MAMMOTH LAKES — Late season trout hunters in the Eastern Sierra checked in with some huge fish last week, but now the attention will turn to waters open for winter fishing.
The last week of the season often turns up double-digit browns, and this year was no exception with an 11-pound, 5-ounce brown from Crowley Lake the biggest fish reported at press time.
The monster brown was caught and released by Curtis Owen from Los Alamitos who was trolling a large fish lure near the dam. The submarine was a personal best for this veteran angler.
Some bigger brown and rainbows also showed up at waters that will remain open for winter fishing.
Tim Meyer from Orange landed a beautiful brown trout at Pleasant Valley Reservoir while tossing a tube jig near the dam. He didn’t get a weight because he only kept the fish out of water long enough to get a picture. It was an even more exciting catch, because Meyer was using 2-pound line and the fish made several runs and jumps before eventually tiring.
Fishing legend Frank Tanaka from Mission Hills closed the season at Bridgeport Reservoir with a 4-pound, 8-ounce tagged BFEF rainbow he caught from shore near the dam with a Mice Tail.
But that’s all history, and anglers will now shift gears, tactics and locations to concentrate on waters open all winter.
That includes the upper and lower sections of the Owens River, a short section of Deadman Creek, Pleasant Valley Reservoir, Hot Creek, East and West Walker Rivers.
Pleasant Valley and the Owens River below Pleasant Valley remain all tackle with a daily limit of five trout. Other areas are generally barbless, unscented artificials only with a zero limit but check regulations to make sure since there are small areas with special rules.
Winter trout hunting in the Eastern Sierra is a different ballgame. Tactics are different, weather can make access challenging and, most of all, anglers should be well prepared for brutal weather conditions that can plunge temperatures to below zero.
For now, storms have yet to arrive. Mornings are chilly, but daytime temperatures have been relatively mild.
As winter sets in and temperatures chill, tactics turn to smaller flies and lures, working in deeper holes where water stays a bit warmer and stealth, lots of stealth. Anglers should approach areas that are likely holding fish very quietly and cast in from a distance.
Veterans will tell you that the thin water of winter, combined with fish that are particularly wary requires this approach for success.
So, let’s take a look of waters now open to winter fishing and what anglers can expect.
The long run of the Owens River provides lots of winter fishing opportunity.
Many guides divide the river into the Lower Owens below Bishop, the Middle Owens from Bishop to Pleasant Valley and the Upper Owens above Crowley.
The Lower and Middle Owens up to the Wild Trout Section just below Pleasant Valley Reservoir continue to be open to baits and lures and a five-fish daily limit.
If flows are good, the Lower and Middle Owens are great for drift boat fishing.
Pleasant Valley Reservoir on the Owens is another popular winter fishing area. As temperatures chill, anglers should work deeper water. Weather here can be cold, but rarely limited by snow or winter storms.
The Upper Owens, above Crowley Lake can be one of the most challenging winter fishing locations, but also one of the most rewarding.
Sub-zero winter temperatures and deep snow can limit access, requiring a snowmobile to reach the best fishing waters.
For now, snows have yet to arrive, and the movement of big rainbows up from Crowley is offering some spectacular fishing.
“The big rainbows are moving in. They are not present everywhere in the river, but certain locations are holding. Go small and stealthy to fool some of these pre-spawn fish. The water is very clear here during this time, so spotting and stalking or making your presence unknown is important,” said Sierra Drifters Guide Service owner Doug Rodricks.
Guides at The Trout Fitter in Mammoth Lakes say Baetis are starting to hatch midday between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“Don’t forget the Craneflies. Try skating a Cranefly dry or Stimulator. Evenings are midges and possibly Caddis if the wind dies down,” they said.
Hot Creek anglers are limited to barbless artificials only and a zero limit.
Access to Hot Creek can be challenging if storms bring significant amounts of snow, so check with tackle shops or guides before heading out.
This short section of water from U.S. 395 to where it meets the Owens near Big Spring Campground is a beautiful place to fish, but not during the mid-winter months when deep snow can make access a huge problem. Best times here are now, until snows arrive and early spring when things thaw out a bit.
East Walker River
Jim Reid at Ken’s Sporting Goods in Bridgeport is the go-authority for this excellent winter fishing water.
Extreme cold and snow can become a problem in mid-winter, but for now things are wide open and flows are ideal.
Reid said nymphing has been good along with streamers, with anglers reporting 10 to 20-fish days.
Anglers are reporting lots of 10- to 15-inch fish, but the occasional 20-inch football is showing up.
An algae broom from Bridgeport Reservoir stained the river but is clearing up now and the further downstream you work from the dam, the clearer the water.
“With the conditions the way they are right now, it’s a great time to be on the river, both on the California and Nevada sides,” Reid said.
West Walker River
Flows are low here, but until weather turns this deep canyon into an ice castle, anglers can expect to catch some nice fish. Once storms set in, the West Walker offers very little good fishing until warmer spring weather thaws things out.
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