Plan on low water conditions for the rest of the 2012 Sierra trout season
by: Mike Stevens 8/3/2012
Planning a Sierra trip is not like planning a beach vacation. You canít just pick the right month and know you are going to get the conditions you want, and the last two trout seasons are perfect examples of that. Two years ago, a record-breaking snow year had skiers on the slopes in Mammoth Lakes through July. That same snow closed off backcountry spots (even if you could get up the trails, the lakes were still frozen) and even put the clamps on some of the lakes in town to an extent. Twin Lakes was about as good as it gets with the high water putting some much-needed space between the surface and the submerged weeds that the spot is known for, but conditions varied as you moved up the hill in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. Lake Mary was fishable but had Volkswagen-sized icebergs breaking off the shore into the lake. The Lake Mamie shoreline was accessible but you were tromping through deep snow, and Lake George was still half frozen.
Flash forward a year to this July to low-flow in creeks and lower water levels in a lot of the lakes. The weeds at Twin were matted on the surface again, and the waterfall was a trickle compared to the usual flow (I use Twin Lakes in Mammoth as an example because the amount of water moving down the waterfall is a reliable gauge of how the water levels are in the area). While at first glance, these conditions arenít ideal for the Sierra-trout angler, there are adjustments that can be made to ensure good fishing, and in some cases, these conditions can actually work in your favor.
Lakes: The fishing conditions will differ from lake to lake. Starting with the Twin Lakes example, the lower water at this notoriously weedy lake eliminated more than half of the decent shorefishing spots because there just wasnít enough open water reachable by shore anglers. That being said, there was still great fishing to be had as reports revealed huge numbers of fish being caught big jig or fly tossing guys in float tubes who simply worked the open channels between the weed beds. Up the road at another shallower lake, Lake Mamie, float tubers are also finding fish using flies and jigs in the deeper water they found offshore. A deeper impoundment in the area, Convict Lake looks to be at about the normal level, but it is down a little bit which makes it so you can make your way out on to the jetty near the outlet that forms the marina, and this jetty gives the shore angler perfect access to some of the best water on the lake. Just know that for the rest of this season, the water levels are certainly not going to RISE. To effectively fish the shallower lakes, get out early enough to get the best shore spots, or fish from a float tube. Use lighter lures like trout jigs that arenít going to sink to the shallow bottom. In the deeper lakes, scout out areas that may not normally be available to you when the water is high. Maybe that deep drop off that is typically way off shore is now within the reach of a well-tossed Thomas Buoyant.
Creeks: Seeing your favorite creek reduced to half its normal flow is always discouraging, but the fish are still there and they still have to eat. When the flow slows down ó sometimes to where you canít even tell itís moving in spots ó trout are a lot easier to spook, they hide even further under the banks and behind lure-snagging bushes, and this is where being stealthy should be your top priority. Creep up on possible fish-holding spots, keep low (crawl if itís the only way you can get there undetected) and instead of dragging that spinner in there that will most likely scare them off as soon as it hits the skinny water, try something with a quieter presentation. If you are a spinning guy, trout jigs are perfect for this and are great for targeting visible trout. You will know right away if they want the jig, but if you go 10 or so casts without at least an aggressive bite, scale back even further and try something you can dead drift either weightless or with a small split shot. Plastic worms (or real ones) and salmon eggs should fit the bill here, and if they donít work, move on to another spot and start over with the jigs. If you are fly fishing, make every effort to conceal yourself more than anything, and start off with a streamer to gauge how aggressive they are (like the jig) and if that doesnít work, try drifting a nymph (like the bait). One more tip, if you find fish that arenít biting in a creek, move on and find more fish, but a lot of times after leaving them alone for an hour or so, those fish you left will go on the chew if you try them again.
If you make these minor adjustments to your game plan, you can still have a very productive trip despite these funky conditions.