How to Stock Your Tackle Box

Jul 14, 2021

The first thing you’ve got to do when prepping your tackle box for Mammoth Lakes is smile. There aren’t too many things in life that are more enjoyable than spending a day casting around the well-stocked waters of the Eastern Sierra.

Whether you like to fish with bobbers and bait, or you prefer tossing classic trout lures or casting flies, there are few seasonal must-haves for Mammoth Lakes and the lakes and streams in the region.

Each season offers its own twists on what best tempts trout to bite. If you don’t have what you need, the local tackle shops will and they’ll know which flavors are working best.

Stocking Your Tackle Box for Spring Fishing in Mammoth Lakes

Spring can be fickle in the High Sierra, and so can the trout. While high mountain lakes are often snow-covered and hard to access, the lower and larger fisheries can be as hot or cold as the weather.

The good news is that when fish are on the bite, they often hit hard. After being relatively dormant for most of the winter, trout tend be feisty and frisky in the early season. Rainbows and cutthroat trout like to spawn in the spring. That’s why salmon eggs, Powerbait egg clusters and stinky pastes like Zeke’s Sierra Gold Floating Trout Dough Bait are Must Haves for the bait section of your box. Since spring run-off also stirs up worms, night crawlers can be very effective as well.

“Bacon and eggs” are what fly fishers call the double dropper set up of a San Juan worm and an egg pattern. It’s a good combination for moving water in the spring. Zebra midges, Copper Johns and Woolly Buggers in olive and black are effective. Blue Winged olives, elk hair caddis and beetles work well in the spring. Sizes can vary from #10-#20 and leader and tippet should be in the 5x or 6x range. Standard 9-foot , 5wt fly rods are perfect.  The key is to match the general size and color of any hatch or aquatic insects you find.

Many anglers believe it’s best to match the color of your lure or bait to the season. That’s why lures and flies in greens and bright colors are said to work best in spring.

Stocking Your Tackle Box for Summer Fishing in Mammoth Lakes

Summertime means the fishing’s easy around Mammoth. The lakes are all open, the creeks run clear and the backcountry beckons with endless possibilities.  On a good summer day, just about anything in your tackle box can work, but there are definitely some solid selections.

Spin fishing or trolling with lures are how loads of lunkers are caught each summer. Thomas Bouyants, Panther Martins, Rapalas, Mepps and Tasmanian devils in a variety of sizes and colors all work well.  Soaking lures in Powerbait’s variety of scented products usually boosts productivity as well.

Flies can get big in the summer. And there’s nothing quite like catching a trout on dry fly that nearly the color and size of a Cheeto. Stimulator patterns, Grasshoppers, Ants, Humpies, Royal Wulffs, and Elk Hair Caddis are all great ways to entice trout to eat come to the surface during the dog days of summer. Dropping a Copper John or small, shiny midge or nymph pattern below your dry fly doubles your chances of finding out what they’re hitting on. It’s always wise for fly fishers to have some floatant and drying cloth on them during the summer. Dawn and dusk are the best times to fish.

Stocking Your Tackle Box for Fall Fishing in Mammoth Lakes

For many anglers, fall is the best season of them all. The summer crowds are gone but all the water is accessible and open. It’s easy to find places to fish where you feel like you’ve got the whole world to yourself.

Just about anything in your tackle box can be productive when the leaves fall. Trout tend to be more active as the temperatures drop. That’s especially so for brown trout and brookies (char) as they both prefer to spawn in the fall.

Like the falling leaves, lures and flies in darker and orange hues work best. Bait fishermen find success with nightcrawlers, crickets, corn and just about anything they can think of that trout might like to fatten up on before the freeze out commences. Spin fisherman replace lures that look like bright rainbows for those that resemble the tanned earth tones of browns. Brown trout are known for being more aggressive in the autumn, that’s why streamers and egg patterns can illicit solid strikes. Trailing a small Zebra Midge or Prince Nymph pattern behind a streamer or Woolly Bugger is popular with both fly rods and spinning gear.

As the temperatures start to drop, fishing is best late morning and early afternoon.

Stocking Your Tackle Box for Winter Fishing in Mammoth Lakes

Tackle boxes are more limited in the winter. Single barbless hooks are all that are allowed at the year-round fisheries from November 15th until the last Saturday in April. While access to Hot Creek, the Upper Owns and Walker rivers can be limited in the winter, the fishing can still be spectacular.

The flies are smaller and much of the action is subsurface. The colors tend to be darker and matching the charcoal colors of winter in the mountains. Egg patterns, San Juan worms, and a wide variety of streamers, nymphs and midges patterns can be effective. Weights are usually needed to help get the flies down deep. The winter saying is that once you can find a single fish, you can find many as trout tend to school up in the deeper holes during the winter months.

Hatches can still happen on even the foulest of winter days. Small Blue Winged Olives, Parachute Adams and a variety of Baetis Emerger patterns (#18-#24) should be at the ready at all times.

Eyelets can freeze and easily break in winter, so it’s important to have a product like Ice Out to keep your line from freezing over. Upping line sizes to 4x can help accommodate the beating ice and bouncing gear off the bottom of the riverbed.

The best time to fish during winter is in the middle of the day.

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Mike McKenna

Award-winning author and journalist Mike McKenna is the writer behind the new book Casting Around the Eastern Sierra, which was recently awarded runner-up in the Outdoor Writers Association of California's Best Outdoor Guidebook category. The book focuses on fishing in Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding area, with tips and tricks from local experts.

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