BY ERNIE COWAN
MAMMOTH LAKES — Summer crowds in the Eastern Sierra have been larger than ever this year, and efforts by county governments, private landings and local trout organizations have kept waters well stocked with trophy fish.
And they are biting.
Trout fishing earlier in the season seemed like a bleak prospect when disease struck at local DFW hatcheries and an estimated 3 million fish were destroyed.
But plenty of holdover trout combined with these local efforts to bring in trophy trout from Oregon and Idaho has put some memorable fish on stringers.
Yes, there are fewer fish being caught, but most anglers are putting some fish in their creels and sometimes those fish are big enough they won’t fit. Traditional angling methods might not work, so take a little time to learn how to fish the warmer summer waters. Any tackle shop or landing is eager to help.
Lake Mary in the Mammoth Lakes Basin is a good example.
Local lakes have been getting twice monthly plants of 3- to 5-pound rainbows, along with some bigger brutes.
This week, anglers checked in with two 8-pound rainbows and a 9-pound trophy from Lake Mary. Dozens of 3- to 5-pound rainbows were also being caught, and a swimming bear even came ashore at Lake George with a trout weighing about 4 pounds.
Considering the fishing pressure, there is not much to complain about.
“The crowds have been crazy. Every day has been like the 4th of July weekend,” said Brian Dunham at Rick’s Sports Center in Mammoth Lakes.
Lakes Mary, George, Mamie and Twin in Mammoth have all received several loads of bigger trout, and for the most part, anglers working deeper water are getting results.
To avoid crowds and for a better shot at a good fish, be on the water at the first hint of daylight or at the last wisp in the evenings.
Guides at The Trout Fitter in Mammoth also commented on the “horrendous crowds” down in Red’s Meadow and the heavy fishing pressure on the San Joaquin River.
Despite that, the fishing has been good if you are willing to do some walking and hit the pocket water and deeper holes away from parking areas. Midday is also slow because waters warm up into the 60s, so plan early and late outings if you want to catch fish.
June Lake Loop is adjusting to the lack of DFW rainbows with the addition of larger rainbows purchased by local landings, or in the case of June Lake, 5-pound-plus rainbows that were raised in pens in the lake and then released.
That doesn’t account for a couple of beefy cutthroats pulled from June Lake, including a 6 pounder caught by Gavin Eaton on the day before his 10th birthday. Who care if they were stocked or not?
Gull and Silver lakes logged lots of 3- to 5-pound trout, and Silver recorded another monster brown weighing 6 pounds, 5 ounces, caught by Eric Barefield from Victorville who was dunking a nightcrawler from shore.
If anyplace can be called a little slow, it would be Rush Creek, however the lower flow means fish are holding in pools and the angler who finds those honey holes will connect with some nice fish.
Grant Lake continues to be steady for nice browns in the 18- to 20-inch range, with a few larger ones to keep you awake. Evenings are best.
Moving north, Lee Vining Creek continues to surprise anglers with the size of trout being caught. That’s thanks Mono County and efforts by local merchants to put trophies in the water.
This week, Beaver’s Sporting Goods checked in several incredible creek rainbows, including 6-pound and 4-pound, 8-ounce fish. Salmon eggs seem to be the fare of choice right now.
With water at the puddle level at Lundy Lake, shore fishing has been a challenge, but anglers in tubes or boats have been connecting with a few larger fish.
Carolyn Webb at Virginia Lakes Resort reports that “trophy trout are coming out daily.”
But the bigger surprise was a load of rainbows, apparently from a state hatchery west of the Sierra.
“Heck, forget the weather, we got stocked today with 1,200 trout from a hatchery over the mountain,” she said. “There’s a lot of very happy anglers.”
Perch seem to be dominating the bite at Bridgeport Reservoir right now, with some nice sized fish up to 2.5 pounds showing up. Trolling Needlefish, Rapalas, nightcrawlers or Thomas Buoyants will get success for these good-eating fish, according to Jim Reid at Ken’s Sporting Goods.
He also warned that anglers should be prepared for those 3- to 6-pound rainbows that may also bite while you are trolling for perch.
Misti Sullivan at Twin Lakes Resort on Lower Twin Lake in Bridgeport said water levels are down and the mornings have been cooler and that has triggered signs of life in the trout bite.
“Trolling the depths is still proving best,” she said.
Just ask Rick Garska from Reno, Nev., who came in with a 5-pound, 9-ounce rainbow trolling a U-20 Flat Fish at 40 feet.
Local angler Keith Cleary has also been trolling at 40-plus feet and connecting with some nice browns.
Shore fishing is showing some signs of life and anglers fishing the inlet are reporting a decent bite.
The Twin Lakes Trout Foundation continues to stock trophy fish in both Upper and Lower Twin Lakes.
Conditions at Upper Twin Lake are about the same, with trolling the best bet currently. Lures that are working include Rapalas, Needlefish and Thomas Buoyants, with Pinched Crawlers, Mice Tails and PowerBait getting the best result for bait fishing.
Convict Lake has also been swarmed with summer visitors, but there are signs there that the action is starting to move closer to shore. While the inlet and deeper water available to boaters or tube fishermen continue to be strong, Michael Bocci from Moorpark had a good day of shore fishing with garlic PowerBait, hauling in a 6-pound, 8-ounce Convict brute.
Second season regulations are now in effect at Crowley Lake, with anglers limited to barbless artificials only and no live or scented bait. Anglers are limited to keeping only two trout daily with length of 18 inches or over. The daily perch limit is 25, and that bite has been good.
Best areas at Crowley have been along U.S. 395, McGee Bay and Sandy Point.
Rock Creek Canyon is one of those areas offering anglers a great mix of fishing opportunity.
Rock Creek just below the lake is an excellent area for fly fishing with a black ant or mosquitos fly a good bet right now.
The creek has not been on fire but is stocked and salmon eggs have been working. Rock Creek Lake has some monster trout, and anglers working deeper water have had some success with lures.
Anglers willing to hike a bit can connect with wild rainbows, brown and brookies in the various lakes in Little Lakes basin beyond road’s end. Those fish are not particular, and an early morning or late evening bite can be non-stop.
Inyo County and local landings in Bishop Creek Canyon have also made sure that there are plenty of trophy trout to keep anglers happy.
Ron Kyhn from Tujunga checked in at South Lake Landing with a whopping 7-pound, 11-ounce rainbow that he caught at the inlets with a Roostertail. It’s the biggest fish of the season, so far.
Jared Smith at South Lake said cooler nights are bringing fish up into shallower water early, but by 10 a.m. they have moved back down to 25 or 35 feet.
Cooler water and food flowing in at the inlets and deeper water by the rockslide continue to be productive spots at South Lake.
“People aren’t catching huge numbers but your chances of sticking a pig are pretty good and will only get better over the next week,” Smith said.
Flows on the south fork of Bishop Creek are down, and the lack of DFW stocking means fewer fish. Those that are there, and some can be big, are holding in the pools. Best tactic is to dip flies and keep moving.
Both South Lake and Lake Sabrina are scheduled to get additional loads of trophy rainbows over the next several weeks, and this should mean fishing will continue to be good throughout the remainder of the season.