DFW’s proposed new simplified fishing regulations remain a senseless quagmire
By JIM MATTHEWS
The Department of Fish and Wildlife and its management remains a mystery to people living in the real world. The agency recently released its final proposed fishing regulations, ostensibly to simplify and streamline the statewide rules.
As usual, they have failed at both goals.
The state began this streamlining process in 2018 and released a set a proposed regulations early last year, and then it proceeded to hold public hearings and take written comments to get feedback from the public and local government agencies on the proposals. After the herculean effort to integrate all the suggestions and address complaints and business concerns, the final draft is set to go to the state Fish and Game Commission during its three-meeting process to adopt the new regulations which will be implemented starting with the 2021 season.
While Southern California anglers will see little change for waters in this region, Eastern Sierra anglers will see a quagmire of regulations that mostly don’t make any sense. The DFW tried to satisfy everyone who commented on the plan and ended up with a document filled with contradictory management decisions and defeated its streamlining purpose.
These are the major changes to the plan for the Eastern Sierra:
-- In the original proposal from the DFW, it was proposed that most lakes and reservoirs be open to year-around fishing so the rules were like most lakes and reservoirs statewide. But local businesses and many fishing groups howled about this proposal. These are the same people who didn’t like the extension of the season from October 31 to November 15 a few years ago.
So all of the major waters in the region would go back to a last-Saturday-in-April to October 31 season under the latest proposal.
The DFW’s original proposal was sound. It would have allowed for expanded fishing opportunity will little or no additional impact on fisheries (most of which are for planted trout anyway). So fishing pressure was determined by plants and weather. However, it would have allowed some unique opportunities – like ice fishing. But that’s all gone now, along with simplification and streamlining. Most of the major lakes in Inyo and Mono counties now have a different season than the rest of the state. Again.
-- Crowley Lake and its tributaries have been an evolving story for decades, and the latest proposals are completely baffling.
At its public hearings, the DFW heard from a lot of fly-fishing groups who wanted to have better protection of the Crowley trout, especially during spawning season when the fish are most vulnerable and up in the tributaries.
First, like the rest of the waters in the region, Crowley Lake is only open from the last Saturday in April through October 31 (lopping off 15-days of the season). The five-fish limit, no-gear-restriction season remains from opening day through July 31. And the trophy season runs from Aug. 1 through Oct. 31 with a two-fish, 18-inch minimum size limit. Anglers may also only use barbless, artificial lures during the trophy season. This is a small change, but eliminates 15 days of fishing opportunity in November (which was excellent this past season).
But the Crowley tributaries are a whole another story. In an attempt to protect spawning trout and add a greater component of wild fish to the Crowley system, Hilton Creek, Convict Creek, McGee Creek, and Whiskey Creek are now only open to fishing from the Saturday before Memorial Day (the last weekend of May) through September 30. All of these tributaries were popular fishing spots for catch-and-release anglers in April and to a lesser extent in October. But for those two months, all these waters would be closed.
The Crowley small tributary exception to this rule is Crooked Creek, which is now a year-around water with a zero limit and a barbless artificial lure requirement.
The main tributary to the lake, the Owens River, is already a year-around catch-and-release water (zero bag limit) from Benton Crossing upstream to its headwaters. This season is very popular in the winter and early spring when the big rainbows make a pre-spawning run up into the river’s warmer water below where Hot Creek enters the upper Owens. During the regular trout season, this stretch of the Owens has a two-fish, 16-inch minimum size rule, still mandating artificial barbless lures. This sound rule remains.
Currently, the stretch from Benton Crossing downstream to the Crowley Lake monument (a high water marker about five miles below Benton Crossing) had regulations that allowed spawning rainbow and cutthroat trout to pass through this stretch in April without being caught by anglers – much like the new proposed regulations for the smaller tributaries to Crowley. This stretch didn’t open to fishing until Memorial weekend. But in a head-scratcher, the DFW’s new regulations now allow the Owens from Benton Crossing to Crowley Lake to open the end of April with a five-fish limit and no gear restrictions. This will undoubtedly increase the harvest on spawning trout well beyond any catch-and-release mortality that happened on the small tributaries in the past. The DFW has created a gauntlet spawning trout will have to run to get to upstream spawning waters.
-- The DFW has also recommended that the limit on the East Walker River go from one to two fish with an 18-inch minimum size during a new Memorial weekend to Sept. 30 season. The rest of the year, the East Walker is a catch and release, zero limit, water. Artificials-only would required during both seasons.
-- Rush Creek between Grant and Silver Lake would be open to fishing only from Memorial weekend through Sept. 30, also in an effort to protect spawning trout which come from Grant Lake into this stretch during April (rainbows) and October and early November (browns).
-- Lastly, three other small streams in Mono County have been added to the list of catch-and-release, year-around waters with zero limits. Rush Creek below Grant Lake along, with Parker and Walker Creeks, would all be open to fishing 12 months of the year.
Closing waters during trout spawning season is a popular management activity for many wildlife agencies throughout the West. However, this management scheme only has a positive impact on fisheries when waters were open to harvest during the spawn. Virtually all of the Crowley tributaries facing this change had been managed as trophy waters (two-fish, 18-inch minimum) and harvest was close to zero. So these closures make no sense and reduce opportunity.
It would have been better to add these small tributaries to the year-around fishing list, with zero limit and gear restrictions, just like Crooked Creek. That also would have been a simplification in the regulations.
These Eastern Sierra regulations are what you get when you mix politics with scientific management.
The regulations went to Wildlife Resources subcommittee of the Fish and Game Commission in Los Angeles Thursday this week with a second meeting in March. The final regulatory change package will go to Commission for its three-meeting public comment and adoption process in June, August, and October. The new regulations will be implemented for the 2021 season. There is still an opportunity for the public to comment on these regulations at the Fish and Game Commission hearing process.
Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 909-887-3444.
A PDF file containing this story is available here.