California's 2011 Trout Forecast
April 04, 2011
Trout anglers can look forward to another year of splendid fishing in the Golden State.
If there's a single, overriding issue for the millions of trout anglers in California, it's the quality and quantity of the winter rain and snow that fall on the state. As this report is written, the full effects of the 2010-2011 winter are not known. However, predictions of a La NiÃ±a, or mild winter don't necessarily mean there won't be plenty of water available for quality angling, both in still waters and rivers/streams across the Golden State.
Something that had more effect on trout angling than water and weather was the lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity concerning where and how trout are stocked in California. Over the long haul, the suit didn't impact a large number of your favorite trout waters, but it caused the California Department of Fish and Game to carry out a long and exhaustive process that held up stocking of many waters for a period of time. Thankfully, most of that is behind us now.
If you want the most up-to-date information on the subject, go to the DFG's Web site at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/. Scroll down a little in the Fishing and Hunting column and click on "Stocking Evaluations." This will take you to a pair of pdf documents that are updated often. The one for catchable trout will show you all the waters currently being stocked throughout the state, by region. You can also check out all the current regulations, license fees and other great information on the DFG Web site.
The DFG's interactive On-Line Fishing Guide is a bit limited, but you might find some useful information there, as well. You can also go to the Regions tab and get information on fishing and other information on a region-by-region basis. Sometimes the best way to plan a fishing vacation trip is to contact the fishery biologist in the region you are heading to and get first-hand information on the places you want to visit.
INLAND/DESERT AND SOUTH COAST REGIONS
Containing a huge chunk of inland Southern California, plus most of the Eastern Sierra, the Inland and South Coast regions have plenty of great trout waters. One standout in the last few years is giant Diamond Valley Reservoir, near Hemet in Riverside County. This largest of all Southern California reservoirs is fed by California and Colorado River Aqueduct water, and gets stocked with thousands of pounds of catchable and sub-catchable trout every year. Over the past few years, Diamond Valley has developed a reputation for very large rainbow trout that hold-over in the deep, cool waters of this roughly 260 billion gallon reservoir (at full pool; Diamond Valley has been down as much as 100 feet below that during the last year or so), and grow to mammoth proportions.
"We are going to try to get some Lahonton Cutthroat trout for Diamond Valley in the spring of 2011," said Inland Region Fishery Manager Mike Giusti. If we get the eggs, we will raise them at the Mojave Hatchery. Also, we will be raising the browns for Diamond Valley to catchable size instead of sub-catchables."
Big Bear Lake is another fine destination for Southern California trout anglers. Located high in the San Bernardino National Forest, this large lake gets stocked every year with thousands of pounds of quality trout by both local businesses and the DFG. Nearby Lake Gregory, a San Bernardino County Park lake, will also get an allotment of brown trout for 2011.
For the stream angler, all of the small trout streams in the San Bernardino and Angles National Forests should be in good shape. One item of note is that the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, a free-flowing small stream favored by fly anglers, is being considered for Wild/Heritage Trout status by the DFG. Roger Bloom, California's Wild Trout and Heritage Trout manager told Game and Fish Magazine that studies are underway to include this pretty little stream in the program. That could mean that it might become a catch-and-release trout steam, much like its sister stream, the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.
In the Eastern Sierra, Lake Crowley, near Mammoth, is one of the great trout fisheries. It should be holding its own in 2011. It was reported to be quite low during the fall of 2010, but winter rain and snow melt should take care of that. The fall stocking that brings so many trout in the 15- to 18-inch (and larger) range for anglers in the spring have continued at basically the same levels as before. As usual, anglers gearing up for the spring trout opener at the end of April should expect outstanding fishing.
Hot Creek, the premium destination in the Sierra for fly anglers, continues to be very good, as does the lower Owens River, near Bishop. Hot Creek is a "special regulations" water for fly anglers, and is almost always very good fishing. Almost lost in the steep, winding canyon that holds it, the Owens River Gorge, which operates on general statewide regulations, continues to be an interesting brown trout fishery. DFG Biologist Steve Parminter reports that after nearly 20 years of on and off negotiations, the DFG is close to an agreement with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which has several hydro powerplants in the Gorge, to regulate the flows in a manner more beneficial to the fishery. It's been a long time coming. The Department of Fish & Game's Wild and Heritage Trout folks are also looking at the Owens Gorge with an eye on the management of this fishery, and trying to decide if it should be managed as a wild trout stream.
The Bishop Creek drainage, which includes multiple forks of Bishop Creek, plus Lake Sabrina, North Lake and South Lake, should be on everybody's list of roadside waters that are worth the trip. Anglers should also pay attention to Pleasant Valley Reservoir, near Bishop, for its fine trout fishing.
Further North, in the Bridgeport area, anglers can look forward to Bridgeport Reservoir being quite good, as should be both Upper and Lower Twin Lakes. The East Walker River should also be on your list of places to fish. The East Walker is open over part of its length year-round and offers spring fishing in both California and Nevada for anglers interested in big brown trout.
At Kirman Lake, a small hike in water produced some exceptional Lahonton Cutthroat trout fishing last year. The lake should be up to the task again in 2011.
SOUTH COAST REGION
The South Coast Region includes most of the west side of the Los Angeles/Orange County area, plus Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Diego Counties. There aren't a lot of great trout lakes in the region, but there are some good ones. A trip into the area around Cuyamaca State Park takes you to Cuyamaca Lake, a fine alpine-style lake that gets huge stockings of catchable rainbow trout each year. Among the San Diego city lakes, Lake Murray offers some fine trout angling during winter and into the spring and, to the East, Lake Morena, operated by the San Diego County Parks system, often has excellent trout angling. In Orange County, two lakes, Laguna Niguel and Irvine Lake, have good early-spring trout fishing before switching to planting catfish in the late spring. There are another dozen city and county park lakes in the Los Angeles/Orange County area that also offer some spring trout angling.
For the stream enthusiasts, the East and West Forks of the San Gabriel River, north of Azusa, offer good flowing-water trout fishing. The upper part of the West Fork is fly-fishing "no kill" water, but there's a good stretch of the stream open to lure and bait anglers. The East Fork is rugged country, but is open to all fishing methods.
WEST SIERRA AND CENTRAL VALLEY
The West side of the mighty Sierra range hosts thousands of miles of trout streams and rivers, and a great many large reservoirs. One of the best is a combination of river and reservoir. The Kern River runs from high in the Golden Trout Wilderness down to giant Lake Isabella, and then the lower Kern drops all the way into the Central Valley, near the city of Bakersfield. Some part of the Kern is fishable at some time of the year. The most popular destination is the upper Kern, from the tiny town of Kernville north into the wild trout area above Johnsondale Bridge. This part of the Kern is open to all forms of angling and is a highly popular destination. According to Central Region Fishery Manager Brian Beal, the process of dealing with the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) required after the stocking lawsuit has been resolved.
"The EIR has been mostly finished. We have some smaller creeks and rivers that won't be stocked as yet, but the majority of the waters are getting their full allotments," Beal said. "We are basically back to where we were before the lawsuit. The Kern River, a very popular destination in the low end of the Sierra Range, will be stocked. We are stocking triploid (sterile female rainbow trout) above Fairview Dam, and below the dam down to and including Lake Isabella, we are stocking regular hatchery rainbow trout.'
Beal also noted the DFG has plans to raise and stock the native Kern River rainbow trout in the Kern and a number of other waters in the drainage as they develop the eggs for the purpose. "This allows us to stock for angler consumption with a native trout species."
Other popular West Slope waters that should be considered this spring include Pinecrest Lake, near the town of Strawberry, just off Highway 108. It gets extensive stocking every year and should produce good results. It's not a large lake at just 300 surface acres, but is ideal trout habitat. Huntington Lake, at 7,000 feet, northeast of Fresno, is a popular trout destination. Home to some of the largest brown trout taken in California, it also has a great Kokenee Salmon fishery, and also has good angling for hatchery-stocked rainbow trout.
Beal also recommends the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River (see http://stevenojai.tripod.com/homepage.htm) for more information on this region as well as other West Slope fishing locations) as a great fishing destination for the spring. Below Beardslet Reservoir, a 17-mile section from Beardsley Afterbay to the confluence of the North Fork, Stanislaus is designated by the State of California as a Wild Trout Fishery.
The Northern and North Central Regions of the Golden State are rich in all forms of trout fishing. Giant Reservoirs, mighty rivers and plenty of smaller waters dot the landscape. "The difficulty that we had was the lawsuit," said Mark Pisano, acting program manager for fisheries in the northern region. "We had to prioritize these, so we worked on the waters that were most easily available to the public. We were pretty successful with that, but we still have high mountain lakes we haven't finished. We hope by spring to have the bulk of our waters worked with the appropriate paperwork."
Pisano said that anglers should always consider huge Lake Shasta as a prime destination for spring trout angling. He noted the Department has been stocking 50,000 chinook salmon into Shasta each year. The top end is fish of 5 to 7 pounds, but the average fish is a couple of pounds. It's a lake, not the ocean, and you can't expect the kind of growth in Shasta as you get in the Pacific. Shasta requires downriggers and deep trolling to reach the biggest fish.
Among the many waters in the North, Caples Lake is a good bet. At nearly 8,000 feet elevation in the El Dorado National Forest, just off Highway 88, Caples and nearby Kirkwood Lake are fun fishing. Fishery Biologist Jay Rowen notes that Caples has received trophy-sized trout from Nebraska in the recent past and that there are "some 9- and 10-pounders" swimming in it. He also suggested anglers visit Upper Blue Lake in Lake County. It has easy shore access, with good roadside access. There are actually two Blue Lakes, upper and lower, and both have good fishing.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Of the thousands of lakes and streams in California, the vast majority are open year-round, with a five-trout-per-day, 10-in-possession limit. However, there are distinct seasons for trout fishing in parts of Northern California and the eastern Sierra, and many special regulation waters with reduced limits or zero-kill regulations. For Northern California and Inyo and Mono counties in the eastern Sierra, the season on regulated waters runs from the last Saturday in April to November. Most Southern California and much of central California's waters are open year-round.
Anglers should obtain a copy of the Sport Fishing Regulations booklet. The center pages list special regulations waters. A few hours spent getting familiar with the various seasons not only might keep you from a citation by a warden, but the special regulations waters are a laundry-list of the best trout angling opportunities in the state. You can also find these regulations online at the DFG Web site at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/ For 2011 there are only slight increases in the license fees for anglers in California.
Anglers should also be reminded that the visible license regulation, which had been in force in California for several years, has been changed. You no longer need to wear your license; you can keep it in your wallet.