BY MIKE STEVENS
MAMMOTH LAKES – Fall fishing in the Eastern Sierra is a lot different than it is during the summer. If expectations aren’t shifted and tactics aren’t adjusted, even an experienced summer angler could wind up with limits of frustration on a trip up Highway 395 between Labor Day and November 15. The good news is, the biggest changes to the trout fishing playbook when it comes to fall are easy to make.
BRING A BIG RIG
By all means bring your favorite ultra-light gear you used all summer, but also bring something heavier. A spinning rod for 4- to 10-pound line is perfect, and pair it with a reel packed with something a step up from the standard 4-pound line. I go with Seaguar Invisx fluorocarbon in 6-pound because it’s the same diameter as standard 4-pound mono, and the fluoro factor makes it even harder to detect. Big fish including German browns, holdover rainbows and in some cases (Crowley Lake and June Lake), tanker cutthroat north of 20 inches. This setup is perfect for launching bigger spoons, beefier Rapala-type lures and Tasmanian Devils. You can also do some light trolling with this rig.
SLING BIG STUFF
The main reason for a heavier rod and reel setup is to better handle larger lures than the standard summer stuff. We’re talking 1/6-ounce Thomas Buoyants on the smaller end of this spectrum, but a fall Sierra angler looking to come tight to bigger trout looking to fatten up before winter should also scale into the ¼-ounce and even larger stuff. A well-stocked fall trout arsenal should include the bigger ¼ ounce Buoyants and Kastmasters, similarly-sized Rooster Tails and Panther Martins to cover spinners, larger-profile jigs and swimbaits with up to a ¼ ounce head like Sierra Slammers Mini Swims. Marabou jigs are making a comeback, and Ghoulie Jigs (GhoulieJigs.com) make some great ones that have been piling up big trout in the Eastern Sierra and even Pyramid Lake over the last couple years.
Minnow baits should also be scaled up to 3- and 4-inch sizes and maybe even a couple bigger than that. Berkley Flicker Shads are inexpensive and in enough sizes and patterns to cover a ton of bases, and they work both when cast or trolled. Rapala Husky Jerks are suspending baits that do a lot of damage up there, and the original Rapala floaters are deadly in creeks and the Owens River.
WATER TEMP IS KEY
If it’s still close to Labor Day water temps in both lakes and creeks could still be on the warm side, but some of that is mitigated by air temps plummeting overnight as well as instinct letting trout know that fall is indeed falling. If the water is still mid-60s or higher (if you don’t have a thermometer, it’s on the warmer side if it feels like you could barefoot wade in it), you still want to fish like it’s August. Toward the end of summer and into early fall, trolling deeper on leadcore line is the most-consistent way to get into limit style fishing on stillwater. Great options for this include Crowley Lake, Rock Creek Lake, Convict, Mary, the whole June Lake Loop and the big lakes in Bridgeport. Stop by the local tackle shop in each town (Rick’s in Mammoth, Ernie’s in June and Ken’s in Bridgeport) for the latest info on the most productive depth. Needlefish, Thomas Buoyants, Tasmanian Devils and the Rapala-type stuff all work well for this.
Bait anglers should gun for deeper water, and positioning themselves around inlets and drop-offs always helps when the water temperature is elevated.
Most creeks are going to have low flows, so look for deeper holes, runs, undercuts, eddies and plunge pools, and work them methodically with your favorite tactics.
As the water cools toward the end of September and through the last day of the general season (Nov. 15), fish will become more active and hang out higher in the water column and closer to shore where casting for them like we do in spring and early summer is very productive.