Mammoth Lakes more than just a great place to fish |

Mammoth Lakes more than just a great place to fish

"Gone fishin'"
Bruce Ajari
Courtesy photo by Bruce Ajari

The calendar has officially turned to fall. The weather change this past weekend actually gave us the reminder that the change in seasons is upon us. Another reminder to me that fall has already hit the high country came when I made a trip down to the Mammoth Lakes region for several days for an Outdoor Writer’s Conference.

Of course I did a little fishing, and even managed to play a round of golf at a beautiful, although challenging, mountain course called Sierra Star in Mammoth Lakes. The fishing was great, and the golf was fun.

The Mammoth Lakes region is a great vacation destination. Like our area, it boasts some of the same terrific recreation opportunities. If you like fishing, there are numerous locations to fish within an easy driving distance of wherever you stay. There are places for RVs, camping, resorts, condominiums, motels and hotels from which to plan for your visit.

Besides fishing, the area also has golf, horseback riding, hiking, boating, rock climbing, and mountain biking for spring, summer and fall activities. During the winter months, the Mammoth Mountain ski area offers world class skiing on its huge mountain. There is also some year-round catch and release fishing below Pleasant Valley reservoir in the Owens River in the winter for those of you needing a fish fix.

One of the great features unique to this area for fishing is the fact that the area has a private fish stocking program that puts fish raised at the Alpers Ranch into Mono and Inyo Counties’ waters. These are trophy fish which look and act like wild fish because they are actually raised in the waters of the Owens River and in ponds on the ranch. As a result, these fish, which have steelhead origins, are extremely prized catches. In a later column, I will write more about this operation, the fish and the man, Tim Alpers, that runs it.

I had never spent a lot of time in the actual town of Mammoth Lakes before, but spending several days there allowed me to really explore the area. What I found was a varied playground for the fisherman. There was a beautiful chain of lakes just minutes up the mountain. Lake Mary was the largest, and Twin Lakes (the first you see), Lake Marie, Lake George and Horseshoe Lake are all lakes accessible by car. There are other lakes within a pretty easy day hike.

Fishing was only fair by the accounts of those that I talked to along the way while touring the above chain of lakes. When I arrived at Horseshoe Lake, I first saw what appeared to be trees that were killed by a fire in the region. Upon making the loop and parking by the lake, I noticed the caution signs regarding high levels of carbon dioxide. This is a reminder of the volcanic origins and current high activity level in the region. The venting of the carbon dioxide gases had actually killed the stand of trees which I thought were consumed by fire.

If you want to learn more about the region, the top of Mammoth Mountain’s Gondola has a great series of information postings on the recent seismological history of the region. The top of the mountain also offers a great view of the surrounding area. There is a great view of the Minarets, Mammoth Lakes, Crowley Lake and Mono Lake.

Another trip worth taking is the one down into the Devil’s Postpile area. There is a great resort at the end of the road called Red’s Meadow Resort, and there is also camping throughout this area.

Access is restricted into this area. You can only drive down into this area before 7 a.m. in the morning on a very narrow mountain road. Otherwise, you will have to take one of the shuttle buses down into this region. There is horseback riding, hiking and fishing available to those making the trek to this region.

For fishermen there is also the Owens River, Crowley Lake and Hot Creek closeby to the town of Mammoth Lakes. There are also scores of other streams and lakes within an easy drive.

On the drive home, I checked out the Virginia Lakes area off of the top of Conway Summit (8138′), between Bridgeport and Lee Vining. This is where the fall colors have really shown themselves. On the road to Virginia Lakes, there were groves of Aspens in varying shades of yellow and even orange. It was a beautiful sight, but a reminder that winter is just around the corner.

I would highly recommend a trip to the Mammoth Lakes region for fishing. However, as I have indicated above, there are so many other things to do in the region besides fishing.

Fall is a great time to go since there are often some very good deals available on lodging. If you feel like traveling and have not been to this region, it is worth the trip. It takes about three and a half hours driving time from Truckee.

I got a note from a friend of mine this past week on the topic of lake turnover. He asked if lakes such as Frenchman and Davis turnover. What prompted his question was a recent article in the newspaper regarding this event.

Lakes go through a phenomenon during spring and fall due to seasonal temperature changes on the lake’s surface water. Turnover occurs in the spring when water begins to warm; and in the fall when the water cools.

Water circulates and stratifies in a lake throughout the year. Since temperature and circulation regulate the amount of oxygen that water can hold in solution, water temperatures and oxygen levels often dictate when fish are found in a lake.

Lakes in our region are subject to this stratification. In the winter, surface temperatures are warmer at the bottom of the lake than the top. Fish seek the warmer water toward the bottom.

It should be noted that not all lakes turnover. The exceptions are shallow lakes or lakes choked with weeds which can develop oxygen problems during prolonged ice cover.

In the spring, lake water begins to circulate when the water reaches 39 degrees. Oxygen levels are high from surface to bottom. Fish are located from shallow to deep water.

In the summer months, the lake stratifies into three distinct zones ” the epilimnion, the thermocline, and the hypolimnion. The epilimnion is circulating warm water. Oxygen levels are moderate to high and fish are often confined to this zone which may be up to 20 feet deep.

The thermocline is the next zone from the surface. It is a zone of rapid temperature and oxygen change. Fish will select this zone if oxygen is present.

The hypolimnion is found at the bottom of the lake. It is a cold non-circulating body of water. Oxygen levels are low or absent. Fish cannot inhabit this zone for any length of time due to the low oxygen levels.

Fall turnover begins to circulate when the surface water reaches about 50 degrees. Oxygen levels are high from surface to bottom. Fish, like in the spring, are located from shallow to deep water.

With fish such as brown trout and kokanee salmon spawning in the fall, the shallows near stream channels are great locations in which to fish. Shallow areas with other cover such as sunken trees or brush are also good spots.

How do you know when turnover starts? The onset of fall turnover sometimes produces a sulfurous rotten-egg odor. It comes from sulfur dioxide gas produced by decomposition during the summer and trapped within the hypolimnion. When the deep water reaches the surface during the fall turnover, the sulfur dioxide is released into the atmosphere.

Another sign is the suspended vegetation throughout the lake. When the water clears, the turnover is generally complete.

All anglers that fish lakes regularly have an awareness of this process and as a result tend to be successful. Keep this in mind during your fall lake fishing outings.

[Bruce Ajari, a Truckee resident, is a regular fishing columnist for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.]


(8,960 Acre Feet) Inflow is a low 28 cfs, and the outflow is 381 cfs. Boca is dropping rapidly. Boat and shore anglers have had fairly good success. Fish have been caught with minnow imitating lures and flasher combination rigs. Most anglers are fishing from shore using nightcrawlers or Powerbait. Fly fishermen near the inlet have experienced fair to good action. Nymphs and streamers have accounted for most of the fish caught, although some fish have also been caught on dry flies and emergers.


Fishing has been good for mackinaw. A combination of jigging and trolling has been successful. Shore fishermen near the launch ramp have had fair success. Nightcrawlers and Powerbait seem to be the main bait. Fly fishermen have taken a few fish mostly with streamers.

Lake Tahoe

At 6223.01 on 9/19/2004 (Lake Level 6223.00) Fishing has been good for mackinaw. A guide is highly recommended if you are fishing for mackinaw for the first time. Toplining and shore fishing is fair.


(5,280 Acre Feet) Prosser is fishing fair to good. Boat anglers have been catching fish with minnow imitating lures and flasher combination rigs. Most anglers have been shore fishing with nightcrawlers or Powerbait. Smallmouth bass fishing has been good. Fly fishermen have been taking a few fish near the inlets and the dam with nymphs and streamers.


(107,000) Stampede fishing has been fair to good. Boat anglers have had good success and have caught fish with minnow imitating lures and flasher combination rigs. Shore fishermen are also doing pretty well. Most are using nightcrawlers or Powerbait. Smallmouth bass action has been good. Fly fishermen are using a combination of nymphs, emergers, dries and streamers with fair to good success.

Martis Lake

(Martis is restricted to artificial lures with barbless hooks. Zero fish may bagged or possessed) ” Fishing has slowed. Mostly small Cutthroats. Most anglers are using midge emergers, pheasant tails, hares ears, small damsels and streamers. The water is very warm. The past couple of years the weed growth has limited fishing on this lake to early and late season when the weeds are less of a factor.

Little Truckee River

(Special Regulation Water ” Artificial lures or flies with barbless hooks ” no bait. Only two fish with a maximum size of 14″ may be possessed) This body of water between Stampede Reservoir and Boca Reservoir is the area’s best option, but continues to be very crowded. Flows are now only 28 cfs. Fishing will be much more difficult at this flow. This water has been very crowded all season. Anglers are using nymphs such as the PT and Hares Ear. Dries and emergers are also working.

Truckee River

The water in the upper river between Tahoe City and River Ranch is now running a extremely low 2.8 cfs and 8.1 cfs between River Ranch and Truckee. The river should stop flowing out of Tahoe this week. Fishing is slow due to the low flows. Below Donner Creek and Boca the flow gradually increases. Anglers should concentrate in this section through the canyon below Boca. Most fly fishermen are using nymphs, emergers and dries now. Streamers can also be very productive.

Other Waters

Davis and Frenchman reservoirs have been fishing fair to good for most anglers. Fish are starting to be caught in shallow water at Frenchman. Intermediate and floating lines are working well.

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.