BY ERNIE COWAN
JUNE LAKE — Fire closures of U.S. Forest Service lands were lifted last weekend, allowing anglers back on waters from Lone Pine to Lee Vining that had been off limits for nearly a month.
While the Inyo National Forest closure impacted late summer visitors and the economy of the Eastern Sierra dramatically, the fishing hiatus also primed Sierra waters for what appears to be an epic fall bite.
It’s a strange set of circumstances to make the 2020 Eastern trout season certainly something to remember.
If you recall, COVID-19 concerns delayed the opening of trout season. Strike two came when disease struck state trout hatcheries that stock the Eastern Sierra and the state stocking program here was essentially ended for this season.
Strike three came when wildfires roared across more than 4 million acres of the state, forcing closures of forest lands that included lakes and streams to fishing, hiking, campgrounds and wilderness areas.
Initially the closure was announced to be only a few days, but as intense fire conditions persisted, closures were extended. Sierra merchants held out as long as possible, but when Saturday’s opening was announced, it was too late for some.
All services in Red’s Meadow, Lundy Lake and at Lake Sabrina in Bishop Creek have closed for the season. The damage was done.
If there was any good news during this time, it was the fact that waters north of Conway Summit, including Virginia Lakes, Twin Lakes and Bridgeport Reservoir were only closed briefly because they are in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
For now, we hope the bad news is behind us and what remains of trout season through Nov. 15 could be one for the books.
There’s good reason for that.
First, there’s the aggressive trout stocking program that was launched by local merchants, landings, lake operators and county government to bring in larger, 3- to 10-pound rainbows to make up for the state hatchery fish not being stocked.
And there were tons of them.
These trophy fish have been stocked all summer, but it’s also been warmer than normal, so fish went deep and didn’t respond to typical baits and lures.
Some anglers figured it out before the closures, but the arrival of cooler fall weather has provided the positive jolt needed to energize the bite.
But everything was closed. No fishing, no camping, nada!
So, you have a bunch of trophy rainbows looking for food. They are hungry and feeling the urges of fall to feed before ice and snow arrive.
For the past month there has been no fishing pressure, so the opening last Saturday was like any opener, except you had bigger fish and they were already stimulated by the chill of fall.
Some of the most impressive action when waters opened again was at Silver Lake that has been primed all summer with trophy rainbows.
Andrew Jones at Silver Lake Resort reported on one group of anglers that hauled in an impressive load of seven rainbows weighing nearly 31 pounds, with the biggest tipping the scale at 5 pounds, 3 ounces.
June Lake Marina reported on some beefy rainbows showing up, but some hefty cutthroat were also in the mx.
Jeremy Ross at Ernie’s Tackle said crowds are still light, with many people not aware that fishing was again open.
“If you can get here, it’s going to be a great time to fish. They have not seen bait in a month and the fishing is really good,” Ross said.
Landings in June Loop should remain open through the end of the month.
Mammoth Lakes are back in play as well, and Brian Dunham at Rick’s Sports Center couldn’t find enough good adjectives to describe the action.
“It’s just crazy good and we have weighed an unbelievable amount of big fish,” he said.
Crowds are still light, but Dunham said anglers seem to be doing best on Lake George with a 7-pound, 8-ounce rainbow topping the chart.
“Most of the fish are being caught with PowerBait from shore,” Dunham said.
Crowley Lake remained open during the closures because it is not on Forest Service lands.
The action there continues to be strong as it generally is this time of the year during the no bait season when anglers are limited to barbless artificials only and a daily limit of two trout, 18 inches or larger.
Even guide Doug Rodricks, owner of Sierra Drifters, had a chance to take a day off and fish for himself at Crowley connecting with some beautiful browns.
Guides at The Trout Fitter in Mammoth called conditions at Crowley, “very good, with lots of small fish and plenty of big fish mixed in.”
Big and Little Hilton bays, McGee Bay and the North Arm and Crooked Creek are producing action.
Stripping streamers is still a good bet for connecting with some nice perch at Crowley.
Crowds are still light in Rock Creek Canyon, and Rock Creek Lake is well stocked and should be a hotspot for any late season anglers tossing out lures or bait.
Anglers willing to make the short hike into Little Lakes Valley will find non-stop action for wild brookies, browns and rainbows.
At press time we had not received reports from Bishop Creek Basin, but conditions there should also be ideal since waters were well stocked all summer.
Sadly, the yo-yo season took its toll on Sabrina Landing with Rick and Patti Apted deciding to close for the season. Waters are still open to fishing. South Lake Landing continues to operate.
Waters north of Conway Summit above Lee Vining were only closed a short time and have remained the go-to spot for anglers during the longer-term closures to the south.
Cooler weather stimulated a bite, and anglers have been checking in with some great fish.
Carolyn Webb at Virginia Lakes Resort said crowds have been heavy, but it does not seem to have impacted the bite.
Anglers checked in with big fish including a 5-pound, 4-ounce rainbow from Little Virginia and several 5-pound-plus fish from Big Virginia.
Bridgeport Reservoir continues to be in the fall mode, with fish moving closer to shore and much less selective about what they inhale. Cooler weather is the trigger and stringers are showing that big fish are enjoying the mild weather.
James Giglielmana from Huntington Beach used PowerBait at the reservoir to connect with two boat anchors, the largest weighing in at 7 pounds, 8 ounces.
Guide Ken Hoffman said anglers have been doing very well on the big waters of Bridgeport Reservoir by trolling worms.
Both Upper and Lower Twin Lakes are seeing more action as cooler waters bring fish to the surface, and of course, the brown baggers are loaded and ready if there is any sign that the late season trophy brown bite has begun.