Top 5 Eastern Sierra winter fishing spots

A QUALITY RAINBOW from the lower Owens River in Bishop. The “Lower O” is open year-round with no gear restrictions, and it’s very popular for fly fishing trips on drift boats. PHOTO COURTESY SIERRAS DRIFTERS


WON Staff Writer and

MAMMOTH LAKES – With ski-season opener comes fishing-season closer, but don’t be so quick to pack away your rods just yet. While most lakes and some streams west of Highway 395 closed for fishing on November 15, there are still places where you can catch a trout all winter. But be sure to double-check seasonal fishing regulations with the California Department of Fish and Game.

Here are our five favorite spots to fish near Mammoth this winter:


Upper Owens River

The Owens River is the main watershed in the Eastern Sierra. Fed by spring creeks and snow-melt, the tributaries of the Owens River begin high in the mountains before flowing through Mono County and Long Valley. Known for its grassy meadows, alpine views and oxbows, the Upper Owens is one of the most popular trout fishing streams in California. The Upper Owens River is accessible in many locations. During winter months the regulations change, however, fishing is still open with special regulations. Access beyond the Benton Bridge depends on snow accumulation. Winter regulations: The Upper Owens River from Benton Bridge road crossing upstream to Big Springs is open year round to fishing. From November 16 through the Friday preceding the last Saturday in April only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. Zero limit. The Upper Owens River from Benton Bridge road crossing downstream to the monument is closed and the section from the fishing monument to Crowley Lake closes annually on November 15.

Hot Creek

The nutrient-rich spring creek is home to a healthy population of bugs, which are makes for an ideal feeding zone for trout. California Department of Fish and Game surveys have counted 8,000 to 10,000 trout per mile, making Hot Creek the most trout dense stream in the state. Mammoth, Sherwin and Laurel creeks are tributaries of Hot Creek, which eventually flow into the Upper Owens River. While Hot Creek Ranch is a private fishing resort, the section downstream in the canyon is a favorite among locals and visiting anglers. Winter regulations: Hot Creek from the State hatchery property line to the confluence with the Owens River is open all year. Only artificial flies with barbless hooks may be used. Zero limit. Hot Creek Ranch closes for fishing November 15.

Pleasant Valley Reservoir A classic year-round fishery just north of Bishop, bait and barbed-hook fishing is permitted at Pleasant Valley Reservoir. Access is a piece of cake for both driving to PVR and fishing it from one end to the other. There’s actually a paved road that leads from the bottom end to the top, and while you can’t drive on it, it does make moving from one spot to the next easy, especially when hauling a float tube. Classic trout tactics from jigs to spoons and spinners to nightcrawlers and PowerBait will all produce here. Also, even in winter, throwing minnow-type lures like Rapalas can get the attention of big brown trout that inhabit PVR. Spoons thrown offshore of the inlet are a good way to pile up numbers of smaller catch-and-release browns. It would be worth it to stop by Mac’s Sporting Goods when you pull into town for the latest on PVR and the rest of these waters.

Lower Owens River

The Owens River continues flowing south from the Crowley Lake outlet through the Owens River Gorge and to the Pleasant Valley Reservoir. The Lower Owens River is a popular section among anglers and is in lower elevation, which means it’s often warmer and sunnier during winter months. Winter Regulations: The Lower Owens River from Pleasant Valley Dam downstream to the footbridge at lower end of Pleasant Valley Campground is catch-and-release only with artificial lures and barbless hooks only from October 1 through December 31. From January 1 through September 30, this section has daily bag and possession limit: 2. The lower Owens River from the footbridge at the lower end of Pleasant Valley Campground east (downstream) 3.3 miles along Chalk Bluffs Road to the redwood sportfishing regulations sign is open year-round. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used. Zero limit.

Bishop Creek

When new statewide trout regulations went into effect last year, almost all the creeks in the Eastern Sierra opened up for year-round fishing. It does not affect all creeks (for example, Rush Creek and most tributaries of Crowley Lake are closed) and in winter they are only open to fishing with barbless artificials (no bait). While most of the creeks between Bishop and Bridgeport are open on paper, access is questionable all winter. While Bishop Creek runs through a canyon at some altitude, it does tumble all the way down through Bishop proper. So if snow keeps you from getting in the creek in the alpine zone, you can always continue downhill for easier access.

THE UPPER OWENS RIVER above Crowley Lake (upstream of Benton Crossing) is open in winter to catch-and-release fishing with barbless flies. PHOTO COURTESY SIERRAS DRIFTERS