Trout anglers up and down the Valley are itching for action.
That's because Saturday is the statewide trout opener, the first day of legal fishing in most Sierra creeks and streams.
"It means you can actually go out and fish streams that have been closed since last winter -- if you can get to them," said guide Jimmie Morales, owner of Sierra Fly Fisher.
This year, you can. Thanks to the low snowpack, measuring 55% to 60% of average in most areas, many locations that are typically inaccessible in late April are currently snow-free.
This is most evident in the Sierra National Forest, where the Sierra Vista National Scenic Byway (Minarets Road) has been plowed to the Clover Meadow ranger station. Also, McKinley Grove Road is scheduled to open Friday to Wishon Reservoir. Kaiser Pass Road is expected to open by the second week of May.
Despite the lack of snow, Morales warned anglers should not head up expecting to find summer conditions. Most major streams, including Dinkey Creek, Granite Creek and Chiquito Creek, likely will be running too high for fishing.
"Everyone thinks there's no snow up there and there's no run-off, but that's not true," Morales said. "There's still run-off, but it's not going to last because we're sitting on a light snowpack."
The key, Morales said, is to pick a mid-elevation drainage (below 7,000 feet) that is south facing. That way, much of the snow will have already melted. Tailwater fisheries, such as the North Fork of the Kings River below Wishon, also make for good early-season spots.
Low snow and warmer weather also help native and holdover trout, giving them more time to forage and add weight after the winter.
To prepare for the opener, numerous Sierra creeks this week received their first trout of the year -- in addition to the lakes and rivers that get fish year-round.
Approximately 22,000 pounds of Hot Creek strain rainbows were planted over the past 10 days, which San Joaquin Hatchery manager Greg Paape said is "a whole lot more than we normally do."
Waters in Fresno County that received their first trout plants include Big Creek (Huntington), Dinkey Creek, Tamarack Creek and Tenmile Creek. In Madera County, Lower and West Fork of Chiquito Creek, Fish Creek, Lewis Creek, Nelder Creek, Rock Creek and North Fork of Willow Creek. In Tulare County, Stony Creek, Bone Creek, Freeman Creek, and Upper and Lower Peppermint Creek.
"This is our second-busiest week of the year," Paape said. "The only week we put out more fish is the week leading up to Memorial Day weekend."
Saturday's trout opener is even more eagerly anticipated on the eastern side of the Sierra.
Crowley Lake, located just off Highway 395 in the Owens Valley, typically attracts 10,000 anglers for the opener and an estimated 50,000 fish are caught in the season's first week.
The 12-mile long, 5-mile-wide reservoir, which supplies water and power to Los Angeles, has been ice-free for two months. Other open waters include Convict Lake, Lundy Lake, Twin Lakes (Bridgeport), the Bishop Creek drainage and the entire June Lakes Loop. Rock Creek Lake is 50% open and melting.
All anglers over 16 must have a valid license and the limit is five fish per day, except in designated areas. Legal fishing begins one hour before sunrise.
On opening weekend 2012, wildlife officers contacted 3,355 anglers statewide, gave 73 warnings and issued 91 citations.
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