BY ERNIE COWAN
MAMMOTH LAKES — Trout fishing in the Eastern Sierra sort of opened last week, but what anglers might remember most will be the fog of confusion created by the lack of coordination on the part of local, state and federal agencies that control the popular recreation lands from Lone Pine to Bridgeport.
It was bad enough that Inyo and Mono county governments demanded that trout season be delayed, but instead of leadership to coordinate efforts to open everything at the same time, some areas suddenly opened ahead of the delayed schedule, while many campgrounds, lodging and eateries did not.
Not only did this create frustration and confusion on the part of anglers, but the economic impacts to the small communities along the Eastern Sierra could be devastating.
For now, trout season 2020 is sputtering to get started, but will hopefully be humming along soon, and if the creel checks this week are any indication, it could still be an epic season.
Confusion seems to be the biggest issue right now.
“Everybody is just lost. Nobody is clear on what they should or should not be doing,” said Misti Sullivan at Twin Lakes Resort.
Private campgrounds and dispersed camping are open, but public campgrounds and short-term lodging remain closed.
Sullivan said visitors are being reasonable about social distancing, but there is simply not enough capacity currently to accommodate those seeking places to stay.
County Supervisors are scheduled to meet this week to discuss lodging, but there is not opening date yet for public campgrounds.
As might be expected, angler numbers were down during the second week of this strange season, but on the positive side, the one-month delay seemed to make fish more eager to bite.
Both fish numbers and size seemed to be most impressive in waters around Bridgeport.
The biggest trout WON could find was a 9-pound rainbow, landed by Rick Reed from San Jose who was dragging a Rapala at Bridgeport Reservoir.
His beefy ‘bow was a tagged fish planted by the Bridgeport Fish Enhancement Foundation and earns him a shot at a $750 prize.
Dave Paul and his son, Daniel from Orangevale boated both browns and rainbows to 23 inches at Bridgeport, using SacTown Floater and Mice Tails.
Jim Reid at Ken’s Sporting Goods in Bridgeport spent much of his time the past week taking pictures of an almost endless line of anglers showing off 5-pound-plus fish. This included huge numbers from Bridgeport Reservoir, but also places like Green Creek.
Despite the fact that public campground and lodging were closed, the relatively small number of anglers on Bridgeport waters had impressive bites.
Ron Roche from Phelan had a great day at Upper Twin Lake in Bridgeport, trolling a homemade Woolly Bugger at 70 feet to connect with a 6-pound, 8-ounce rainbow.
At nearby Lower Twin Lake, Ryan Fenton found a Vampire Rapala was the secret sauce to hook a 5-pound, 8-ounce brown in 30 feet of water. After a quick photo, the brown was released.
With no camping at Virginia Lakes, this typical early-season hot spot has not seen a lot of action, but there have been some nice fish caught. Hikers heading into the high-elevation wild lakes are reporting a wide-open bite for brookies and wild rainbows.
Carolyn Webb at Virginia Lakes Resort said she is still waiting for information on an opening date, but in the meantime, only a few anglers have showed up at Big and Little Virginia Lakes.
“Big Virginia on Saturday had 32 cars in the parking out with only four fishermen, hikers, but mostly skiers on the mountain,” she said. “There wre some nice trout caught, even a couple of brookies.”
One of those nice fish was a 3-pound, 8-ounce rainbow hauled in by Ron Hill from Cypress and a 4-pound rainbow taken by Zane Tipich with a PowerWorm.
You could hear the frustration in the voice of Margie Beaver at Beaver’s Sporting Goods when asked about fishing around Lee Vining.
“We have no information and despite the fact there are lots of good holdover trout from last season the county is not stocking until the campgrounds open,” she said.
When will that be is anyone’s guess?
Services at Lundy Lake remain closed at press time, and Beaver said she had had no reports from anglers on fishing conditions there.
Brad Beaver did report that the road to Saddlebag Lake is clear and open and despite low water, he was “catching a fish with every cast.”
Anglers can drive up Highway 120 to Ellery and Tioga Lakes, but the highway remains closed at the Yosemite Park entrance.
Campgrounds remain closed in Lee Vining Canyon, but the creek is flowing well and holding some monster fish.
June Lake Loop is typically a fishing Mecca by now as anglers and vacation travelers seek the fishing variety offered by four lakes and a prime, freestone creek.
With only a few private campgrounds open, it hasn’t mattered much that fishing has been good, because landings were not open.
“Crowds have been super light, because there only a few places to stay, but the fishing has been good,” said John Logue at Ernie’s Tackle and Ski in June Lake.
There reports of a 6-pound cutthroat being caught from shore below the highway on June Lake.
Landings were given the go-ahead to open on June 1, so this weekend it is anticipated that crowds will begin to pick up.
Both Gull and Silver Lakes have seen few anglers, but that should change this week.
Julian Gomez from Santa Clarita did report on a 40-fish day at Silver Lake, fishing from the point where Alger Creek flows in along with a 6-pound, 10-ounce rainbow caught by his father-in-law while trolling.
Guide Dan Lengning of Dan’s Guide Service used the slower time to tune-up his new boat on Grant Lake and reports he was averaging 10 browns each evening while on the water.
In Mammoth Lakes, crowds are also light because of the lack of lodging, but like other areas, that should begin to change this week as campgrounds and lodging is allowed to open.
A big problem is the road into the lakes basin.
Rick Flamson at Rick’s Sports Center said because of logging and work being done, it could be another two weeks before roads are open.
“I’m telling people to rent an electric bike and ride into lakes Mary or George for some good fishing,” Flamson said.
Sierra Slammers and Mice Tails tossed on the backside of Lake George has been especially effective.,
“We had one group who rented the bikes and came back to tell me it was one of their best days of fishing ever,” Flamson said.
Don Barrett at Lake Mary has all boats on the water and ready for anglers who ride or walk in, or when the road is open to traffic.
Lodging is still an issue in Mammoth Lakes, and Flamson said it could be until Mid-June before campgrounds open but private campgrounds are open.
The road to Red’s Meadow also remains closed, and it has been announced that the shuttle service will not be offered this summer because of concerns for social distancing in a crowded bus.
True to form, anglers who are willing to hike to inlet at the back end of Convict Lake are doing very well, especially in the mornings.
Mark Barker from Canyon Lake and Scott Matin from Barstow dis well on 2- to 4-pound rainbows with hook-up baits in 10 to 20 feet of water.
Crowley Lake opened to private boats last Saturday and for rental boats on Monday.
Brannan Turner at Crowley Lake Fish Camp said it was nothing like a traditional opener there, but still good numbers of anglers.
“I was out testing my boat and could hear the whoops as anglers were catching fish, so it sounded like a steady bite.” he said.
Andre Nersesian, owner/guide of Eastern Sierra Sportfishing spent a day on Crowley with his Father, Nick, who boated a 3-pound, 8-ounce brown with a Tasmanian Devil. Despite afternoon winds that got a bit strong, they enjoyed a hot morning bite.
“The fish were definitely not social distancing today,” Nersesian said. “These fish are hungry and ready to play.”
No reports came in this week. Campgrounds were still closed at press time as well as services.
Bishop Creek waters are also opening slowly.
Patti Apted at Lake Sabrina said they opened for rentals on Monday, but they have not been approved for restaurant services and area campgrounds remain closed.
Private boats that were out last week were reporting limits of 1- to 2-pound trout with some pulling in and releasing as many as 25 a day.
“We were stocked a month ago, so there are some nice fish out there and they are ready to go,” Apted said.
Andre Nersesian said anglers checking in at the Country Kitchen in Big Pine are reporting taking trout “here and there” in the Lower Owens.
Nersesian said the river is high and murky right now, requiring heavy weights and short leaders with a nightcrawler as the best combination for success.
Look for a bass bite in the slower back waters, with early morning and evening the best time for bigger fish with top water lures.
Big pine creek is at a decent flow and fishable. Key in on the pools and pocket water for steady action.
There are plenty of beefy holdovers since the creek has not been fished all spring.
Some browns to 16 inches hanging around as well. Small Panther Martins, Sierra Slammers, Woolly Buggers or just a plain old salmon eggs will do the trick here. Remember to utilize stealth mode.
Baker creek is fishing great, with Nersesian reporting every angler he has talked with catching fish.
As campground and landings continue to open up, crowds will return to the Eastern Sierra. Look for reports to be more complete as that transition occurs.