There was a storm of conflict blowing over the Eastern High Sierra as the trout season opened Saturday.
The weather was clear and the temperatures balmy for the season, but fishermen were at odds with the State Department of Fish and Game on two fronts and the Los Angeles City Department of Water and Power on another.
Meanwhile, Jim Becker of Arcadia caught the region’s biggest fish of the day, a 22-pound 4-ounce German brown, from the north end of Upper Twin Lake near here shortly after dawn.
One dispute concerned the emergency rescue by 14 citizen volunteers of more than 1,000 trout from a stream overflow ditch that suddenly went dry two days before the opener. The other involved “loophole” fishing on the Upper Owens River by members of the Mammoth Flyrodders the last two winters when trout season was closed. Because they weren’t keeping any of their catches, the anglers, if challenged by game wardens, could say they were fishing for other species that were legal at the time.
The rescue operation was late Thursday afternoon between Rock Creek and the smaller Crooked Creek near Tom’s Place resort 30 miles north of Bishop.
A 1940s agreement with the DWP assures residents of receiving the first 15 cubic feet per second of Rock Creek’s flow into Lower Rock Creek, but any over that is automatically spilled out of a pond into a ditch leading to Crooked Creek, which runs into L.A. City-owned Crowley Lake to help provide hydroelectric power at the dam.
With heavy spring flows filling the three-quarter-mile-long ditch, trout customarily enter about the first 300 feet to spawn. But when a cold snap hit the area Wednesday night, the overflow stopped and the fish were trapped, “flopping around on the rocks and in little pools of water,” one witness said.
According to the Mammoth Times, two members of the Flyrodders discovered the problem and alerted club president Dick Dahlgren, who rounded up more than a dozen members who “herded” most of the fish downstream to Crooked Creek.
The newspaper headlined its report: Town Volunteers Rescue 5,000 Trout . . . While DWP, DFG Snooze.”
Darrell Wong, a DFG fishery biologist based in Bishop, said: “Our warden estimated about a thousand. I’d say a thousand to 1,500.”
Whatever the number, Wong said: “It wasn’t anything the DWP did actively. Legally, they can’t put any more water down there, even if we had contacted them.
“It dropped so fast (the fish) couldn’t find their way out. That’s unusual. It was an unfortunate situation that normally doesn’t occur this time of year. But we’re 70% of normal (precipitation) this year.”
Bob Wilson, assistant district engineer for the DWP in Bishop, was quoted by the Mammoth Times: “We have to let this water flow (into Lower Rock Creek). We would have no desire to stop the water going down that ditch.”
But Rick Rockel of Bridgeport, a leader of the Mono County Wildlife Council, said the DFG shouldn’t have been caught by surprise.
“They’ve been here a long time,” Rockel said. “The attitude toward wildlife and fish in this particular case is way too casual on the part of the DFG and the DWP. They’ve got to be responsible about things like this.”
Dalhgren and Rockel also initiated the “loophole” fishing on the Upper Owens above Crowley in the winter of 1987-88 after failing to persuade the DFG to study opening that stream, the East Walker River and Rush Creek to year-round fishing.
With a couple of insignificant exceptions, Dahlgren said, "(Mono) is the only county in the western United States that has no year-round fishing,” and therefore no recreation to offer anglers between October and May.
But, according to Dahlgren and Rockel, after then-Fish and Game Commission President Al Taucher of Long Beach encouraged them that such a proposal for a study would be accepted, DFG Region 5 chief Fred Worthley asked them to wait so they could discuss an arrangement.
Rockel: “Fred Worthley made a deal with us and said if we would back off, he would have a biologist work specifically on that and give us an answer by last June. It never happened.”
Dahlgren: “We feel like fools now. We got nothing.”
Worthley could not be reached for comment, but Bill Rowan, supervisor of the DFG’s Eastern Sierra hatcheries, said year-round fishing would harm the spawning process.
“They get out there in their waders, stomping through the gravel, and you don’t know how many little guys or eggs they kill,” Rowan said. “People can go in there ‘perch’ fishing, you know, and say, ‘Whoops, I happened to catch this trout,’ and put it back.”
Wardens have monitored the situation but issued no citations.
Two weeks ago, though, according to the Mammoth Times, Ken Brown, the DFG’s chief of wardens in Inyo and Mono Counties, asked county District Attorney Stan Eller to write Dahlgren warning him that his group may be breaking the law.
Eller did so--then withdrew the warning when the anglers protested and he learned the DFG was planning to make year-round, catch-and-release fishing on the Owens legal next season.
Jim Becker of Arcadia took his 22-pound 4-ounce German brown trolling with a Rapala lure at Upper Twin Lake out of Bridgeport. It was 33 inches long, with a girth of 22 1/4 inches. The state record is 26-8 by Danny Stearman of Bakersfield. The largest trout caught anywhere in the Eastern Sierra last season was 16-9. . . . Erin Thomas, 6 1/2, of Bakersfield, caught a 3-pound, 4-ounce brown at Grant Lake in the June loop, using pink Power Bait. Blake Vitali, Long Beach, and Joe Schonert, Highland, each had 5-4 rainbows at June and Silver Lakes, respectively, and Dale Fleming, Altadena, caught a 1 1/2-pound cutthroat, 15 inches long.
At Crowley Lake, among 6,000 anglers in 1,200 boats and along the shore, Ben Tow of Bakersfield won the H. Werner Buck trophy and $100 for the biggest opening-day catch, a six-pound brown. . . . Around Mammoth Lakes, Hot Creek fly anglers said the fish were running “larger than they’d ever seen ‘em,” according to Fred Rowe. Lots of 21-23-inch spawning rainbows were going for gold-ribbed hare’s ears and blackstone fly nymphs. Float fishermen and trollers were doing best at the Twin Lakes.