OUTDOOR NOTES / RICH ROBERTS : Lower Owens River Has Unexpected Advantage

The special catch-and-release wild-trout fishing regulations applied to a section of the Lower Owens River north of Bishop this year have led to a surprising discovery.

"The lower (water) flows in the Lower Owens have been a benefit to the fish population," says John Deinstadt, chief of the California Department of Fish and Game's wild-trout program. "This is a case where the drought has been better for the fish."

Deinstadt based his opinions on recent electroshocking surveys that will help to determine optimum regulations. Evidence indicates that the lower flows, that are the product of the drought, have allowed stream vegetation to survive, meaning more forage for fish, as well as more spawning areas.

"Conditions there for (German) brown trout now seem prime," Deinstadt said. "I'd say that two or three years into the drought, the population began to build into what we have now."

The regulations had little to do with the phenomenon, but brought Deinstadt's attention to it. Unfortunately, his information on other prime fisheries is usually limited to angler surveys, which have been hit and miss.

The DFG has survey boxes at several fisheries around the state, placed where a fisherman will pass on his way out. The information is evaluated by the DFG to shape its management plans.

But only a few fishermen take the time. Example: Only 100 forms were turned in on the Upper Owens River in 1991, 149 in 1990--small percentages of the actual number of anglers. Creel censuses by DFG personnel are better, but staff is limited, so the department must rely on the anglers themselves.

With that limited input, Deinstadt's report on fishing success in California wild-trout waters in '90-91 is somewhat inconclusive but indicates that--unlike in the Lower Owens--all is not well.

He wrote: "The Upper Owens has not . . . lived up to its reputation as a trophy trout fishery during the past two seasons . . . (and) the wild brown trout population in (Crowley Lake) appears appreciably smaller."

Deinstadt's theory is that the drought "may have had a negative impact on the spawning run," leaving the Lower Owens an anomaly. He doesn't recommend low flows elsewhere.

Briefly

SALT WATER--With very few exceptions, the Southland fleet has gone to the bottom . . . for rockfish and rock cod that is. Cold weather and subsequent cold water have sent the warmer-water species south and west for the winter. Anglers are having little trouble filling their sacks with the sluggish, but tasty, fish.

Cabo San Lucas: Fishing at the Gordo Bank has improved, which means a shorter boat ride for those in San Jose del Cabo who had been making the hours-long trip past Cabo to the Pacific, where a steady dorado and fair marlin bite are still in progress. At the Gordo, wahoo strikes are common but catches aren't. The razor-toothed fish are cutting through all but the strongest wire leaders. Those being caught are averaging 40-60 pounds.

San Diego long-range: Yellowfin tuna, wahoo, dorado and yellowtail are being taken at the banks off the southern Baja coast. Yosh Fukubayashi of Commerce caught 110-pound yellowfin during a 10-day trip aboard the Royal Star.

HUNTING--Geese were a virtual no-show for opening day of the first half of the waterfowl season in October at the state-owned Imperial Wildlife Area in Niland, but that changed dramatically since the second half began earlier this month. IWA Manager Chris Gonzales estimates the number of Ross and lesser snow geese--and, to a lesser extent, Canada geese--currently using the 8,134-acre facility at about 20,000. About 25,000 ducks are on the Wister Unit of the area, compared to 6,000 in October. The hunter success ratio has improved accordingly.

BASS FISHING--Bob Crupi, who represented California in Bassin' magazine's national fish-off this year, has produced a video, "Bodacious Bass." Information: (805) 257-0860. . . . The International Game Fish Assn. is offering membership in the "IGFA 10-Pound Bass Club" to anyone landing a largemouth that big. Registration is $25 and includes a patch. A fish need not be killed and no line sample is required. Details: (305) 941-FISH.

JURISPRUDENCE--Three Shasta County hunters who poached five Rocky Mountain elk last December plea-bargained guilty to felony conspiracy and will be sentenced Jan. 25. In lieu of incarceration for up to three years, the five could be fined up to $5,000 each and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community wildlife work. . . . In Wyoming, a jury found a Cody bowhunter guilty of taking a trophy elk illegally. Gary Vorhies' kill scored 365 on the Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young systems, and he entered it in several contests, winning one and placing second and third in others. Authorities determined his photos verified that he had killed it while trespassing without a proper license on the Two Dot Ranch, not where he said he had killed it. He was fined $3,754 and given 45 days in jail.

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