Whoa! The Eastside is getting some major rain and snow. The Town has received over a foot of heavy, gloppy snow just overnight. The ski area has over two feet and is expecting another two feet today. My wife is a teacher at the elementary school in Mammoth and they have called for a Red Day. The roads in Mammoth are a mess. We have not turned the corner on winter yet.
I would avoid the Upper Owens completely until these fronts move through and the roads have some time to dry out. The main north-south road will probably be passable but you will have to brave some deep, standing pools in the roadway. Do NOT attempt any of the laterals heading out to the river. Even high clearance 4WD’s will sink to the floorboards and it is super expensive to have your vehicle extricated….
The flows have been rocketing upward day by day. A couple of weeks ago I was stoked to see the dribbly winter flows of 27 cfs jump up to 85. I packed up my gear and headed north and had a great day on the water. The following day the flows jumped to 167, and now they are at 337 cfs. The reservoir is topped out so I think these higher flow rates will be around for awhile. Get it while it lasts. I’ve always felt the optimum flows were 200-250 cfs. I got most of my grabs on black zebra midges (small) and a couple on pink San Juans. With the higher flows and the possibility of off colored water, I think the San Juans will be great. A lot of Sacramento perch get washed into the river from the reservoir above so try hucking some big, light-colored streamers into the “toilet bowl.” There can be some mega-sized browns lurking in that turbulent water waiting for stunned perch to get washed into the river.
With all of this rain in the high country, the river is starting to blow out. The gauge is indicating 340 cfs and climbing. Once the “dust settles,” this is a really fun place to explore, especially in the offseason. Once summer rolls around, the river sees a lot more angling pressure. Generally, the river runs gin clear as this is a freestone creek, so some stealth is needed. If you like pocket water and technical angling, this is your place…
The creek is flowing through the canyon at 110 cfs, it too is blowing out. That said, target your casts to the feeding lanes between the grasses and rocks. You may not see fish, but they are in there. If you are nymphing, try a San Juan or a Hot Creek caddis. Streamers have also fooled some nice trout. There are lots of hatchery fish cruising around and making the grabs, but every once in awhile, you can fool one of the old, wily browns. Keep grinding away.
Upper Owens River
The flows have dropped from 108 down to 83 cfs but these are readings that are taken high in the river system. Once Hot Creek dumps into the mid-section, do the math. I am guessing that by the time the river reaches the bridge, the flows are closer to about 200 cfs and off-color. The big rainbows like the security of the deep, slower moving, opaque water. Pink or red San Juans, egg patterns, and red/black leeches, have all been working. You can either swing the leeches or dead drift them through the deeper buckets. I have been pinning some nice fish with pink San Juans as an attractor, with a small midge pattern as the point fly.
Lower Owens River
The Lower Owens has reopened after the big range fire that roared down the river corridor. The flows are about 105 cfs. Keep your eyes on your watch or the growls of your stomach, there is usually a noontime hatch of bwo’s. There is a narrow window of opportunity for hucking dry flies, usually about an hour or so. Watch for the appearance of birds feeding along the river. They can spot a hatch well before we can. Then, keep your eyes peeled for snouts appearing along the foam lines in the river. Then, cast away…. usually, something sized 18-20, blue-gray in color, in the mayfly family will get some nice splashy grabs. Have fun! With the big brush fire, we had a couple of weeks ago, access is much easier. A lot of the tules are gone and the willow has been thinned. The river corridor has an apocalyptic look and feel, but the river itself is running clear and fishy. New grass growth is already appearing, the river should recover quickly.
Jim Stimson Fly Fishing
142 Larkspur Lane
Crowley Lake, CA 93546