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TU study shows new angling regulations needed for California’s Rush Creek

A worthy butterball from Rush Creek.

By Jessica Strickland

A scientific analysis led by Trout Unlimited highlights the need for a revision of angling regulations on Rush Creek, a fabled trophy brown trout fishery in California’s Mono County where intensive restoration efforts since 1994 have enabled the creek to recover some of its former glory as a trout stream.

Based on the results of the Rush Creek study, TU and the Mono County Fisheries Commission are supporting a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission to adopt special angling regulations for Rush Creek. The Commission will vote on this petition at its next meeting, on August 22 or 23. Anglers are encouraged to submit letters and emails in support of the petition (instructions below).

California’s Eastern Sierra is well known for its big mountain views, accessible public lands and world class wild brown trout fishing. Back country lakes boast record-breaking brown trout, while front country brown trout fisheries such as Hot Creek, the Owens River and Crowley Lake have attracted anglers for decades.

(R) TU’s Jessica Strickland takes field measurements on Rush Creek.

However, this fame has led in recent years to severe angling pressure on some streams, and to some anglers targeting large brown trout when they shouldn’t: during their fall run to spawn.

One of these streams is Rush Creek, a tributary to Mono Lake and the setting for a long battle over water diversions which came to a head with a State Water Board decision in 1994. Today, after decades of habitat restoration, Rush Creek and Grant and Silver Lakes support naturally reproducing populations of brown trout—stocking of Salmo trutta here ceased 15 years ago.

But word of this quality brown trout fishery has spread on social media, and local guides and angler-advocates started noticing a decline in the fishery. Current state fishing regulations for Rush Creek and other Eastern Sierra streams without special regulations, which allow a 5-fish harvest with no limitations on gear, are now insufficient to sustain wild brown trout populations and angling opportunities.

Two years ago, the Mono County Fisheries Commission requested that Trout Unlimited conduct a study on Rush Creek to evaluate the dynamics of the brown trout population and fishing pressure during their fall run. That study—which included analysis of spawning habitat, fish sampling, and creel (angler) surveys—found that Rush Creek has a significant run of brown trout subject to high fishing pressure, with notations of fish mortality due to catch practices.

(L) Rush Creek in autumn glory. Photo: Scott Loftesness/Google Commons

The data and conclusions of the study became the basis of a formal petition from local anglers to the California Fish and Game Commission to revise the fishing regulations for Rush Creek. This petition proposes changes including mandatory catch and release of all trout (zero harvest limit), barbless hooks and use of artificial baits only from September 31st to the end of the general trout season (November 15).

Local angler Don Morton, a member of the Mono County Fisheries Commission, supports the petition, saying, “We have a golden opportunity to start somewhere, and Rush Creek is that hidden gem in the High Sierra with a growing reputation for monster brown trout. Let’s protect the spawners for the future and defend the natural population of trout we have now.”

The California Fish and Game Commission will vote on the petition to change the angling regulations for Rush Creek during its meeting on August 22-23rd. You can support this petition by submitting an email to fgc@fgc.ca.gov or via letter to: California Fish and Game Commission, 1416 Ninth Street, Suite 1320, Sacramento, CA 95814. Notate – Rush Creek Regulation Change – Tracking Number 2018-008.

Jessica Strickland is California Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited, and supports TU’s public lands restoration and policy work in the eastern and southern Sierra.