CALIFORNIA: Good Numbers of Rainbows On the Late Morning Midge

The ice age appears to have ended and we are finally seeing some moderate temperatures returning to the Sierra. Some additional snowfall is forecast to hit the upper elevations with the Owens Valley receiving some much needed rain.

The Upper Owens has been somewhat spotty for the large migratory rainbows that move out of Crowley during the winter months immediately after the severe cold. We are seeing good numbers of medium sized rainbows that are feeding aggressively on the late morning midge emergence. Have some #22 para-midges handy for this and look for soft water and foam filled eddies. The frigid air that plagued this area is gone and the fish are getting far more active. Access has improved; however I strongly suggest that you park along the sides of the main road and hike down to the river. There is substantial ice and snow on the feeder roads and I have watched time and time again vehicles getting stuck and blocking others who are already in. The ground is frozen in the mornings then thaws making the ruts a virtual tank trap. The road to the forest service gate at Hot Creek is fine, the gate remains closed to the parking areas in the public section. Overall conditions on the East Walker have also improved, and although there remains snow and ice along the banks the river has warmed up and fishing the deeper pools is really good on the warmer days. Look for a strong baetis hatch (blue winged olive mayflies) to begin in all the year around waters soon. The Lower Owens has already seen some huge hatches of these #14-16 winter time mayflies.

The most effective method for winter time fishing on the UO, Hot Creek, & East Walker River is without any doubt nymphing- with or without an indicator. Fish will not move far to take a fly when it is cold and there is little food around so redundant drifts near the bottom using larger, more visible patterns that can trigger a hit more from aggression than hunger. I like flashback bead heads, bird’s nest, SJ worms and egg imitations. Streamers are also a very good choice to provoke a hit. Stick to the deeper water along the cut banks allowing the fly to “hover” or pause momentarily in an area of your presentation where you may believe a fish to be holding.

The Lower Owens continues to be the best location for numbers, and you will find much better weather here due to lower elevation. Be prepared for low teens, even single digits at times-air temps come up above freezing most days. Flows are very low and have dipped below 100cfs at the PV dam. Nymphing and streamer fishing are the best methods currently. Midges and smaller mayfly patterns fished in tandem on the deeper runs and pools will get results. You will find warmer, and more consistent water temps the closer to the dam you fish. Pleasant Valley Reservoir has dropped some, but remains on the high side for accessing the transition area near the inlet. During the winter months the water will actually be warmer at the bottom of a lake as the depth provides insulation from the cold air. The opposite occurs in the summer making tail water fisheries ideal habitats for trout. “Freeze tubers” using full sinking type 5 lines will find fish at 20 feet near the launch ramp and dam area. There have been times when the flows will come up in the small river leading into the res proper, and ice will be present floating here due to the flushing of the inlet pipe at the power house.

Drifting has been slower overall due to the cold weather but still productive for rainbows in the 12-16 inch range. Streamers are best, the Agent Orange was the hot fly last week getting the sluggish rainbows to hit with repeated casts into the deeper pools, then allowing the fly to “hover” in front of their nose.

Capt. Tom Loe
Sierra Drifters Guide Service
p: 760-935-4250