Cooler temps and cloudy skies forecast for this weekend – after weeks of unseasonably warm weather two months into the Eastern Sierra new year – could be a blessing in disguise for anyone planning to take advantage of the Southern Inyo Early Trout Opener.
Come dawn on Saturday, all fisheries south of Independence and west of U.S. Highway 395 will open to angling almost a full two months ahead of the General Season Trout Opener in April. An annual derby hosted by the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce – and made possible by Lone Pine businesses and the County of Inyo – kicks off at 6:30 a.m. with sign-ups until noon and the weigh-in at 3 p.m. at Diaz Lake.
Only trout are eligible but they don’t have to be caught at Diaz; trout caught in any Early Opener water are welcome. Aside from Diaz, which is open year-round, waters eligible for fishing on Saturday include Georges, Independence, upper and lower Lone Pine, Shepherd, Symmes and Tuttle creeks.
It’s a rain-or-shine derby, and while the crowds have enjoyed the sunny skies and T-shirt-and-shorts weather experienced during previous Early Openers, organizers aren’t expecting a drop in attendance.
“People who fish, fish,” regardless of the weather, said Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kathleen New.
Plus, and it’s a big plus, the fish like it cold.
“The weather should be ideal for fishing,” New said. “That’s what I’m expecting.”
New’s expectations are based on weather forecasts that call for an 80-100 percent chance of rain on Friday, and intermittent showers Saturday with mostly overcast skies throughout the day. As most fishermen know, their prey are more active – and closer to the surface – when the sun is off the water.
“For several years it’s almost been too warm to fish,” New explained. “When it’s too warm, the fish go to the bottom.”
There will be plenty of fish, too.
A grant from the County of Inyo allowed the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce to once again purchase a load of famously feisty and lunker-sized Alpers trout for planting in advance of the Early Opener.
Four of the Alpers trout in Diaz have been tagged, with each tag corresponding to a different cash amount: two are worth $25, one is worth $50 and one is good for $100. According to New, these tagged trout can be caught and redeemed for cash at the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce any time during the month of March.
This past Sunday, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife made its annual pre-derby plants in Diaz and other Early Opener waters. According to New, some of the CDFW planters are lunkers in their own right.
“Two of the sand traps – at Georges Creek and Lone Pine Creek – are full, full, full of fish,” New said. “It should be great fishing.”
Anglers entered into the Southern Inyo Early Opener Trout Derby have the chance to take home a veritable treasure trove of donated merchandise and several hundred dollars in cash.
Gardner’s True Value and Lone Pine Rocks and Gifts, owned by Don and Margaret Warner, are once again sponsoring the $800 Blind Bogey competition. A designated fisherman will head out to Diaz tonight, catch a fish and record the weight, which will be kept secret – “Even I don’t know,” New said – until 3 p.m. Saturday. Anglers with catches matching or coming very close to matching the “blind bogey” weight win the cash.
Fishermen can also win based on the size of their catches in adult and junior (ages 12-16) divisions. Any child age 11 and younger who weighs in a fish will automatically receive a prize.
According to New, the prizes available for the top anglers in first, second and third place in the adult and junior divisions include a smorgasbord of merchandise donated by Lone Pine businesses and even Chamber of Commerce members from out of the area. “We have a Chamber member in Alaska who donates a prize every year,” New said.
Prizes range from float tubes and fly fishing combos to gift certificates and artwork.
As attractive as the blind bogey and generous prizes are, the main appeal of the Southern Inyo Early Opener Trout Derby lies in its fun and festive atmosphere – its reputation as an event where veteran anglers can fish in harmony alongside children learning to cast for the first time.
“It’s a family-oriented event but we cater to the kids – we’re cultivating our customer base,” New said, explaining the rationale is “if you teach them to fish, they’re hooked for life.”
New also noted that the derby isn’t just a local tradition. Hundreds of individuals and families make the trip to Lone Pine every year for the Early Opener because it’s become a part of their lives.
“Once they start coming, they keep coming back,” she said.
The entry fee is $5 for children ages 6-12 and $10 for everyone age 13 and older.
Food will be available at Diaz Lake in the form of breakfast burritos, donuts, hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and drinks being sold by the Lone Pine High School Cheerleaders as a fundraiser.
The Girl Scouts from Independence will also be around selling their famous cookies.
For more information, call the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce at (760) 876-4444 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .