It is official – more snow has fallen this January than in any other month in Mammoth’s recorded history with 246” (that’s over 20 FEET!). The previous record was smashed by more than 3 feet. Now we head into February and March, statistically the wet winter months. We have had nearly a week off from the constant shoveling and snow removal. The blue skies have been nice. I was finally able to get out and fish yesterday. The fishing wasn’t exactly red hot but it was sure nice to get out and cast some line and not cast some snow.
Lower Owens River
A word of caution, there has been a tremendous amount of precipitation in the last several weeks, even in 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 200 cfs, the wading is not as easy as it used to be but this bodes well for the fishery and trout. The water is a little off color and debris is coming down from the increase in flows. The trout are still in there, perhaps lethargic with the cold water temperatures, but they still like 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 and you need to cover the water thoroughly. 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 Upper O is fishable again, it is tough, but fishable. Be prepared for cold temperatures like in the minus zones. The morning temps have been anywhere from – 10 to – 30º warming to a tropical 0º in the heat of the day. Expect frozen guides, line, and leaders. Before I head out onto the water I apply a new coating of line dressing and rub some Loon Ice Off Paste onto the guides. It helps but doesn’t eliminate the icing. Sometimes you just need to repair the icy guides and fly line by hand and keep dipping your rod tip into the river. It is the cold air that causes the freeze ups. A word of caution: be careful reeling or stripping in your line when it is frozen. You can easily break a guide or a rod. That said, San Juan worms combined with an egg pattern seem to be the ticket even with the mid-day BWO hatch. There are some nice fish in the river system but they have to be earned. There is a ton of snow out there. Walk in from the Benton Crossing Bridge up the snowmobile tracks. Having a pair of snowshoes is almost essential.
The Bridgeport Reservoir is filling quickly. Keep an eye on the flows. The river is running at 225 cfs right now. Essentially the irrigation district downstream calls the shots and it appears they are bleeding off water in anticipation of spring runoff and water storage. The river is receiving a much-needed flushing and scouring. The Bridgeport Valley sits in a basin as well, much like the Owens River. It gets extremely cold there as well and sometimes records the lowest temperatures in the Lower 48. Keep that in mind if you plan on fishing up there. It will be cold and icy along the river. The main issue now is parking, there is none. With the deep snowbanks, all of the usual places to pull off are buried with the exception of the “Toilet Bowl” area just below the dam.
Jim Stimson Fly Fishing