CALIFORNIA: Winter Has Pretty Much Fizzled

The Lower Owens River has been the top location for fly fisherman looking for quality trout and beautiful scenery.

The Owens Rivers are the place to be if you are a fly fisherman looking to get into some numbers, and a shot at a trophy trout. Low flows and dry weather have made conditions very consistent on the Upper and Lower “O” recently. Tis the time O’ year when you may experience some strong gusty winds at times associated with the dry cold fronts that pass through. Access to both areas is good although you will find some 4 X 4 only areas on the Upper Owens on several of the smaller feeder roads leading down to, and along the fence line. Hot Creek is also easy to hike as of this report. The East Walker has good access, but remains at very low flows with limited water to fish.

Winter has pretty much fizzled out with the extended forecast calling for above average temps to begin in early March. Good news for fly fishers this spring; however the piper will be paid as the season rolls on and the second year of below average snow pack takes its toll. To put it in perspective-Crowley Lake reached a near record low point in late October 2012. It has only come up ten vertical feet and needs another 15 more to reach a normal starting point for the season. The LADWP has been doing extensive work on the hydroelectric facilities and when this is completed flows will come up on the Lower Owens further slowing the filling of Crowley for the season. Could be a very tough fall here. Bridgeport Reservoir is also filling slowly and will suffer later in the summer unless we get a good jag of additional snow soon.

On the bright side we are looking at an extended period of lower flows on the tail waters, early thawing of Crowley and Bridgeport (both will be pretty much ice free by mid-March), & the alpine lakes will have good access earlier than in most years. If the trend continues, look for an early spring migration of trout into the tribs from reservoirs and lakes with “diploid” bows and cutty’s.

Speaking of “diploids”…2012 was the last year California will see trout that can reproduce planted in the Eastern Sierra and other waters of the state.

There will be some rainbow brood fish planted in a few limited areas that have not been nuked, but they are not likely to live long enough to spawn again. The DFG has been ordered by the Supreme Court in Sacramento to plant only “triploid” rainbow trout (triploids are fish that have been rendered sterile in the embryonic stage) in waters that do not have a documented native species of rainbow in them. Since there are no rainbows that are “native” to the Eastern Sierra, fertile trout will not be planted in ANY of the local waters from now on unless legislation changes in Sacramento. The Hot Creek Hatchery Facility has already converted to triploids. Brown trout and brook trout are not native to California and may eventually be phased out totally from the hatchery system in California, although I have heard from a reliable source that some brood stock browns and brooks are being kept at this time in the event the laws change, or the interpretation of such warrants alterations to some fisheries. They will most likely be triploids when planted in any event. Here is a link to Senate Bill 1148:

I strongly suggest you read it, the meat is chapter 565, section six. “Discourage artificial planting of hatchery-raised hybrid and nonnative fish species in wild trout waters or in other areas that would adversely affect native aquatic and non aquatic species.” This is a paragraph from Assembly Bill 1148. Do not sound your opinions or voice your “what the hell’s?” to me. Write your representatives and the CDFW Commission if you have an opinion. Don’t shoot me- I am only the messenger people. This bill currently signed into law, will change the landscape of trout fishing in the Sierra in a very, very substantial way. It will help aquatic and non aquatic native species like steelhead, golden trout,(this is a good thing for sure) Tui Chubs, Tahoe Suckers, Hard Headed Minnows, Sacramento Perch, yellow legged frogs & willow fly catchers (you gotta be kidding me) in a very positive manner. The latter of these species we know as valuable resources crucial to business’s, job growth and providing recreational opportunities to sportsman who pay for licenses each year. Those Sacramento Perch pull like a wet gym sock on a five weight baby, and if you have ever gazed at a speeding willow fly catcher hit a caddis fly it takes your breath away! I’m just saying people…This law was passed with far to broad of a brush stroke and is not sensible or logical in many ways.

There are some paragraphs and verbiage in the bill that gives the CDFW in isolated instances some latitude to alter or amend some sections after using the best possible science to determine the alterations. If you have an opinion on this issue I strongly suggest you contact your representatives and the commissioners with such immediately.

To contact your local representative go to and enter your zip code.
To contact you’re Senator; enter California as your state.
To contact the DFG Commission;

Lower Owens River

I have not used the word epic to describe fly fishing down here in a long, long time. Due to a combination of ideal water conditions and a large planting of catchable rainbows put in below the wild trout section-we are enjoying some fantastic fishing on the LO. The last three drifts had fish counts of 47, 112, & 88 caught and released. I call this “catch’N” not fish’N! The wild trout area is also fishing well with flows remaining at, or below 100cfs. The wind has been a factor at times messing up the baetis emergence; however this is the main course for the wild fish. Have a #16 BWO adult ready to go after 1 pm, find a deep pool with a long riffle leading into, or below it for some consistent dry fly action mid-day. Stick to pheasant tails or birds nest patterns while nymphing #14-18. Light to moderate sinking tip lines and the “dip & strip” method of streamer fishing is crushing the rainbows. Sierra Drifters Spruce-a-Bu, Punk Perch #14, and Loebergs #10 are all working. Flows look to remain low for a longer duration this year, so if you want a combination of warm weather and good fishing give us a call and we will set up a drift trip for you in March.

Upper Owens River

Access is pretty good but you will still encounter some muddy sections on the feeder roads leading into and along the fence line. Remember- all wheel drives just take you further in to get stuck! Flows have been bumped up to 110cfs and this has actually helped the conditions improve. We are still seeing some bigs that have migrated up from Crowley but the huge fall rainbows we call Crowley Steelhead are spawned out and the hens have deposited their eggs. Look for the Kamloops and Eagle Lake strain bows to begin moving in mass as soon as the ice thaws near the inlet to Crowley. It is receding quickly and should be open by mid-March for sure. There is also spotty dry fly action on the warmer days. I suggest midge cluster patterns, or #20-22 para midges. With the onset of this warmer weather forecast the BWO’s will begin to show soon. First generations are good sized, #16’s will get looks. Nymphing is best, always is this time of year. Use attractors as your upper fly on a tandem rig, stick with small flashback PT’s, birds nest, crystal & broken back midges as the dropper. Egg patterns will also get grabs on the colder days when the fish are more lethargic. With the higher flows we have seen some nice fish move out of the pools and along the deeper cut banks, so look for those darker slices of water along the channel side for opportunities now.

Pleasant Valley Reservoir/the Gorge

Perhaps the most heavily planted body of water in California this time of year. I have had reports of clients without the use of guides banging 1oo catchable rainbows in an outing. Tubers and waders are enjoying the benefits of a well stocked lake. There are also some nice wild browns showing up, especially during the BWO hatch after lunch. Stick with dry/dropper bead head nymph rigs in the small river section and transition area (my favorite place to fish here). Tiger midges and Assassins are dynamite #16 & 18 under a para BWO, Stimulator, or hi-Vis BWO adult that is well dressed with desiccant. “Freeze tubers” are punishing the fish from the launch ramp to the inlet currently, with some nice brood fish showing as well. Use a full sink, or heavy sinking tip line to get down 10 feet quickly. It is not that cold anymore and the fish have become much more active than during the ice age we saw earlier in February. The Gorge has some excellent dry fly action during the calmer days, small mayflies and para midges here. Access is good so long as you don’t mind some moderate hiking and rock hopping. Good place to seek refuge on the weekends…

East Walker River

Still very skinny on the flows, look for 40cfs or better to move the fish around some-75cfs or better will rock. Fishing is great in about three or four spots if you don’t mind fishing one location all day. Bring lawyers, guns and money to secure a position!

Hot Creek

Same story here. Good fishing, just limited water that is holding. Midges are the rule with the BWO’s taking command soon.

Eagle Lake

We only have a few dates left and have brought up three 24 foot “Fish Magnets” this season due to demand. Give us a call if you want to fish the best public rainbow trout still water in the state. We are going all of June and into early July. Info is found on “trips & programs—waters we fish—Eagle Lake” at the top of the page. Do this, you won’t regret it.

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