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Cool Weather Slows Sierra Bite

Published: Feb 23, 2018
BISHOP — The return of cooler weather to the Eastern Sierra has slowed the bite somewhat, but anglers still have good access to all areas because of the lack of snow.

The best winter fishing right now appears to be on the Middle Owens around Bishop. The bite did slow a bit with cooler weather, but that can change just as quickly if a warm weather pattern returns. 


ALL SMILES RAINBOW — Rusty Chambers fished the Middle Owens River with Sierra Drifters guide Doug Dolan and this is just one of the beauties he hauled in. 


Drift boat guides are reporting good numbers of both rainbows and browns showing interest in streamers and mayfly adult patterns. Despite most fish being in the 10- to 12-inch range, a few 18- to 21-inch rainbows are coming to the net.

Sierra Drifters guide Tom Loe said Punk Perch, Spruce-A-Bu’s and Loeberg are the top streamers. 

Flows below Pleasant Valley Reservoir are very low at 70 cubic feet per second in the Wild Trout Section of the river. 

Water levels in Pleasant Valley Reservoir are quite high, making access to the productive transition and inlet area very difficult. Pocket water below the power house is holding some decent numbers of fish, along with some bigs in deeper water. The best combination here is a dry/dropper rig. 

Fish numbers on Hot Creek continue to be good, but not many big fish showing up. Fish are spread out and the successful angler will concentrate on the slots and deeper pools. 

Dry/dropper rigs with a #16-18 Para Hi-Vis BWO and a #22 Gillie below about 12 to 18 inches is a good choice. 

Depending on who you talk to, conditions on the Upper Owens range from “fair,” to “disappointing,” with a significant drop in fish numbers. 

Some believe this is the result of DFW programs to plant sterile trout the past few years. 

“After numerous years of planting sterile fish, the ramifications of this fisheries management, or lack thereof, may finally be taking its toll,” said guide Loe. 

Because they lack an instinctual desire to spawn, it appears the fish are not migrating up from Crowley Lake. Those DFW policies have begun to change and hopefully anglers will see the return spawning trout once again. 

The best tactics on the Upper Owens right now are to cover a lot of water with hopes of connecting with the few trophy fish there. 

Get your rigs on the bottom, and the high flows will require lots of extra weight to do that. 

Crystal eggs, San Juan Worms, Assassins, Crystal Leeches, Cooper Tiger Midge, Zebra Midge and Gillies are good patterns right now. 

Anglers on the Upper Owens should be prepared for some challenging mud and travel carefully with four-wheel drive vehicles. 

There is some good news if you believe veteran guide Loe. 

“I see a strong probability that the spring migration of cutthroat trout will be earlier than usual,” he said. 

Rising water levels in Crowley, elevated flows and warmer than normal air temperatures typically pave the way for the cutts to begin moving in March. 

Flows on the East Walker River out of Bridgeport Reservoir continue to drop, now down to 30 cfs, but anglers are still reporting a pretty good bite. 

Jim Reid at Ken’s Sporting Goods said anglers are reporting anywhere from five to 15 fish per day, with most of the action on small midge patterns, although there has been some streamer action. 

Anglers are catching good numbers of 13- to 18-inch fish, along with a few in the mid 20’s. Best techniques has been to keep nymphs small and deep. Recommended flies include WD-40 in olive and gray, Zebra Midge, Flash Bang Midge, Miracle Midge, Mercury Midge, Rainbow Warrior, Silver Streak, Micro Mayfly, Psycho Prince, Top Secret Midge, Pheasant Tail, Lite Brite Prince, Flashback Emerger, Zuddler, Sculpzilla, Woolly Bugger and Hornberg. 

Ernie Cowan is a veteran outdoor writer and photographer who focuses on the Eastern High Sierra. He can be reached at

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