. About 15 miles past Bishop is Tom’s Place. Rock Creek Lake can have good fishing, but is usually iced over until the end of May. My guess is that will be the case this year.

JohnJay Crawford caught this 5lb 1oz brown out of June Lake on opening morning last year. He caught it on a Sierra Slammers swimbait. It won “Biggest Brown” in the June Lake Monster Trout opening day derby. 

JohnJay Crawford caught this 5lb 1oz brown out of June Lake on opening morning last year. He caught it on a Sierra Slammers swimbait. It won “Biggest Brown” in the June Lake Monster Trout opening day derby.

Mammoth Lakes Area

Right before the City of Mammoth still traveling north on 395 is Hot Creek. It gets its name from the hot springs naturally heated waters. Fishing Hot Creek is strictly catch and release, barbless artificial. I am told that this is a world-class fly fishing destination. There is a lot of moss and weeds in the water so it is really not too easy if you are not fly-fishing.

About 23 miles past Bishop with a gradual climb up is Crowley Lake. Crowley is perhaps California’s most famous fishing lake. Its reputation is well deserved. If you fish there on the opener expect it to be cold. In fact if you fish anywhere in the sierra on the opener, expect it to be cold.

Dress in layers and make sure you have gloves and some warm socks. I always bring some hand and feet warmers too. I would much rather have the insurance of too much clothes and some warmers than to freeze my butt off. You can always take off clothes if you get warm. I am always amazed of anglers who make the 6-hour long drive on opening day and are not prepared. Let me warn you now. The chances of it being cold are better than it being warm. Bring warm clothes. I have been doing this since 1977. Last year it was 60 in June Lake a week before the opener. It was about 20 degrees on the opener. You can’t trust the weather up there. Just come prepared.

Crowley can be very crowded on opening day. In the old days they said you could walk across Crowley from boat to boat it was so crowded. Now days it has not been that crowded. Limits are usually the rule at Crowley on Opening day and through out the year. They have a big float-tube tournament in the fall and in the summer the Sacramento perch bite can be wide-open.

The lake has a marina with boat rentals, launching facilities and bait and tackle shops. For the latest information about Lake Crowley call the marina at 760/935-4301. Or check out their website at www.crowleylakefishcamp.com. The lake is 650 surface acres (on average).

A short drive past Crowley Lake is Convict Lake. It is located right off Highway 395 across from the Mammoth Airport and just minutes from the town of Mammoth. Convict Lake is a real eye catching gem. Don’t let its beauty fool you though. There is excellent fishing in this 168-acre lake. At just under a mile long and a half-mile wide, numerous spots can be fished from shore. This year they plan on pre-stocking the lake with some 3-5 pound fish and I was told that they have lots of hold over 4 plus pound trout from a stocking late last year. There will also be 23 tagged fish that combined will provide $1500 in cash and prizes and one lucky angler will win up to $500.
The resort has a renowned gourmet restaurant, deluxe cabins and houses for rent and a well stocked general store. More information can be found at www.convictlake.com.

The Mammoth Lakes area is only about seven miles past Convict Lake. There is NO lake called Mammoth Lake, it is just the name of the city. Even though it does provide some of the best skiing in the United States it is growing in popularity for its fishing. There are five lakes accessible by car in the Mammoth Lake area. The most popular is Twin Lakes, which are really three small lakes, joined together by a stream. Lake Mary, Horseshoe, George and Mamie are the other lakes.

All lakes can provide very good fishing but usually are frozen over until early-June. At press time it looked like they might be partially open to all the way open for the opener. Good for now but not for the long run. This area offers a wide array of lodging facilities. Hotels, motels, and condos are available. Numerous restaurants from fast food to gourmet add to the convenience. For lodging options check out www.mammothinfo.com. Mammoth a nice place to be in the summer too. Lots of fishing and hiking and there are enough nice restaurants and shopping to even keep the non fishing wives happy for 3 or 4 days. For more information about the mammoth area and things to do in all 4 seasons visit www.mammothinfo.com

June Lake Loop

About 18 miles past Mammoth lakes is the June Lake Loop my favorite eastern sierra destination. The June Lake loop consists of four lakes. You must get off 395 and onto highway 158. A short two-mile drive delivers you to the town of June Lake.

The four lakes are June, Gull, Silver and Grant Lake. The only city in the loop is June Lake. It offers 9 or 10 motels and 7 to 8 restaurants depending on the year. Fishing tackle and insider tips are available at Ernie’s Tackle. Ernie’s is well known, and is open most the night before opening day. They also put on the Monster Trout derby for the loop lakes on opening day. If you plan on visiting the June Lake loop contact Ernie’s at 760/648-7756.

The first building you see when you come into town is the Boulder Lodge, which overlooks the 320-acre June Lake. It is a popular lodge. For years I stayed at June Lake Pines Cottages on opening weekend. It is certainly not the Ritz but was OK for a couple of guys who want to fish and sleep. Problem is they got new owners who changed policy and gave my room away for the opener. And they were not very apologetic about it either. Well sometimes those things that you think are bad are a blessing as I rented a condo over looking June Lake for just a little more money. Much nicer with more amenities. I highly recommend to anyone looking to stay in June Lake to look for a condo. There are two marinas on June Lake to rent boats. Trolling is a very popular method on this lake. Shore fishing is available off route 158 (a real steep climb) and near the beach area.

Gull Lake is a short walk from June Lake. This is my location for fishing on opening day. I switched from Crowley over 30 years ago. This small lake offers up some big fish on a regular basis. Rainbow, brown and brook trout are available. If a boat is available it is better to rent a boat here, as a large percentage of shore space is inaccessible. My favorite spots include brookie hole, in front of the playground (which also offers good shore fishing) and the reeds. Both bait and lures work well. Over the years I have done best here with Thomas Buoyant, mini-jigs like Sierra Slammers,Trout Trap Stingers, Lip Ripperz, B-Line jigs and night crawlers. As the water warms in the summer you can catch Sacramento perch in it.

If you ever stay in June Lake be sure to eat at the Sierra Inn. The night before opening day they put on an excellent buffet and usually have live music. In the old days a big group of us would close the place down and go to bed at 2 A.M. just in time to wake up at 4 A.M. for the opener. Now that I am a little older and wiser my head hits the pillow by 10 PM.

Silver Lake is about two miles past Gull Lake. This scenic lake offers good shore fishing. There is a nice little restaurant there for breakfast and lunch. Rush Creek flows into Silver Lake from both sides. Rush Creek is always jammed with anglers fishing the many pools on it. Seems like each year there is always a big fish caught from this creek.

Shane Hansen caught this nice stringer using B.line mini-jigs out of June Lake last year.

Shane Hansen caught this nice stringer using B.line mini-jigs out of June Lake last year.

The creek then flows into Grant Lake, which is the least scenic of the four lakes in the region. However it provides the best opportunity for large brown trout. Inflated night crawlers or Fire Tiger Rapalas seem to catch a big brown every year here. Grant Lake is three times bigger than June, Gull, and Silver combined. While driving keep on route 158 and it runs into 395 again. Route 395 then goes to Lee Vining then twenty-five miles later to Bridgeport where there are numerous angling possibilities. The big body of water you see from Lee Vining is Mono Lake…sorry to say no fish in that lake.

Bridgeport Area

The largest brown trout ever landed in California was landed in Bridgeport’s upper Twin Lake. The monster weighed in at over 26 pounds. Large browns are caught ever year in Twin Lakes and Bridgeport Reservoir. Walker River produces some nice fish also. Usually the conditions are a little harsh in Bridgeport on opening weekend but the big browns seem to love it. Locals say the nastier the weather, the better your chance of catching a big brown.
Bridgeport has a few restaurants and motels along its main drag on Highway 395. Driving up Highway 395 and fishing its many spots makes for some great fun from late April to mid November. If you have not made the trip to the eastern sierra make plans now. In the summer this region makes for a great family vacation.