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Rising To The Trout

Rising To The Trout

Trout fishing in Southern California switches from lowland reservoirs to high-mountain lakes in May. Here are your best options right now. (May 2009)

All over the Southland, lakes and streams that have been too cold to fish properly now are waking up from a winter's sleep.

Big-bellied planters are a blast to catch. While the state is reducing the number of streams it plants, most Southern California anglers won't notice the difference.
Photo by Richard Alden Bean.

In lower altitude waters, the put-and-take trout stocking is beginning to slow. Many are switching to stocking catfish, but at the higher elevations, the fun for trout anglers is just beginning.

Mountain lakes that have good trout-fishing action south of the Sierra are few in number, but they are close to home.

Lake Cuyamaca
Down in San Diego County, think about a day trip to Lake Cuyamaca in the Cleveland National Forest near the mountain town of Julian. This small reservoir is operated by a local water district and gets regular stocking of trout through the summer.

Because it is set in a beautiful pine forest at 4,700 feet, Cuyamaca is ideal for a spring day get-away. At only 110 surface acres, it's usually jammed full of feisty trout stocked every week. In addition to the trout, it has excellent crappie and largemouth bass angling as well.

The various baits and lures that work for trout anywhere will all catch fish at Cuyamaca, but anglers might consider making sure they have a good supply of tiny crappie jigs on hand. These tiny lures will catch the trout as well as crappie.


Cuyamaca is also a fine fly-fishing lake, and members of the San Diego Flyfishers can be found float-tube fishing there most Wednesdays. To avoid conflicts with boats, float-tube fishing is only allowed on weekdays and the last three hours of weekends and holidays. For more information on Cuyamaca, call the lake office at (877) 581-9904, or check out their Web site at

Lake Morena
Another mountain lake with plenty of trout action is Lake Morena. Situated well to the southeast of San Diego near the border community of Campo, Morena is a much larger water than Cuyamaca. It has miles of rocky shoreline that hold plenty of game fish, such as trout, bass and panfish.

A part of the San Diego County park system, Morena has good camping facilities, boat launch and a nearby store. For more info, check with the San Diego County Parks at

Lake Hemet
In Riverside County, Lake Hemet, high on Mount San Jacinto, is a great place for a day or two of spring trout fishing. The lake has a very large campground, plus it's close to motels and other services in the mountain town of Idyllwild. In addition to launching a boat, there is a large section of public-access land on the north shore for anglers who just want to fish from the bank. You'll need a Forest Service Adventure Pass to park.

Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino National Forest is another great lake for anglers from Southern California. A very large lake, it is several miles long and is set in a wide valley that contains three small communities. Much of the shore on the north side of the lake is easily accessible by the public, and there are two large public ramps as well as several private ramps at local marinas.

Trout fishing at Big Bear is big business, and each May, the communities host the Trout Classic where huge fish are stocked for the pleasure of anglers.

Trolling is the most effective way to catch Big Bear Lake trout. The nature of the lake is that the trout tend to hold fairly deep most of the time. They also have seasonal movements. That means, you'll have to search for the fish with a trolled lure and a depthfinder.

Lure- and fly-anglers can also fish from float tubes, kayaks and kick boats as long as they pay a launch fee and stay out of the way of faster ski boats and personal watercraft. For the best fishing info, check out

Lake Gregory
Not far to the west of Big Bear Lake is smaller Lake Gregory. A San Bernardino County Park, Lake Gregory is the only county park lake that routinely gets stocks of trout in the summer months. This is a very good fishery with good shore access. You can rent a boat (private boats not allowed) or launch a float tube to fish this 120-acre water.

Lake Gregory is often a better bait lake than one where lures are effective. Most of the prepared baits will work just fine. You will have to float your baits off the bottom. The weed beds in Lake Gregory grow quickly in the spring. For more, call the park office at (909) 338-2233.

There are a number of trout streams in the mountains around the Los Angeles area. Two of note are the East and West Forks of the San Gabriel River.

These two waters used to be a combination of wild trout and stocked trout, but due to a recent lawsuit that restricts stocking, they probably will not be stocked this year. (See accompanying story.) Trout anglers wanting to take a limit of fish should look elsewhere.

Upper Piru Creek from Pyramid Lake north into Lockwood Valley has been made part of the Heritage and Wild Trout Program, with suitable limits on take.

Kern, Isabella
At the lower end of the Sierra chain lie the Kern River and Lake Isabella. Both are excellent trout-fishing destinations for Southland anglers. The Kern also may not be stocked this year, but that might change. If the Kern River hatchery could produce native Kern River rainbow, then it could be stocked.

Lake Isabella will continue to be stocked with hatchery fish, and there is talk that the lower Kern, below Lake Isabella may continue to receive stocked trout from current hatchery sources. For fly-anglers, the best Web site is

Don't overlook the South Fork of the Kern River in the Kennedy Meadows area. This portion of the Kern River system has miles of good trout angling with several Forest Service campgrounds and other lodging in the area.

Walking south into the Domelands Wilderness gets you several miles of peace and quiet, along with good trout angling.

Upstream from the Kennedy Meadows campground, you can hike in for golden trout fishing. To reach the area, take the blacktop road

from California Highway 395. It climbs steeply through Nine Mile Canyon, which turns into Kennedy Meadow Road (Forest Road J-41) at the Inyo-Tulare county line.

There is a small community of weekender cabins and small ranches in the valley. Services include a couple of restaurants, the general store, and campgrounds at Chimney Meadows and Kennedy Meadows.

Heading up into the Eastern Sierra on Highway 395 gives Southern California trout anglers a whole world of fishing opportunities in the spring.

Perhaps the most popular stop on the Sierra trout circuit is Crowley Lake. It opens on the last Saturday in April and is stuffed full of several different strains of rainbow trout each fall just before the winter storms hit. By spring, the stocked trout are strong, wild, and offer excellent sport.

Check out the Web site www.crowley for more information on boat launching, rentals, and other items of interest. There are a number of guide services available on Crowley.

A bit south of Crowley Lake, Pleasant Valley Reservoir is another hotspot for anglers. It has some truly large fish swimming in it, and it's open all year. Big brown trout lurk along with some huge rainbows, and fishing can be very good, especially in the spring.

To the west of Bishop lie three high-altitude lakes served by paved roads. North Lake is small, but gets big loads of stocked fish, while Lake Sabrina and South Lake are much larger and are also filled with trout. These are all accessed via State Highway 168, which leads west and almost straight up out of Bishop.

In addition to the lakes, anglers can fish miles of Bishop Creek's drainage, including the popular Weir and Intake II, which usually have plenty of good trout action.

North of Crowley Lake, the community of Mammoth has a number of small lakes close by that harbor big trout. Lakes Mary and George are not large, but they make up for that with good numbers of stocked trout each week, and some real lunkers come out of these two lakes.

Farther north is the road loop at June Lake, which travels past June Lake, Grant Lake and Gull Lake. These three lakes are all extensively stocked and boast a mix of wild and stocked fish for the angler. Both fly-fishing and lure- and bait-angling work well here.

In the Bridgeport area, Upper and Lower Twin lakes have a well-deserved reputation for huge brown trout lurking in their depths. They also get large stockings of rainbow trout.

Running out of Bridgeport Reservoir is the famed East Walker River. Open for fishing all year long, weather permitting, the East Walker continues into Nevada and has miles of good trout fishing there as well. See for the latest info on fishing conditions in the Bridgeport area.

The streams running out of the Sierra contain more good trout angling than most anglers can experience in a lifetime. There are even some small streams in the Southern Sierra that open in March.

The most northerly of these early opening waters is Independence Creek. It is a nice little stream that starts at 11,000 feet in the Kearsarge Pass area west of the town. There is a paved road running from Independence up along the stream to the Onion Valley area and the campgrounds there.

South of Independence Creek are Symmes Creek, Sheppard Creek, George Creek and Lone Pine Creek. These all are small, and are exten-sively stocked not far from Highway 395 to provide good early action.

The Owens River near Bishop is a major water, with mostly fly-fishing regulations, although a large portion is open to angling of all kinds. The Owens Gorge is another general regulations section of the Owens, which is open year 'round, and features isolated fishing close to town, by virtue of the steep canyon the stream flows through.

Unfortunately, all California trout anglers need to be aware of aquatic invasive species. You are probably sick of hearing about quagga mussels and New Zealand mud snails. But it's important to know about them to preserve our waterways from their ill effect.

The quagga mussel is a tiny creature that originally came from Russia and is thought to have arrived in ballast water in oceangoing vessels. Quaggas first showed up in the Great Lakes, and then spread to the Colorado River system, and then into California via the Colorado River Aqueduct from Lake Havasu.

They've caused millions of dollars in damage to waterworks and have shut down some fishing lakes. Many lakes have set up boat washing and inspection stations to prevent this costly pest from spreading, so be aware that you might have to get your boat inspected or pressure-washed before launching.

The New Zealand mud snail is another tiny pest that has infested many moving waters in the Eastern Sierra and has the potential to harm trout fisheries around the state if allowed to spread. As with the quagga mussel, the primary way to control the snails is to make sure your waders, wading shoes, float tubes and other gear is snail free. There are specific instructions posted on most Sierra waters explaining how to do this.

The California annual resident license is $41.20. A non-resident annual license is $110.80, and a 10-day non-resident runs $41.20. The two-day license (either resident or non-resident) is $20.75, and a one-day is $13.40.

To get stocking information on your favorite waters, go to, click on the recreation tab, then the fishing tab, and scroll down to fish-planting schedules. Open that, and you get a good statewide set of lists that you can zoom in on to get the planting information for your local lakes and streams.

An excellent source of up-to-date fishing information is the fishing report that runs in many Southern California newspapers. Crafted weekly by Outdoor News Service, the reports give anglers a heads up on the current fishing conditions each week at all Southern California locations. If you don't take a paper, or your paper does not feature the fishing report, you can read it on-line each week at

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