Golden State Trout Forecast

Beset by fires, drought and budget problems, California's trout anglers face a somewhat different future in 2005 and for years to come.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Things are looking up -- if only slightly -- for the majority of Golden State trout anglers. The big news is that at last the state of California has a budget with which it can work, which, among other things, brought an apparent end to a lot of nervous hand wringing over the future of California's fisheries resources.

For the Department of Fish and Game, there are cuts in many areas, but there's also hope of hiring staff to fill vacant positions, and some funds are being obtained from various federal programs.

More specific to trout fishing is that the state's hatchery program survived through the political maneuverings of Sacramento, and funding is in place for a fair production run of fish for statewide stocking in 2005. As with just about every other state program, the hatchery system didn't escape the budget process completely unscathed. Statewide hatchery manager Chuck Knutson said he has 18 percent less money to work with this year than in 2004, but an 18 percent cutback is far from the disaster most observers anticipated just one year ago.

In the long term, however, the operation of the state's trout hatcheries remains in question. An attempt to provide more funding for hatchery operations by earmarking more of the license fee monies to directly support hatcheries was shelved after several so-called trout fishing organizations testified against the hatchery system. Their catch phrase was that allocating a specific amount to hatchery operations limited the flexibility of fishery managers. In truth, they are opposed to hatchery-supported sport fishing in general, and used this as an excuse to make sure most of California's trout anglers won't get their money's worth.

This probably comes as a big surprise to many of the state's trout fishermen, who assumed that their license fees went to fishing programs, and probably also thought national and statewide trout organizations had their best interests at heart. Sadly, that's not the case. For many years, license fees got dumped into programs that have nothing to do with trout fishing, and politically connected organizations have demonstrated a propensity for holding dear to ideology that is far left of center. Among them is an all-out assault on the state's hatchery trout system. They think that everybody should fish for wild fish, no matter what the circumstance. They're quite wrong of course, but they have clout.

One important ongoing program that delivers lots of winter trout to urban waters is the DFG's Fishing in the City Program. This is still up and running well despite the budget woes of the past couple of years, and looks to continue well into the future. For more information on this, including recent planting information, see the DFG Web site listed at the end of this article.

Overall, most trout anglers will still have a chance to take part in local family fishing trips to the Eastern Sierra or the rivers and lakes of Northern California to catch a few trout. Even dry Southern California has its fair share of quality trout waters. We've broken down the state by major areas, starting at the northern end.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Overall, Northern California has fared much better than Southern California. The best stream fishing, at least from the DFG standpoint, is the restored upper Sacramento River. The main problem area has been the northeast corner of the state where a number of isolated reservoirs that normally produce fantastic trout angling in wet years have been reduced to mere puddles in the last couple of years. This is especially true of the so-called "alphabet reservoirs" near Alturas. Check with Modoc National Forest or fishing Web sites before you head for these waters this spring.

Another good stream that's worthy of note is the North Fork of the Feather River. It's a quality, zero-limit area that runs some 15 miles south of Belden toward Lake Oroville. State Highway 70 runs up the valley floor with this stream, providing a number of places to pull off and fish.

One northeastern water that's still going strong is Eagle Lake, the second largest natural lake in California. Eagle Lake is known for trophy trout. Fishing here should be outstanding despite lower water than normal.

With the very early start to the rain and snow season last October, things across the upper third of the Golden State look very good overall. One sleeper spot is Davis Lake. Despite the on-going threat from northern pike in this water, the trout fishing should continue to be fair to good.

EASTERN SIERRA

Overall, things look pretty good for trout anglers on the backside of the Sierra. With both public and private hatchery operations going on, there will be sufficient trout to stock all the lower altitude lakes and many of the highly pressured streams and reservoirs that attract the large crowds of anglers through the year.

The long-awaited public-private partnership to operate the Hot Creek Hatchery is still in the works. Once all the niggling little details have been worked out by the lawyers, this will happen, and it will be a direct benefit to the tens of thousands of anglers expected to visit the Eastern Sierra this year. You can also expect Tim Alpers and other private hatchery folk to be doing their best to supply plenty of fish.

Lake Crowley is perhaps the best known of Eastern Sierra waters, and anglers can expect the same great opening weekend fishing there as in previous years. Some minor shifts in the normal stocking program have altered the mix of rainbow trout that inhabit the lake, but this should not alter the overall fishing success rate.

The Owens River and tributaries should be in excellent shape this year, and the same is true for all other popular Eastern Sierra angling hotspots. Overall, we expect the area to produce the same great action in 2005 that it has given anglers for decades.

Roadside anglers should also consider the Bishop Creek drainage. The road heading up to Lake Sabrina is steep, but both the stream itself and Sabrina, North Lake and South Lake offer some spectacular scenery and good fishing as well. A similar fishery can be found on upper Rock Creek north of Bishop. There are miles and miles of small stream fishing here, plus highly productive Rock Creek Lake. Above Rock Creek Lake, various trails can take you to some outstanding walk-in fishing.

The East Walker River and surrounding smaller waters offer some excellent fishing. Look for upper and lower Twin Lakes to be good, and if we get enough winter rain and snow, Bridgeport Reservoir should be very

good. The same can be said for the June Lake area. Fishing in the high country should be of about the same quality this year as previously. You won't find many lunkers in the higher elevation lakes, but there are plenty of brilliantly marked trout for the backpacker to catch.

Not as well known, the middle fork of the San Joaquin River just west of Mammoth is a true fly angler's dry-fly stream at its best. You get a nice mix of stocked fish near the campgrounds, and wild fish in the stream sections that take a bit of walking to fish.

The efforts of DFG wild trout biologists have been limited by funding issues. "One of our problems right now is that we have found brook trout in what we thought was a pure Lahontan cutthroat trout area in Silver Creek," noted Debra Hawk, Region 6 wild trout biologist. "It's a huge issue for the wild trout program, as Silver Creek is one of the five watersheds that's thought to have pure Lahontans in it. We survey every year and they weren't there before. Also, we don't think they breached any barrier. The population is low, but the majority of them are close to where a campground exists." She believes so-called bucket biology, or the illegal introduction of the brook trout by humans, is responsible.

Overall, the primary problem with the Sierra season will be a threat from the New Zealand mud snail. This nasty little pest is beginning to have an effect on fishing, and is easily spread from one water to another if anglers are not careful about washing waders, and wading shoes, float tubes, and boats and trailers.

WESTERN SIERRA & CENTRAL VALLEY

Trout fishing along the west side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains looks to be excellent for most areas this year. According to the DFG's Region 4 office, stocking programs have been little affected by the reduction in hatchery money. The main limitation will be a couple of more remote waters that may get no stocked fish or reduced stockings this year. Most easily accessed public waters will be in good shape as usual.

One possible bad spot is the coldwater fishery at Pine Flat Lake. For a number of reasons, the trout fishery declined significantly there in 2004. DFG will stock some catchable trout, plus kokanee and some Chinook salmon to provide a reasonable fishery there. Pine Flat is also a fine warmwater fishery.

Berkley Joins Hot Creek Hatchery

Fishing tackle manufacturer Berkley and its conservation division, the Berkley Conservation Institute, have joined the Hot Creek Trout Hatchery Foundation, the first foundation partner to make a multi-year commitment. The foundation helps finance operating expenses for California's historic Hot Creek Trout Hatchery. The foundation's financing makes it possible for the production facility to survive state budget cuts and continue to improve trout and salmon recreational angling in California. "I grew up in this community and couldn't imagine us letting this hatchery close," said Ron Ten Berge, vice president for North American Sales for Pure Fishing. "When Tim Alpers and the foundation asked for our help, we were eager to join this historic partnership." "Every hatchery program in America is plagued with chronic funding problems," noted Jim Martin, Berkley's conservation director. "But dedication to the future of fishing at Berkley is unequaled, and we are excited to be helping the Hot Creek hatchery." "We encourage creative public-private partnerships, innovation, investment and accountability," said California Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman. "This partnership is economic progress and it protects the environment."

 

Region 4's wild trout program continues to work on golden trout habitat in the South Fork of the Kern River, the Little Kern and Volcano Creek, all important trout habitat for Golden Trout. Surveys and habitat conservation are moving these programs forward despite budget shortfalls.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The lower third of the state has some significant problems facing trout anglers this year. First was the closure last fall of almost the entire Angeles National Forest by a panicked Forest Service administration. It didn't last all that long, as the forest was reopened after the first rainstorm, with a warning that it might close again if conditions warrant. Access to such fine trout waters and the East and West Forks of the San Gabriel River may be limited depending on how long the closure lasts, or how often the closure is imposed each time we have a week of Santa Ana winds.

Several streams, notably Deep Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest, City Creek, Cucamonga Creek, and Lytle Creek, are pretty much destroyed by fire and flooding from last year. Any additional heavy rains may do even more damage to these watersheds. Throughout this year, and perhaps for several years to come, anglers should check with the various national forest offices to make sure they can get in to their favorite waters.

One of the problem areas that may prevent recovery of these waters soon is the total lack of any survey work by the DFG. Funding problems and lack of emphasis by the DFG's wild trout program may be a big stumbling block to getting these damaged trout streams on the road to recovery.

Water levels at many Southern California lakes are quite low after years of drought, but there are some spots worth considering. The reservoirs connected to the California or Colorado River aqueducts will have near normal water levels. If there's enough rain and snow during the winter, Big Bear Lake should be great in the spring. The star of the whole winter trout show, however, is likely to be Diamond Valley Reservoir.

Diamond Valley was billed as the answer to the bass angler's dream when it opened to fishing a year ago. Indeed it is a great bass fishery that may soon be the leading place for largemouth bass in the lower half of the state. What was less well known was that the DFG biologist who fashioned the bass fishery also made a serious effort to establish a big-time trout fishery.

Using a formula that has worked well at such diverse places as Lake Crowley in the Eastern Sierra, and Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains, biologist Mike Giusti obtained thousands of rainbow fingerlings for Diamond Valley, stocking them well before the lake opened. These little trout not only survived, they prospered, and now lucky trout fishermen are finding themselves netting solid rainbow trout that weigh as much as 7 pounds. Catchable-sized rainbows are stocked during the winter months at Diamond Valley, but the population of larger fish is there all year, and a few smart anglers have learned to fish deep for these big fish right through the summer.

Along with Diamond Valley, trout anglers should also take a serious look at Big Bear Lake. It has had good trout angling for several years in a row, and 2005 should be no exception. This big lake is capable of producing some very good trout in the 16-to 18-inch range. Smaller, but also worth checking out, are Hemet La

ke on Mt. San Jacinto, and Lake Gregory, near Crestline. Both have pretty good summer trout fishing.

Down in the San Diego County area, think of Lake Cuyamaca as a definite must-go hotspot for trout. This beautiful little lake was not harmed by the vicious wildfires that destroyed the community around it. Fishing is going to be at its best here in late spring. Not far away is Lake Morena, another body of water at a higher elevation than most San Diego County waters, and it also deserves a look.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

For 2005 there are the usual cost-of-living increases in the license fees for anglers in California, along with $2 rise in what was originally proposed as a Trout Stamp Program. The stamp didn't pass muster with the California Fish and Game Commission but, strangely, the increased fee did. A 2005 annual resident sport fishing license costs $33.35, and the non-resident sport fishing license is $89.50. A two-day license for either residents or non-residents is $16.80. The 10-day non-resident license is the same as a resident annual license at $33.35.

For overall information concerning fishing in California, contact the California Department of Fish & Game at: 1416 Ninth street, Box 94409, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090; 916-653-7664. Anglers may purchase licenses from more than 2,350 license agents statewide, and at all DFG offices. For general license information, call 916-227-2245. You can also get a great deal of information online at www.dfg.ca.gov.

For more specific information on various regional trout waters, see the following listing.

  • Northern California & North Coast Region -- 601 Locust Street, Redding, CA 96001, 530-225-2300; or 619 Second Street, Eureka, CA 95501; 707-445-6493
  • Sacramento Valley & Central Sierra Region -- 1701 Nimbus Road, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670; 916-358-2900
  • Central Coast Region -- 7329 Silverado Trail, Box 47, Napa, CA 94558; 707-944-5500
  • San Joaquin Valley & Central Sierra Region -- 1234 East Shaw Ave., Fresno, CA 93710; 559-243-4005
  • South Coast Region -- 4949 Viewridge Ave., San Diego, CA 92123; 619-467-4201
  • Eastern Sierra & Inland Deserts Region -- 3602 Inland Empire Blvd., Suite C220, Ontario, CA 91764; 909-484-0167.

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