If High Sierra trout fishermen had a theme park, the expansive Bishop Creek Basin would be their Disneyland. This scenic Eastern Sierra canyon offers something for every kind of trout angler. It has trolling and shoreline bait-fishing as well as tubing, excellent fly-fishing and backcountry native bushwhacking.
This fisherman’s fantasyland offers three major lakes, some challenging river fishing and a few smaller ponds that often hide monster trout that the passing crowds overlook.
Tucked into the towering granite peaks forming the canyon are dozens of remote, crystal-clear lakes that hold hungry native brook trout or the beautiful golden trout.
Bishop Creek Basin is one of the few places in the High Sierra where, on opening-day in April, anglers drive to still-frozen lakes and experience the excitement of ice-fishing at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet.
County crews work hard to open the roads to this unique annual fishing experience. On busy weekends — such as opening day or the three-day summer holidays — the crowds here can be challenging. But at even the busiest time, there are “secret” places where fishermen who like a shoreline all to themselves can still find it.
Bishop Creek Basin is located west of the Owens Valley community of Bishop, where visitors can find hotels and motels, restaurants, a casino, sporting goods and medical services. But just a few miles west, the basin’s wilderness expanse offers excellent fishing, good campgrounds, friendly resorts and high-country hospitality.
The basin’s three main lakes are the chief attractions. Along with a regular supply of hatchery trout from the California Department of Fish and Game, these lakes are also stocked with prized Alpers trout.
Two forks of Bishop Creek provide anglers with scenery, solitude and spectacular pools that might yield an 8-pound rainbow along with the fishing experience of a lifetime.
Smaller ponds in the basin can yield native brook trout or offer a still-water paradise where flyfishermen can spend hours connecting with stocked rainbows or native browns.
If Bishop Creek basin is known for anything, it’s the variety of fishing opportunities it offers. You could spend a summer here and never fish the same place twice. But most of us don’t have the entire summer to enjoy this trout paradise, so let’s take a look at some of the top trout locations that include the best lakes, stream-fishing spots and backcountry destinations.
There are several small lakes in the basin, but Lake Sabrina, South Lake and North Lake are the major waters here. Lake Sabrina and South Lake are full-season waters, attracting anglers from opening day to the close of the season. On opening weekend in late April, both of these lakes are often still frozen over, and fishermen’s ability to drive to the lakes is a big attraction.
The road to North Lake is a dirt road and is not open until later in the season, after winter ice has melted. Lake Sabrina
Lake Sabrina sits at 9,132 feet and is the largest basin lake at 194 acres.
Pack stations are located near Parcher’s Resort in South Fork Canyon and just west of North Lake. They offer a variety of pack trips, some of which take visitors on extended treks into scenic wilderness areas and some unbelievable fishing.
When the season opens, Sabrina is often frozen. Anglers scatter across the lake to augur holes and haul in some monster fish that aggressively attack their new source of food.
In the spring, water levels are low, but rise rapidly as the high-country thaw reaches its maximum level by mid-July.
Patti Apted, who operates the landing here along with the small café and store at the northeast corner of the dam, said that spring through midsummer is one of the best fishing periods. The water temperatures are still cool, and the fish are scattered widely over the entire lake, staying near the surface.
“As we get into summer, the water warms up, and the fish go deep until the fall chill,” she said.
Last season’s biggest fish was an 8.25-pound rainbow taken at 40 feet on a trolled Rapala lure. Apted said that at Sabrina, another good technique is drift-fishing through the lake narrows, using a small weight and “just about anything.”
This is also a good trolling lake, using a swivel, split shot and worm close to shore. As the water warms up, trollers going after the big trout may need to go as deep as seven or eight colors.
Another Sabrina hotspot is the first little bay near the narrows, where there always seem to be fish that respond well to a bubble and worm.
Lake Sabrina is one of those lakes where limits are common. A lot of those come from fishing the Dingleberry Inlet at the back of the lake. North Lake
Not far from Sabrina is a scenic little lake that produces much more action than you’d expect from its small size. North Lake sits at 9,200 feet in a gentle valley on the north fork of Bishop Creek.
There are no facilities here and no boat launch ramp, but there’s a small tent campground nearby.
For the most part, this is a shallow lake that covers only seven acres. It’s popular with float-tubers and fly fishermen. But don’t pass up the exciting bait-fishing action at the rocky drop-off along the northeast shoreline.
A thick reed bed covers the south and west ends of the lake, providing float-tube fishermen with some great fly-fishing action. Work the inlet creek for small brook trout or the big browns that spawn late in the season.
The lake is stocked regularly with DFG hatchery trout and also gets a regular supply of monster Alpers trout.
Fly-and-bubble combinations work well when fish are feeding on the surface. But at North Lake, worms, PowerBait and salmon eggs are tackle-box staples that fisherman can always depend on. South Lake
If you’re looking for even more lake fishing in the basin, head to South Lake in South Fork Canyon. This is another scenic marvel tucked into massive granite mountains at an elevation of 9,800 feet.
A public boat ramp, rentals and a small tackle shop are available to visitors during the season.
This is the highest lake in the basin that is road-accessible. South Lake draws big opening-weekend crowds and produces some spectacular fish for ice-fishermen. It’s quite a trip to shed your heavy jacket in the warm April sun while fishing on top of four feet of last winter’s ice!
Go well prepared with sunscreen. If you don’t, the high elevation and glare off the lake ice can inflict a quick and painful sunburn.
Jared Smith operates the lake concession and boat landing. When he’s not renting out boats or rooms, he likes to fish. He knows this 166-acre lake intimately and is a good source of information for most Bishop Creek Basin waters.
For the hottest action at South Lake, Smith said to head south, away from the dam. Troll along the west bank at “the Rock Slide.” You could land some monster rainbows on flashers or lures. Each season, a few big Alpers trout are taken by trolling but the hawg Alpers are most often taken near the inlets that flow into the south end of the lake.
Along with the Rock Slide, great spots are the Long Lake inlet at the southeast corner, the Treasure inlet at the south end and the Gilbert Glacier inlet to the southwest.
The big fish are looking for food as they cruise the tongue water that flows into the lake. When early runoff is still swift, there can be a feeding frenzy at the inlet creeks, and the angler should work these prime spots.
When it comes to bait offerings, the trout at South Lake don’t seem to be particular. PowerBait or worms can be a sure bet for limits of pan-sized stockers, but for those trophy trout, the big-fish hunters use lead-core line and troll deep, especially during the warmer days of midsummer.
BISHOP CREEK’S MAIN FORKS
The main forks of Bishop Creek offer great trout action. The longest portion of Bishop Creek is the south fork running north from South Lake.
If you like to hike and fish, following the South Fork can offer some of the best fishing in the basin. For nearly seven miles, the creek covers a variety of terrain. The trail is rugged in a few places, but the pools along the way will consistently yield fish to a dipped fly or small lure such as a gold Kastmaster, white or yellow Rooster Tail or small Panther Martin.
About a quarter mile below the South Lake Dam, the river flows into a wide flat basin surrounded by pines and aspens. This pool, known as the Weir Pond, produces some trophy rainbows every season.
The pond is popular with flyfishermen, but a fly-bubble combination on a light spinning rig or small lures will also work here.
The secret to big fish at Weir Pond is to find the holes along the reed line. The river flow changes the holes, but once you find them, your chances of nailing a trophy trout increase dramatically.
About halfway down the canyon is Bishop Creek Lodge. Owners Gary and Suzie Olson know the canyon well. In addition to their great restaurant and well-stocked tackle shop, they’ll provide insider tips to help you catch fish in Bishop Creek.
Each year, the trout hunters who work this creek take home some of the biggest fish of the season. Along the South Fork of Bishop Creek, there are several campgrounds and an RV park. In addition, both Bishop Creek Lodge and Parcher’s Resort offer cabin rentals.
The Middle Fork of Bishop Creek flows east from Lake Sabrina. Just below the Sabrina Dam is a scenic pool normally filled with small rainbows. But this location is heavily fished. While beautiful, it can be challenging to catch trout here.
Work this area when crowds are light and practice your best stealth-fishing techniques.
The Middle Fork follows a rocky course with some nice pools, and then drops steeply toward Cardinal Village and the small housing community of Aspendel. Flowing through the thick aspen groves, the creek is wide and gentle, offering bait-fishermen and small-lure anglers some excellent opportunities.
From Aspendel, the creek drops again and flows into a pond known as Intake II, a small but well-stocked lake with easy shore access, parking, an adjacent campground and handicapped-access fishing pier.
For fishermen seeking adventure, the wilderness lakes of Bishop Creek Basin offer remote camping opportunities and fishing for wild trout that include brook trout and the prized golden trout.
Dozens of lakes are also within easy hiking distance if you want to pack a lunch, grab a rod and reel and spend a day in the wilderness. Long Lake
One of the most popular hikes in the basin is Long Lake, at an elevation of 10,700 feet. You can get to it by a two-mile trail from the parking lot at South Lake. Arguably the most beautiful lake in the basin, it also holds some huge brown trout along with a healthy population of rainbow and brook trout.
Just another half mile away is Ruwau Lake, considered an outstanding place to fish for wild brook trout.
Many make Long Lake their destination and set up camp there because of the many lakes nearby that offer excellent fishing.
Backpackers or mule trains use this trail because it leads to Bishop Pass, but also passes by or comes near to the Chocolate lakes, Bull Lake and Saddlerock lakes.
The Treasures are a series of gin-clear lakes that extend up to well over 11,000 feet in a spectacular setting. These lakes are almost a sure bet for the angler who wants to land some beautiful goldens.
Fly-bubble combinations are one of the best ways to hook the native fish in these wild lakes. Tie on an Elk-Hair Caddis, Parachute Adams or Sierra Bright Dot fly under a clear bubble about half filled with water.
The bubble should be at least a rod’s length above the fly. Stick with smaller flies in sizes 18 to 20.
Another popular wilderness fishing destination are the Tyee lakes, sitting in a high granite basin between 10,500 feet and 11,000 feet west of South Lake. It’s less than two miles to the first of the Tyees, but it’s a steep, strenuous climb. Those who make the trip are rewarded with some easy fishing for brook trout. If you continue on to the upper Tyee lakes, you can expect some very healthy brookies and memorable scenery.
Whether you’re an armchair angler or gonzo deep-wilderness wild trout fisherman, Bishop Creek Basin is an eastern High-Sierra destination that offers something for every taste. Easy road access, good campgrounds, cabin rentals and restaurants make this a fishing Disneyland that will bring you back again and again.