At 5:08 a.m. on Saturday, April 26, the Eastern Sierra trout season was on. Hundreds of San Diegans headed up Highway 395 to hit the ice-free lakes from Big Pine to Bridgeport, in what was supposed to be one of the best openers ever.
But the day before, a late winter storm had dumped eight inches of snow across the Sierras between 4:00 p.m. and midnight. (Mammoth Mountain reported 40 inches at its 11,000’ crest.) The unsettled weather may have sent the big fish packing into deep water. Maybe even until summer time.
In October last year, in most of the high Sierra lakes and streams, the Department of Fish and Wildlife planted trophy-sized trout – two to seven pounders, from their overabundant hatcheries. Additionally Alpers Trout Farm was forced to temporarily close over water issues, and the farm’s tanks of five to nine pounders were also planted last fall.
Those planted fish had all winter long, in mostly ice-free waters, to be growing and hungry for food, as the warmer winter kept them from going into hibernation mode.
It should have been a record opener. Those in the know were expecting double-digit-weighed fish – ten pounds and above - to show up at the annual June Lake Loop Monster Trout Contest.
The largest trout at June Lake’s Ernie’s Bait and Tackle shop, headquarters for the four-lake contest, was only seven pounds, nine ounces. At Silver Lake – the favorite lake for this writer - the top fish caught by San Diegans were San Marcos’ Parker Norris, with his two-pound, one-ounce Rainbow; followed by Vista resident Randy Driskill with a two-pound Cutthroat. Driskill has been attending the Silver Lake opener since 1977.
According to those in the know, those big fish are still out there waiting to be caught. But with the upcoming raining season – usually May through mid-June - they may not start showing up until summertime. When those big fish “wake up” is anyone’s guess. But when they do, they'll hit hard and fast, and the lakes should produce photo-op fish for weeks to come.
With the 2013-14 winter season being the third-driest on record, the upcoming challenge for Eastern Sierra fishermen will be that most of the streams now supporting those large trout may dry up by mid-summer. And lake levels will continue to drop.
Anglers traveling up to the lakes above Bishop for the opener already found little shoreline available, with most lakes at record low levels.