Eastern Sierra fires restrict anglers but not bite

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BY ERNIE COWAN

BRIDGEPORT — It’s finally happened. The crowds of trophy rainbows stocked in Eastern Sierra lakes and streams have started to bite.

Stories about the death of fishing were exaggerated and untrue, thanks to the efforts of Mono and Inyo counties, local landings, tackle shops, merchants, and fishing groups to purchase quality rainbows from Idaho and Oregon.

At the peak of summer heat, not much bites in the Sierra, and that means anglers must work a little harder and deeper to connect with any fish.

But now that temperatures are cooling, fish are surfacing, and thanks to the aggressive stocking efforts, most of those fish are big enough to put a smile on any angler’s face.

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CROWLEY IS HOT — Ryan McDonald has been having epic fishing days on Crowley Lake, bringing in loads of 16- to 22-inch fish, along with the occasional 25-inch kicker. He said his take has been about half cutthroats, 40 percent rainbows and 10 percent browns.

There was a time when WON had to struggle for a photo of a 5-pound or larger fish for summer editions, but with the current trout feeding frenzy, we hardly notice anything 5 pounds or under.

As cautioned last week, forest closures due to fire danger continued in effect in Inyo National Forest and that includes most lakes from Lone Pine to June Lake. Not included in that closure, however, were Crowley Lake and waters of the Owens River. At press time, closures are scheduled to be lifted on September 24, but could be continued if fire danger remains high. If you are planning a trip, the best bet is to check on conditions before heading out.

Much of Mono County is in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and waters there were opened on Sept. 15. Bridgeport Reservoir and Upper Twin Lake are not on Forest Service land, so were not closed.

Additionally, state lands that were closed in Mono County also reopened, giving anglers access to the East Walker River, Green Creek and the portions of the West Walker River located on California state property.

ANOTHER VIRGINIA BIG — Ken Morris from Atascadero hit Big Virginia Lake right after it was opened again and quickly got the attention of this 8-pound, 2-ounce rainbow stocked by the Bridgeport Fish Enhancement Foundation.

Even with the reduced areas to fish, we have had no problem this week finding big fish success stories.

That included a double-digit rainbow hauled in at Big Virginia Lake by Ken Yamani from Simi Valley who was using a Kastmaster tossed from shore. His fish raised eyebrows at 10 pounds, 11 ounces.

Little Virginia Lake also stayed in the game, producing a steady stream of monster rainbows.

Jason Pinegar from Elk Grove missed four days of fishing during the closure but hit Little Virginia Lake when things reopened.

“It was the best big trout day ever,” he said. “We caught fish for six hours and we let go more big tagged trout that I’ve ever seen before. It was so much fun.”

The one fish he kept was a 7-pound, 7-ounce fatty stocked by the Bridgeport Fish Enhancement Foundation.

LOWER TWIN THRILL — We only know his name is Keith, but the important info is that he landed this 6-pound rainbow at Lower Twin Lake in Bridgeport using a J-Plug trolled at seven colors with leadcore line.

Pinegar said just about everything worked, including Kastmasters, nightcrawlers and Balls-O-Fire.

While the bite at Bridgeport Reservoir is still not red hot, plenty of bigs were biting, including a few rainbows and browns taken from shore.

At Bridgeport Marina, owner Chase Pasley said he expects the trout bite to shift into high gear any day now.

“Water temperatures were 57 degrees on the surface, and that’s a good sign,” he said.

Waters south of Virginia Lakes are in the Inyo National Forest and that remains closed to all activities. At press time, forest managers were scheduled to re-evaluate closures on Sept. 24 to determine if activities could be resumed.

That means fishing in the lower portions of Mono and all of Inyo counties were limited to the Owens River, Crowley Lake and Pleasant Valley Reservoir.

SMOKY MOUNTAIN RAINBOW — That’s not fog surrounding Dan Paul from Reno, Nev., but the smoke drifting in from fires to the west didn’t keep him from connecting with this beautiful rainbow at Bridgeport Reservoir. He also landed a brown that was nearly the same size.

The closures have already taken a toll. Margie Beaver at Beaver’s Sporting Goods in Lee Vining said all services have closed for the year at Lundy Lake.

“We hope everything opens soon, because we don’t know how we will survive if this continues much longer,” she said.

When waters are again open to fishing, Lee Vining Creek continues to be full of beefy rainbows courtesy of local businesses. The short pause in fishing, along with the arrival of fall weather could mean an epic bite when things return to normal.

That could also be true for the June Lake Loop. Fishermen have been off the water for two weeks, but tons of 4- to 10-pound rainbows are becoming more active with cooler weather.

If anglers are allowed back on the water this week, expect some monster fish to show up.

Rock Creek and Rock Creek Lake are typically late season bloomers, not to mention the non-stop action for wild trout in Long Lakes Valley for those willing to make a short, scenic hike.

Fall has come to the higher elevation at Rock Creek, so waters should be in perfect condition when fishing resumes, not to mention ready to bite since there has been no pressure.

LITTLE VIRGINIA BIG — Jason Pinegar from Elk Grove hit Little Virginia Lake just after it reopened from the fire closures. The bite was non-stop, including this 7-pound, 7-ounce football. “We let go more big tagged trout that I have ever seen before,” he said.

Before the closure, anglers in the Mammoth Basin were connecting constantly with 5- to 7-pound bigs at Twin Lakes, George and Mary. You still had to go deep, either from a tube or boat, but putting your bait or lure in the right place was sure to get some nice results.

Crowley, the biggest water in Inyo County, was not affected by the closures, and despite being in their non-bait season, was producing some epic brown, rainbows and cutts.

The season there continue through the end of October with anglers limited to barbless, artificials only and two trout daily, 18 inches or larger. Late season at Crowley typically sees improved conditions and eager fish.

Before forest closures, Convict Lake was also primed with plenty of big trout and they were starting to delight anglers fishing from boats and shore. That should continue when things open again.

It’s the same tune in Bishop Creek Basin. South Lake, Bishop Creek and Lake Sabrina are primed and ready.

Reagan Slee at Reagans Sporting Goods in Bishop said, “It’s pretty much a ghost town around here right now.”

While the Owens River is open, flows are high, making it challenging for anglers.

Keep fingers crossed for better times.

CRUISING CONVICT LAKE — Before things shut down, Colleen Tom had some success catching big trout at Convict Lake. Her husband, Curtis, is now complaining about tennis elbow from netting all of her big fish.
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