Fishing Bishop Creek, CA
by Mike Arakawa
Tucked away in California's eastern Sierra Nevada mountains just west of the town of Bishop, Bishop Creek is a mecca for serious trout fishing aficionados. Both the South and Middle Forks of the creek are easily accessible via paved roads, offering nearly unlimited opportunities to fish for native brook and brown trout as well as hatchery rainbows. The Bishop Creek area is also home to South Lake and Lake Sabrina, as well as several intake ponds, all of which offer an alternative to fishing the stream for those so inclined. Elevations in this area range from 4000 feet above sea level in Bishop itself, to 9800 feet at South Lake.
During the fishing season, which runs from the end of April through mid-November, the California Department of Fish and Game stocks Bishop Creek with rainbow trout on a regular basis. Alpers trout from Tim Alpers' world-famous fish farm are also planted occasionally. The DFG posts the current stocking schedule on their website.
Many of the Bishop Creek regulars prefer to fish with ultralight spinning outfits, using salmon eggs or various flavors of Power Bait. Other productive baits include live crickets and worms. For the best results, let your bait drift downstream with the current, using just enough weight to keep the bait down in the strike zone.
Fly fishing is also popular in the Bishop Creek area. Fly fishermen do well using a 5- or 6-weight fly rod with any of a number of popular fly patterns. Culver's Sporting Goods, located in Bishop, carries an extensive selection of trout flies, and the staff there or at Bishop Creek Lodge will be happy to fill you in on what's working well at any given time.
When fishing the intake ponds and wide, calm pools along the creek, a small spinner such as a size 0 Mepps Aglia can be very productive, especially in the morning or evening. So can a bright green bead head fly twitched across the surface behind a small casting bubble.
Although most of the fish in Bishop Creek are pan-sized, you always have a chance at hooking a lunker. I prefer to fish with four-pound test monofilament, because it's light enough to provide a challenge and not spook the fish but still allows me to land fish in the five- to six-pound range if I happen to get that lucky.
While you don't need waders to fish the creek effectively, they are a handy piece of optional equipment that allows you to access some parts of the stream which would otherwise be difficult or impossible to fish.
The town of Bishop boasts a number of motels, all located within 30 minutes drive of the creek, and three lodges near the creek have housekeeping cabins for rent. Bishop Creek Lodge, on South Lake Road, also features a general store which sells fishing tackle, bait, and a rether limited selection of food and camping equipment. Be prepared to pay more for any of these items than you normally would at home. The lodge also has pay-per-use public showers and a small restaurant and bar. Parcher's Resort, located farther up the road near South Lake, boasts a number of rental cabins, a small store, and a cafe. And on highway 168, on the way to Lake Sabrina, is Cardinal Village Resort, which also has cabins for rent as well as a store and restaurant (open for breakfast and lunch only). Habegger's Resort RV Park and general store is located across the road from Bishop Creek Lodge. If you plan to rent a cabin at any of the lodges, be prepared to pay a premium price, and make your reservations early.
If you don't want to pay for a motel room or cabin, and don't mind sleeping in a tent or RV, several U.S. Forest Service campgrounds along the creek offer a less expensive alternative. The Forest Service website has current information on locations, current fees, and dates of operation. While some campgrounds are strictly first-come, first-served, some do accept reservations through ReserveAmerica.com.
Be aware that the weather in the eastern Sierras can change rapidly and that summer thunderstorms are not uncommon, although they seldom last long. Depending on the severity of the previous winter, snow can remain at higher elevations well into the summer fishing season. Summer high temperatures along the creek typically range from the 70's to the low 90's depending on altitude, while the town of Bishop can reach 100 degrees plus during July and August. Nighttime lows throughout the season can be anywhere from the mid-40's down to freezing or below. Always take rain gear with you, and have plenty of warm clothing and a warm sleeping bag just in case.
The fishing season for the South and Middle Forks of Bishop Creek runs from the last Saturday in April through November 15 every year. All fishermen must have a valid California fishing license, and must display it above the waist while fishing. There is a five-fish daily bag limit for trout, with a maximum limit of ten fish in possession. Only one pole per angler may be used. Licenses and license holders are available at any tackle shop and at all of the lodges listed above.
For the complete fishing regulations and most current license prices, check out the California Department of Fish and Game's website.
Mike Arakawa is the managing editor of StreamFisherman.net, and has been fishing the Bishop Creek area for over 20 years.