There was a little break in the weather over the weekend so with a saltwater guide buddy of mine from Southern California, we jetted north to the East Walker to check out how the river was doing and to see if we could find some fish. The river was cranking away at 500 cfs but had been as high as 850 cfs just a few days before. We hoped the trout had settled into this latest flow. The Bridgeport Valley can be bitter cold but with all of these warm Pacific atmospheric rivers constantly pushing into the Sierra, my truck thermometer read a “tropical” 38º degrees as the skyline of the Sweetwater Range came into view. The river was high as expected, the water the color of tea, the clarity good. Many of my favorite runs were washed out but we patiently fished the quiet water along the margins with attractor patterns, usually reliable offerings. It “seemed” like we both had some grabs but nothing for sure. We took a break for lunch then drove to a new location. We pulled into a parking area down canyon and I looked upstream, expecting to see a familiar long, lazy run through pocket water and grooves. Now, the predominant feature you see is a new, gigantic boulder that has toppled into the river! Sometime during the last wet storm cycle, this rock came loose from the hillside above, burying the dirt road that parallels the river, then rolled into the water. The entire personality of this run has changed, significantly. This rock is huge and rectangular, the size of an automobile. With the higher flows, this new feature has created a large eddy and a couple of obvious seams that push outward from the block. Geologic drama aside, I am happy to report that I pinned a very nice 19” rainbow in this new run! It was too good to be true. Playing a hunch, I switched out the gaudy attractor patterns and went to conventional warfare, a red copper john and a sized 20 zebra midge. She took the midge! Later that day, I missed what probably could have been a brown of a lifetime. It too went for the small midge but with the tiny hook, small tippet, and a raging current, I got broke off when it ran for the willows on the far bank. I tried to turn it away, to swing it below me into the softer water but heard that distinct, “tick.” I got a good look at the fish as it slapped his tail in a gesture of defiance. The tail was immense and the back half of the body was in that 12-14” range……. ohhhhhh well.
I will be back though for redemption.
Lower Owens River
I know it may seem I am writing the same fishing report week after week, that there does not seem to be any changes. I admit, there is some truth to that. As you know, California is under siege with inclement weather. It keeps rolling in, wave after wave. I would love to say that the clouds have parted, the mud has dried up, the river has cleared, and the fishing has miraculously gone off the chart and is stellar. But I won’t lie, the fishing is painfully slow with the off color water and debris floating down. With the higher flows, a lot of runs cannot be fished effectively as you cannot wade to the best area to get a good drift. It is a tough go now. So, a word of caution, there has been a tremendous amount of precipitation in the last several weeks, even for Bishop. There are many deep puddles and lots of mud. Watch where you drive and walk to the river. It is as slippery as snot. The Lower Owens has been ramped up to almost 242 cfs. The trout are still in there, perhaps lethargic with the cold water temperatures, but they still have to eat. Black zebra midges, micro mayflies, pheasant tails…. all seem to work if placed at the correct depth. Look for deeper pools as the fish are into hanging out and not much else. The grabs are subtle. You HAVE to put your bug right into their faces before they make the bite. There is usually a nice surface hatch of bwo’s near the noon whistle. Keep an eye on your watch and try to anticipate the hatch. Size 18 anything bwo will get grabs. If they prove finicky, vary the bug. Often times, the trout will reject an Adams because it sits too high on the film. Try a comparadun or a mole fly as they sit lower within the surface. My favorite offerings are hackle stackers and comparaduns.
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 will 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 and food. 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 2 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.
850 cfs last week, then down to 500… the flows currently sit at 330. The river is the color of tea, just slightly off color. The reservoir is near capacity so the water district downstream will be bleeding off 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
142 Larkspur Lane
Crowley Lake, CA 93546