KNEE DEEP: Month-by-month predictions for the 2024 Eastern Sierra season

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BY MIKE STEVENS

MAMMOTH LAKES— A year ago, Western Outdoor News published a month-by-month predictor of how the 2023 Eastern Sierra trout season would play out following the unprecedented madness brought on by the previous record-breaking winter. The absurd snowpack impacted every month of last season which made it a year like no other, and it’s highly unlikely we see another one like that again. Barring a last-minute mega-blizzard, this season will be a welcome return to normal. Since it now seems like “normal” is something we haven’t experienced for a while, here are the monthly predictions for 2024.

ROCK CREEK LAKE won’t be open for the Opener, but it be long before it ices out. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

MAY (includes end of April/Opener)

                  The region will be at full-power for the opener with all waters typically fishable on opening weekend open for business. This includes Crowley Lake, Convict Lake, the June Lake Loop and in Bridgeport, Twin Lakes and Bridgeport Reservoir. Intake II will be a shot spot in the Bishop area (that should come as no surprise) and Bishop Creek flows should be pretty optimal unless there’s an unseasonal heatwave in the week leading up to the Opener resulting in a crazy-early start to spring runoff, but that will likely occur in mid-to-late May. All it takes is a few warm days in a row to get that party started, and fishing is usually tough while it’s going on as it brings frigid water temps, high flows in the creeks and off-color water. The good news is, peak runoff doesn’t last very long.

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South Lake near Bishop will probably still have ice on it on opening weekend, but there will be strong efforts to have rental boats in the water (at least at South Lake) by Memorial Day weekend. Forget about North Lake. Even if you could get up there, it will still be far from icing out.

CONVICT LAKE will be open for business on opening weekend. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

The Mammoth Lakes Basin won’t be open this early (but it’s amazing when it is. Wait for the next barely-there winter as it can result in open water on Opening Day), but it usually is for the most part by Memorial Weekend.

Tioga Pass won’t be open, but it opening up in the second half of May is possible because the Yosemite crowd would love full access as soon as possible. It’s all depends on snowpack and road conditions.

In the wake of the opener, May is actually a pretty quiet month with light crowds as most visitors are saving their trips until after school gets out for summer. May is an incredibly underutilized month for Eastern Sierra anglers that should be considered by anyone who can pull off a road trip prior to the arrival of summer vacation.

WON EDITOR Mike Stevens targeting brown trout on Convict Creek during peak runoff.

 

JUNE

                  Personally, this is my favorite month to fish the Sierra, and it should be everyone’s favorite summer month if fishing is top priority. Stocking programs have been underway since before the opener, so there is no shortage of fish anywhere. Daytime temps are warm but not so hot to the point where mid-day fishing is challenging, and all “drive up” waters should be ice free. Keep an eye on higher-elevation like Virginia Lakes, North Lake and even Rock Creek Lake where the weather could keep ice in the equation into June.

                  Even if the weather is nice, the water will be cold so the play-in-the-water crowd won’t be up yet, and take it from someone who has been up in July post 2020 and have had a flotilla of people on inflatable unicorns drift right over the spot he was fishing on the upper Owens River, they can be an issue.

The mad rush to the outdoors in 2020 created a ton of first-time Sierra visitors, and many of them are now annual visitors who shoot for July and August when the water is warm and the weather is exactly the same as at home.

                  Conditions on trails leading to backcountry lakes vary on a case-by-case basis, but there’s usually a good amount of hiking opportunities in June with only the upper reaches of trails still buried in snow.

 

JULY

                  Last year was probably the July to end all Julys for Sierra anglers since all the show pushed everything at least a month back. So July of 2023 fished like a standard June and so on. All that high-country snow was still melting off keeping creeks running adequately and water temps in lakes cooler later than usual.

That being said, under normal or even near-normal circumstances, July is not a great month for hard-core Eastern Sierra trout anglers.  The crowds will be in full force especially surrounding July 4 which means not only less room to fish, but way more people playing in the water and parking at drive-up lakes can be a nightmare. I’ll never forget being up there in July of 2021 and seeing cars parked along both sides of the road throughout the Mammoth Lakes Basin. This was the same year the Mammoth Scenic Loop was so full of “boondock” campers, local officials had to launch a campaign to educate these newbies on how to avoid making a huge mess or starting a forest fire.

As for the fishing, water temps are rising and trout getting sluggish and heading deep. The best way to get after them is trolling with leadcore line or going deep with floating bait rigs with the cast-and-retrieve thing falling off quite a bit. It is kind of fun to be able to wet-wade in shorts and flip flops, and creeks can be a saving grace if there is still enough water moving through them to keep trout active.

If fishing is only a portion of your Eastern Sierra hit list, July is prime time for hiking, biking, inflatable unicorn riding and everything else, but serious anglers should look elsewhere on the calendar…

AUGUST

                  …as long as it’s not August. It’s just all the July factors only more so. There is another thing worth noting with regards to the July/August crowds: they are far from inescapable. If you’re a backcountry angler, you’ll run into plenty of traffic on the trails but very few of them are there to fish. So, while it might get a little noisier at times, you can still find yourself on a lake with no one else on it. Also, heading off the beaten trail (primary tourism areas) helps, too. I’m not saying charge into the backcountry and hide (unless you already do so), just head for fringe areas and smaller communities peppered all over the region between Bishop and Bridgeport.

If July or August is when you can go, by all means, do it. But if you have most of the season to choose from and trout fishing is at the top of your Eastern Sierra hit list, aim for earlier or later in the season. You’re also doing the more touristy areas a service by doing your part to “level load” visitation across lighter occupancy times of year rather than piling in with everyone else. They’re plenty busy when it’s packed.

SEPTEMBER

                  Another great month despite the fact you never know what September you’re going to get. It could be an extension of August, the early arrival of fall or a combination of both. One thing you can count on is lighter crowds (back to school!), and trout stocking is still full speed for the most part. The idea of being prepared for any weather in the Sierra is a broken record, but it is true, especially in September. Even if daytime temps are warm, overnight lows will grow increasingly more chilly which will activate brown trout in particular. Overall, September is an outstanding month to fish the East Side.

 

HARD TO BEAT Crowley Lake in October. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS

OCTOBER

                  With October, it’s less of a prediction thing because the previous winter has very little effect on the fishing at this point. About five years ago, an October trip has become part of my annual program. In that relatively-short time span, I’ve experienced a wide range of conditions ranging from freezing guides to all-day haze blown in from a wildfire to t-shirt weather. This is another month that can still be summerlike, but it falls off quick as fall takes hold. Some stocking has stopped for the season, but there are plenty of holdover trout to target and more importantly, wild fish really start perking up. Catch numbers can be significantly less than your summer trips, but you’ll also notice an uptick in brown, brook, cutthroat and even wild rainbows becoming a bigger slice of the pie. Many of the trophy brown trout are caught between now and the end of the general season (November 15).

 

CROWLEY LAKE on last year’s opening day. Thankfully there will be none of this. WON PHOTO BY MIKE STEVENS
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