We are enjoying a nice break from the stormy days of January. With the clear skies and high pressure come the cold temperatures in the basins. The thermometer sits at 14º at my house but at least I am not shoveling snow today. As the sun climbs higher in the sky, the day will warm nicely. The snowpack is saturated from the rains last month so this means that if you are fishing the Upper Owens, you can walk anywhere without snowshoes or skis and not punch through the firm crust.
If you are a fan of fishing the Owens River Gorge, here is some important information. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) has been repairing the power plant above Pleasant Valley Reservoir for months now and have not been able to bleed water out of Crowley Lake from this wet winter. They usually start lowering the lake level throughout the winter in anticipation of the spring runoff in the Sierra. They are behind the eight ball and so they will be releasing a lot of water down the Gorge beginning this week. Usually, they contain the water within the aqueduct system, those large pipes you see coming down the Tablelands, and this flows into the power plant below which generates electricity. This season will be different because they need to move a big volume of water quickly, DWP will also be releasing water down the canyon as well (as it should be). The river through the canyon is usually less than 20 cfs, now they are projecting an average flow of 400 with pulses spiking at 450 cfs. And get this, they are projecting this level through the summer into November of this year! The lower part of the Gorge has been in need of some good pulsing flows to scour the river of sedimentation, silt, and algae. This will do the trick and then some. Unfortunately, at these projected flows, this section of the river will be closed to fishing, but all is not lost. These high flows will be from the Middle Gorge Power Plant down. Everything upstream will still be contained within the aqueduct. In other words, from Crowley Lake to the Middle Gorge you will still be able to fish. From the Middle Gorge to Pleasant Valley, this will most likely will be closed until further notice. This is not “fake news.”
In the long run, these high, sustained flows will be good for the health of the river system. Check out the photograph above and imagine the river several feet higher with water wall to wall. Interesting….
Lower Owens River
I am not going to lie and paint a rosy picture…. well, the weather now could not be any better right now, BUT, unless you are into getting photographs of a raging, muddy river, don’t bother coming for the fishing. The flows are nearly 600 cfs. The Department of Water and Power are moving massive amounts of water down the Valley. The big annual fish slaying event for Inyo County, the Blake Jones Trout Derby, has even been canceled because of the hazardous river conditions. The trout are going to get a nice break from the bait dunking treble hook crowd but will seek quiet waters for their lives the next few months.
Upper Owens River
The flows read about 72 cfs but these are taken well above the Hot Creek confluences, so the actual data is a little higher. The river system below the confluence can be muddy, off color, and full of debris if you wander out there just after a wet storm. It usually takes a couple of days for the river to clear up (as long as another storm does not roll in). The fish in the Upper Owens are porkulent rainbows that have come up from the reservoir seeking more oxygen, food, and their spawn. They are generally fairly lethargic and seek the quiet water of deep pools. The walk in is on deep snow, do not attempt to drive unless you have a snowmobile. You can usually walk in on the packed sled tracks or snowshoe directly to the water’s edge. Figure on a two-mile hike in, one way. San Juans, egg patterns, and red pheasant tails work well. You need to make sure you cover the water thoroughly. The trout will grab if you put it on their snouts. There are fewer fish now in the upper section of the river as the fish are heading back towards the lake. You will find that those dime bright rainbows have now turned dark as the spawn is over.
850 cfs two weeks ago, then down to 500… the flows currently are nudging up to 350. The river is the color of tea, just slightly off color. The reservoir is near capacity so the water district downstream will be easing out water in anticipation of the runoff. This will be a great spring, perhaps not for fishing, but for purging the river of algae, moss, and sediment. I am wondering if the flows will exceed 1000 cfs. The bottom line? Keep on eye on the flows, the East Walker will be oscillating up and down as the weeks pass by. I like the levels to be between 200-300 cfs.
Jim Stimson Fly Fishing