Sierra trout hunting: Gettin’ real

GRIP AND GRIN – Jeff Burkhardt from Mission Viejo is obviously pleased showing off this 7-pound, 7-ounce rainbow caught at Trumbull Lake with Gulp! Bait.


MAMMOTH LAKES — Call it the “new normal,” but clearly the folks catching fish in the Eastern Sierra have figured out that things have changed, and you can’t expect to fill stringers like you used to.

For now, at least, gone are the days of an easy chair at water’s edge, a cooler full of adult beverages and gobs of bait to toss out a few yards while you wait for the bites.

The fish that did bite under those conditions are gone this year because of a disease outbreak at state Fish and Wildlife hatcheries. But local government, lake operators, landings and merchants up and down the Eastern Sierra banded together to continue stocking with larger rainbows, and you just can’t use what worked in the past to hook them.

LOST HER PHONE — Kellie Powers from Rancho Cucamonga lost her phone while fishing the June Lake Loop but made up for it by connecting with this 22-inch rainbow, weighing in at 6 pounds using a Krocodile lure at June Lake.

The bigs also go deep when summer heat sets in, so in a nutshell, the secret to success in one word is DEEP!

The good news is, that formula is now changing as fall lingers on the horizon, nights are cooler and angling pressure has started to slack somewhat.

While the bigs are still deep, they are moving up in the early mornings and late evenings when temperatures have chilled waters somewhat. This means anglers have more water available where they can catch fish.

The reality is, there are plenty of fish to be caught in Eastern Sierra waters right now, but you can’t do it like you used to.

Guys like Rick Flamson at Rick’s Sports Center here, and Jeremy Ross at Ernie’s Tackle and Ski in June Lake, have been trying to tell this to anglers all summer.

It seems now some are starting to listen and have figured it out. It’s showing up in pictures and fish reports from South Lake to Bridgeport Reservoir. It used to be that a 4- to 5-pound fish was notable, now that’s almost routine and it’s the 8- to 10-pound boat anchors that get raised eyebrows.

THAT’S A CUTTHROAT — Greg Bock and his grandson Nathan show off this beautiful cutthroat from June Lake that he estimated weighed in at 8 to 9 pounds. He didn’t want to keep it out of the water too long, so it was released right after a quick photo. Bock, a June Lake local, used to be a fishing guide, but now “just guides my grandkids.”

This week alone, Lake Mary in the Mammoth Lakes Basin produced several 7- to 8-pound rainbows, along with loads of 4- to 5-pound fish. Last week it was the same story at Lake George.

The common thread was fishing deep. It mattered less what you were using. It just had to be deep.

Both lakes Mary and George have been kicking out bigger rainbows, and that action will likely increase as waters cool and fish spread out.

The Mammoth Lakes big fish last week was an 8-pound, 4-ounce rainbow from Lake Mary, caught by John Hagen, a Mammoth Lakes local who was trolling at 35 to 42 feet.

The Mammoth Lakes bigs are not isolated. Anglers at Convict Lake have also figured out how to connect and are showing up daily with 5- to 7-pound rainbows. While the inlet continues to be good, anglers working the deeper portions of the lake are finding bigs there as well.

Crowley Lake is now in a no-bait season with anglers limited to barbless artificials only and a daily limit of two trout, 18 inches or larger. While fewer anglers might be on the water, the bite has been strong for larger rainbows, cutthroats and browns.

DIDN’T DRIVE FAR — John Hagen, who lives in Mammoth Lakes, did not have to drive far to catch this beautiful, 8-pound, 4-ounce rainbow at Lake Mary while trolling at 35 to 42 feet.

Sierra Troutdoorsman Sam Vasily said fishing is very productive with trout keying on perch fry and damsel hatches.

“We have been targeting fish anywhere from three to 16 feet of water. Depth from the bottom is of utmost importance. If you’re struggling to get bit, then move your fly up or down,” Vasily said.

While distant wildfires have created smoky conditions around June Lake Loop, it has not impacted the big fish bite. The addition of another load of trophy rainbows, courtesy of Ernie’s Tackle and local merchants, didn’t hurt.

June Lake continues to produce some huge cutthroats, with local angler Greg Bock hauling in a cutt weighing between 8 and 9 pounds. Several other 4- to 6-pound rainbows showed up this week for anglers fishing deep.

Gull Lake also came alive with a good showing of bigger rainbows. Freddy Snyder from Palmdale pulled in an 8-pound, 4-ounce beauty using a Minijig, and Nicole Harada from Los Angeles used PowerBait at Gull Lake to land a 6-pound, 9-ounce rainbow.

A HAPPY CAMPER — Eddie Brown from Orange County is all smiles after sinking the hook on this 8-pound, 8-ounce rainbow while fishing at Little Virginia Lake last week.

Silver Lake was wide open last week, and Fred Carter fished deep with a Thomas Buoyant from a boat to land a 9-pound rainbow. There were also good numbers of 4- to 7-pound fish checked in.

Andrew Jones at Silver Lake Resort said even shore anglers using PowerBait were having success, including a 7-pound, 2-ounce torpedo.

Grant Lake continues to be the brown trout hot spot, especially very late in the day after the sun has left the water. Anglers trolling Needlefish, Thomas Buoyants or Rapala are connecting well with 18- to 20-inch browns.

Lee Vining Creek continues to receive trophy rainbows, and they have not been shy about biting, according to the folks at Beaver’s Sporting Goods. Flows are down, but the holes are still holding plenty of 4-pound-plus rainbows that are biting on small lures and salmon eggs.

Lundy Lake continues to be a puddle and for any success anglers should stay away from shore fishing and take a tube or boat to get into deeper water.

Virginia Lakes are at a higher elevation and this past week some of the bigger rainbows decided to bite.

GULL LAKE BIG — Nicole Harada from Los Angeles used PowerBait at Gull Lake to land this big rainbow weighing in at 6 pounds, 9 ounces.

You don’t often hear about larger fish coming from Trumbull Lake, but it’s been well stocked as have Little and Big Virginia lakes and produced a 7-pound, 7-ounce rainbow for Jeff Burkhardt from Mission Viejo, who was using Gulp! Bait.

Little Virginia Lake also joined the action, producing an 8-pound, 8-ounce rainbow for Eddie Brown from Orange County.

If there is a slow spot, it could be Bridgeport Reservoir. Jim Reid at Ken’s Sporting Goods said the recent hot weather has driven water temperatures up and slowed the bite.

“Unfortunately, the water temps are probably going to have to cool down a bit before things start looking up out there,” Reid said.

Twin Lakes are both being stocked with larger Bridgeport Fish Enhancement Foundation fish, and it seems that trolling, bait fishing and flyfishing are all working.

Like other areas, the best time to catch is early in the morning and late in the evenings with Pinch Crawlers, PowerBait, Mice Tails or inflated nightcrawlers. Lures that seem to be working include minijigs, Kastmasters and Thomas Buoyants. For flies try mini leeches, Twin Lakes Specials, soft hackles and Zug bugs.

While you are likely to connect with a memorable big at Rock Creek Lake, some of the catching is happening for anglers willing to walk a bit into Little Lakes Basin.

Fish are now feeding furiously before winter snows arrive and are not particular about what they take. The spectacular scenery and wild waters make for a beautiful day trip along with the wild rainbows, brookies and browns you might catch.

LAKE MARY DEEP — Ken Fujimoto understands that there are some monster trout hanging deep in Sierra lakes and he went down 30 feet at Lake Mary to entice this 5-pound rainbow with Pinch Crawlers and chartreuse PowerBait.

The higher elevation lakes in the Bishop Creek Basin are also starting to pick up, along with the arrival of fall color in the highest elevation aspen groves.

Jared Smith at South Lake Landing said the lake is almost full and fishing conditions are excellent with cooler nights into the 40s and mild daytime temperatures in the low 70s. All of these factors have combined to improve the bite. It also didn’t hurt that South Lake received another load of beefy Idaho hatchery rainbows. Additional loads of trophy fish from Oregon and Idaho are also scheduled later this month.

Biggest fish of the week from South Lake was a 5-pound, 11-ounce rainbow landed by David Bering from Encinitas, who was working a red/gold Thomas Buoyant. Smith also checked several 3- to 5-pound fish during the week.

Lake Sabrina also gets trophy rainbows, but on Sept. 1 received a surprise load of state Fish and Wildlife hatchery rainbows from the Moccasin Hatchery located south of Sonora.

Those pan-sized rainbows will mean more fish on stringers, along with the bigs.

The inlets and fly-lining a nightcrawler while drifting around the Lake Sabrina rockpiles is a secret to success.

OVER THE RAINBOW — Scott Martin from Barstow found fish, including this 7-pound, 2-ounce rainbow, while fishing 45 to 75 feet deep at Lake Mary. He used heavier jigs to target the bigs. This one took a lure at 55 feet.