Saturday, February 4, 2017

ERNIE COWAN - Union Tribune Outdoors


The true trout hunter will understand when I say you never hang up your rod.

For most anglers, a few glorious summer days in the Eastern Sierra, watching your fly dance on the sparkling waters of pristine mountain lakes, or a few Saturday trips to local lakes for planted trout, satisfies their cravings to fish.

But the real trout hunter is always on the water, adjusting to seasons, conditions and what nature has
 to offer. Just about anyone who has fished for trout will tell you that California’s Eastern Sierra is a world-class destination for these freshwater fish. Rainbow, German brown, brook and native golden trout offer anglers experiences that range from armchair angling from the tailgate of your car to the thrill of catching a magnificent native golden, found only in the pure waters of wild lakes in the rare air above 10,000 feet.

The beauties and challenges of the High Country seem to validate the words of Henry David Thoreau, who wrote, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without
 knowing that it is not fish they are after.” The solitude, the beauty, and the bonus of connecting with a wild creature at the end of your line seem to satisfy some kind of primal need.

For the real trout hunter, even winter offers a different kind of fishing experience in the High Sierra. Traditionally the winter season allows anglers to plumb the waters of the Owens River, Hot Creek, Pleasant Valley Reservoir and the East Walker River.

Sure, winter fishing can
 be cold and miserable. I’ve had wet boots, cold feet and a chill from a winter day hiking into Hot Creek through snow when temperatures were in the 20s. But 2017 is a winter that trout hunters will never forget.

The storm door has been open, dropping epic amounts of snow that has accumulated to more than 25 feet deep in some places.

Access to many winter fishing grounds has simply vanished. Even snowmobiles are having a hard time navigating through deep snow holes, but the
 worst has been the bonechilling cold.

Read this carefully, because it’s not a misprint. Morning temperatures earlier this month were recorded at 22 degrees below zero in Bridgeport and 30 below on the Upper Owens east of Mammoth Lakes. Those were real temperatures, not wind chill. That will wilt your petunia any day.

To make matters even worse, normally strong flowing water like the Upper Owens River has been covered in ice, making fishing
 impossible. Fishing guide Tom Loe runs Sierra Drifters Guide Service and is an eternal optimist when it comes to trout fishing anytime. This winter, he had to call it for real.

“The(Owens) river has frozen solid above Hot Creek and is unfishable until the ice thaws,” Loe said.

Often winter access is challenging, but can be done in four-wheel drive.

“It’s buried under 3 to 4 feet of snow now. No vehicles are driving in here and snow shoes are mandatory if you walk in,” Loe said.

For now, the true trout hunter will have to look elsewhere, but there is light at the mouth of the ice cave.

The heavy blanket of Sierra snow means water, lots of water, once the spring thaw arrives.

Popular fishing holes like
 the vast expanse of Bridgeport Reservoir, gasping from four years of drought, are now looking like they will be filled to the brim.

Since November, Bridgeport Reservoir has risen nearly 12 feet, and the heavy flow of spring has yet to arrive. Jeffrey Wenger at Bridgeport Marina is hopeful that he will have enough water in the marina to last all summer, allowing him to keep rental boats on the water.

Some may think we are witness to a miracle. Just in the nick of time, nature has arrived with abundance. In reality, the eternal cycles have simply made another orbit.

For the real trout hunter, it just means never having to hang up your rod.