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THE MAIN EVENT; WHEN WINTER IS MILDER, GAME IS WILDER.

Byline: BRETT PAULY Angling

There are anglers and there are Eastern Sierra trout anglers.

And with Saturday marking the first day of fishing way up Highway 395 in Inyo and Mono counties, the green flag is being unfurled for the latter.

``This is the beginning of the rumble,'' said Steve Ellis, proprietor of Fishermen's Spot in Van Nuys, who will continue his streak of making the opening-day pilgrimage for more than 20 years running.

``There are people who fish year-round, everywhere, sure,'' Ellis explained. ``But there are other people who come out of hibernation starting around the end of March. These are the people who fish only between the opener and the (Oct. 31) closer in the Eastern Sierra, and they don't think fishing exists anytime or anywhere else.''

That's the type of obsessive-compulsive behavior I can appreciate. And this opener should be particularly productive for the purists.

A mild winter and a quick thaw of ice-covered lakes began the feeding instincts in trout early this year, making them more apt to attack worms, Power Bait, lures and flies. No, they won't be jumping in the boat, but they're going to be aggressive.

``Many of the waters have not been frozen over for an extended period of time. Because of that we are looking at the fish being more active, feeding more and growing larger during the closed (fishing) season,'' said Mike Haynie, senior hatchery supervisor with the Department of Fish and Game in Bishop. ``The fish are actively pursuing food, and so when bait or artificials are being presented they are more tempted to take advantage of that as a food opportunity.''

Eastern Sierra anglers won't soon forget the 1998 trout opener, when stubborn sheets of ice kept Convict Lake closed to the public. Crowley Lake thawed the Thursday afternoon before the traditional final Saturday of April opener.

The frigid conditions prompted many Southland residents - who make up some 80 percent of the 30,000 to 40,000 or more travelers traditionally drawn to the trout opener - to break tradition and stay home last year.

It appears they knew what they were doing; studies show that the later the ice thaws, the longer it takes for anglers to catch a five-trout limit on opening day at Crowley, because the cold-blooded animals are more sluggish as they shed their wintertime dormancy.

Not this year.

La Nina's below-normal precipitation left less than 50 percent of normal snowpack in some parts of the Eastern Sierra and major roadside lakes have been free of ice for weeks. Crowley, for example, thawed March 3 and was covered only sporadically in the late fall and early winter, giving trout a head start by allowing them to warm up, pursue food and grow.

``I'm predicting an average opener with above average fish, which makes for a pretty good time,'' said DFG fishery biologist Curtis Milliron, who specializes in Crowley Lake trout research.

In other words, Crowley anglers likely will catch a trout an hour at an average of 1.1 or 1.2 pounds apiece. The long-term average weight is just about a pound per fish.

Nearly 90 percent of the take will come from the 400,000 rainbows planted in August and September that now measure 12 to 13-1/2 inches - slightly longer than the norm; the day's bruiser rainbows will be among the 10 percent or so caught after surviving the entire 1998 fishing season. (The lake's heaviest fish ranged from 4.2 to 7 pounds during the past four openers.) Wild brown trout will compose less than 3 to 4 percent of the opening catch, varying in size from 12 to 24 inches; a 4.52-pound brown was the lake's opening-day whopper in 1995.

For opening day, each angler can expect to put 4.7 to 4.9 trout on their stringer at Crowley.

Some optimistic anglers believe the warmer climate will stimulate strikes from bigger fish that are often tougher to catch and content to laze around deeper waters.

``I think you are going to see some monster fish, 10- and 12-pounders,'' said Todd Treharne, a manager at Kittredge Sports in Mammoth Lakes. ``The water temperatures will be up and the fish are going to be a lot more active and will have already started a seasonal feeding pattern.''

Eastern Sierra residents are looking forward to what should promise to be a ``real'' summer.

``With El Nino (two winters past, when some parts of the Eastern Sierra received more than 200 percent of normal snowpack), we didn't really have a summer last year,'' Treharne said. ``You get a lot of cabin fever when you're looking at 10 feet of snow on Main Street on the Fourth of July.

``This year will be different; we're really looking forward to it. We're getting a lot more calls for accommodations for this opener; it seems bookings are up in town from last year.''

As a result of the mellow winter and early spring, all area campgrounds scheduled to be operational in time for the opener are free of snow and ready to accommodate RVs and tents.

But be certain to pack a worthy windbreaker along with the tackle box; on Saturday winds out of the northwest should blow from 15 to 30 mph in the Owens Valley and higher Eastern Sierra locales.

``We have a low-pressure system coming down through Nevada and into Northern Arizona and going on to the east through the weekend that will be bringing cooler temperatures and the winds,'' said Ernie Cobb, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas.

Temperatures should range from the mid-30s to the mid-60s in the Owens Valley and from 30 to the low 50s higher up at Crowley Lake, Mammoth Lakes and the Mono Basin. Though no precipitation is predicted, expect cloudy skies.

Anglers may be interested to learn three strains of rainbow will be caught Saturday at Crowley, each with its own distinct characteristics:

The long, slender Kamloop rainbow is quite a leaper when hooked, ``the most aerobatic strain,'' Milliron said. ``Kamloops are especially crazed, great fighters.'' They tend to hug the bank, within 10 feet of the shore, so don't overcast, the biologist suggested. About 100,000 were planted last year.

The Coleman rainbow (150,000 stocked in 1998) suspend in more open, deeper waters and are the most frequent strain boated by the trolling angler.

The strain with the greatest ability to dodge hooks its first year in the lake and carryover until a second or third season is the Eagle Lake rainbow, making them mostly in the 2- to 4-pound range when finally caught. Bottom feeders, they are taken with equal abundance from shore and trolling.

Milliron offers one other tip for Crowley anglers: While quite a few spring spawners - Kamloop and Eagle Lake rainbows - are in the lake's tributaries, the streams are vehemently protected by various regulations, including catch-and-release restrictions, so be very-well versed in the DFG's sport-fishing code.

And, as always, tight lines.

DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT THEM

Items commonly forgotten for opening day and other gear you might want to consider bringing to Eastern Sierra, where weather changes are rapid, often leaving the unprepared out in the cold . . . or burned by the sun:

Warm gloves.

Hat, one that covers the ears.

Sunglasses. Polarized are best to cut through water's glare and better see the fish.

Sunscreen and moisturizer to fend off hurtful ultraviolet rays and dryness from low humidity.

Layers of clothing - from thermal underwear to fleece jackets to waterproof shells - with which to battle the finicky weather, ranging from high wind, rain, freezing temperatures and even snow to intense sun and extreme heat.

Personal flotation device. Life jackets aren't just for boats and float tubes; PFDs are recommended for ice-fishing and wade-fishing in swift currents.

Fresh line. Quickly deteriorating monofilament that hasn't touched water since last season is likely useless. Why takes a chance? Put on new 2- to 6-pound line posthaste.

Net, big enough to handle fish 15 pounds or heavier - we hope! You don't want to be caught without it when ``the big one'' of a lifetime bites.

Rod holder. Shore-fishing's savior, it keeps line off the water, making strikes easier to detect and react to. If needed, cut and fashion one from a notched tree branch.

Fishing license. Need we say more?

- Daily News

SMILES AND MILES TO GO

Eastern Sierra mileages from San Fernando Valley:

Fishing Spot Miles

Lone Pine 200

Bishop 260

Mammoth Lakes 300

Bridgeport 350

CAPTION(S):

Photo, 2 Boxes, 8 Drawings

PHOTO (Color) Beaming faces as wide as the Eastern Sierra itself will be the norm Saturday as anglers reel in rainbows, browns and other trout during the region's first day of fishing. Sharon Anctil of Tujunga, then 9, caught the fever - and an 18-inch rainbow - at Crowley Lake during the 1997 opener.

Brett Pauly/Daily News

BOX: (1) DON`T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT THEM (see text)

(2) SMILES AND MILES TO GO (see text)

DRAWING: (1--Color) Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

(2--Color) Brown trout (Salmo trutta)

(3--Color) Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)

(4--Color) Golden trout (Oncorhynchus aguabonita)

(5--Color) Cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki)

(6) Basic Trout Setups for Spinning and Bait Gear

(7) Improved clinch knot

(8--Color) no caption (Fish taking bait)

Graphics and Illustrations: Dionisio Munoz/Daily News
COPYRIGHT 1999 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 22, 1999
Words:1550
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