DFW proposes sweeping changes in trout fishing regulations for 2020
By JIM MATTHEWS
In a move that will simplify trout fishing regulations statewide and provide for more fishing opportunity throughout the year, the Department of Fish and Wildlife has proposed sweeping changes for the 2020-2021 fishing season and beyond. The big news is that most Eastern Sierra waters will be open to trout fishing year around.
The new regulations for trout will apply statewide, rather than in a number of different regions of the state. The basic regulation, unless the water is managed with special rules, would be simple: The water is open to trout fishing year around with a five-fish limit and no size restriction. Anglers may use of any type gear.
For waters managed with special rules to protect the fishery, there will be a framework that all of these specially managed waters will fall under. The first part of this framework is season length, of which there are six different season lengths. These range from open all year to completely closed. Second, there will also be six harvest and gear restriction rules, ranging from the use of only artificial lures with barbless hooks with zero bag up to the statewide regulation with a five-fish daily limit, no size limit, and no gear restrictions. Individual waters will have one or two the six seasons and one or two of the six harvest and gear restrictions.
For Southern California anglers, the regulations will change little from those on waters in this region now. However, for anglers who fish in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, the changes are significant if not dramatic.
For starters, no more trout opener.
Most of the waters in the entire region will be open year-around.
That’s right everything from the Twin Lakes and Bridgeport Reservoir in the Bridgeport Region, to the lakes in the June Lake Loop and Mammoth Lakes Basin, to Convict Lake, to the waters in the Bishop Creek drainage will all be open to trout fishing 12 months of the year.
Currently, the general trout season for this region opens the last Saturday in April and continues through November 15, with a five-trout limit and no gear restriction. The April open day has been a tradition for decades, spanning generations.
The special regulation waters in the Eastern Sierra would fall into a new standardized framework for season structure and bag limits, and there are also some significant changes here.
For example, Crowley Lake will be open from the Saturday before Memorial Day through September 30 with a five-fish limit and no gear restriction, and then it would be open the remainder of the year from Oct. 1 through the Friday before Memorial Day with a zero bag limit and artificial lures with barbless hooks restriction.
Currently, Crowley has a similar season. It is only open to fishing from the last Saturday in April through November 15, but it only has a five-fish, any size limit and no gear restrictions between the opening day through July 15. After July 15, it is only open to anglers fishing barbless artificial lures, and there is a two-fish, 18-inch minimum size limit.
Under the proposed regulations, most of the Crowley tributaries will have the same regulations as Crowley, including the upper Owens River above Benton Crossing, Convict Creek below the University of California study area (approximately 1/2-mile upstream of Highway 395), McGee Creek downstream of Highway 395, Hilton Creek below Highway 395, and Whiskey Creek below old 395. Crooked Creek will have a zero limit and barbless hook restriction year around.
Currently, most of these tributaries have a two-fish, 18-inch minimum size restriction for the first month of the season (open day the end of April through the Friday preceding Memorial Day) and again from October 1 through the end of the season on Nov. 15. In between, from Memorial Day weekend through Sept. 30, the streams have the regular five-trout limit with no size or gear restrictions.
The East Walker River is currently open year around to fishing with barbless artificial lures-only. However, during the regular trout season one trout over 18-inches may be taken, and between Nov. 16 and the Friday before the last Saturday in April there is a zero bag limit. Under the new regulation, the East Walker River has a zero bag limit and anglers must use barbless artificial lures for the entire year.
And this is simplification? It is still a complex set of rules, but it will be more uniform across the state once anglers understand the special trout regulation framework.
In the Eastern Sierra Nevada, it will open up 5 1/2-months of more potential fishing opportunity.
Many waters are already open to year-around fishing under special regulations in the region, and they have become increasingly popular over the years, with very good winter fly-fishing on the upper Owens River and the East Walker River. More open waters will increase the opportunity beyond the fly-fishing crowd and to far more waters.
Rather than being a novelty, ice fishing can be practiced throughout the winter on higher elevation roadside lakes that freeze solid. Now, ice fishing takes place only some cold years if the solid ice lasts into the opening of the late April season. Even when it does, the ice is usually only solid enough for fishing a week or two into the season.
If this regulation is adopted (which is almost assured), many Eastern Sierra lakes will see increased winter fishing activity and clusters of ice houses (think of the classic movie “Grumpy Old Men”) might sprout up on a number of Sierra waters, especially around ski resorts and where major roads are kept free of snow and ice.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife is in the middle of a series of meetings being held statewide to explain the regulation changes and get feedback for their final proposal that will go to the Fish and Game Commission later this year for final approval. Once approved, the regulations will be in place for two years before revisions (except emergency ones) will be presented to the Commission again.
For Southern and Central California anglers, the only upcoming meetings in these regions are 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, April 3, at the Betty Rodriguez Regional Library, 3040 N. Cedar Ave., Fresno, and noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 6, at Bass Pro Shops, 7777 Victoria Gardens Lane, Rancho Cucamonga.
More information and a summary of the trout regulation proposals are available on-line on the DFW website at this link: www.wildlife.ca.gov/fishing/inland/trout-plan. Comments may also be submitted on-line through this site.
Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.