I ask the question what is a normal weather year? Is it the drought we have endured the last four years? Is it the wet winter we are experiencing this winter? I’ve lived here long enough to know that every year is different and it’s hard to predict what winter will yield.
What I do know is that we need to learn to adapt to the changing conditions that we are presented with. I have the experience to know how and where to fish in drought conditions and in heavy run off conditions.
Last Fall was the worst stream fishing I’ve encountered in my 35 years of living in the Eastern Sierra. The streams were shrunk to the point they were no longer recognizable.
I was not surprised. I fished hard all spring and early summer knowing full well that Fall would not be productive for stream fishing. I adapted to the conditions at hand by taking advantage of the early season stream fishing and lake fishing all season. I fished streams in the Fall and early winter knowing that the fishing would be tough.
This year with the big water year at hand I’ve got a plan. Right now, there are two places that are offering fishing.
Hot Creek is one of the waters that I thought the drought had decimated. Thanks to a plant of diploid trout in the Fall this water is making a comeback. It is still a fragile fishery and needs to be fished gently. It can handle fishing pressure, but not abuse. This water requires some effort to fish, as there is still a sizeable snowpack to deal with. For the hardy sole looking for an adventure, hiking in on the snow for over a mile, there are wild trout that are willing to take dries and nymphs. Hot Creek is open to year around fishing with flies and is a catch and release water.
The upper Owens River has been producing spawning rainbow trout from Crowley Lake. This water requires a lot of effort to fish it. It is a minimum walk of a mile over the snow pack just to get to decent areas of fishing and most anglers are going up to two miles to access the best fishing areas. A snowmobile is the best way to access the area with minimum effort. This has been and should continue to offer the best fishing opportunities in the Eastern Sierra. The fish have been in the system for a while and are not taking lures and flies as readily as they had been.
The lower Owens River on Tuesday was at 550 cfs and is expected to go as high as 700 cfs by this weekend. Lower Owens River flows of 500 cfs and higher are hard to fish and should be considered dangerous to wade. The middle gorge to Pleasant Valley Reservoir is expected to be running at over 300 cfs and should be considered unfishable.
These heavy flows are considered flushing flows. The short-term consequences of flushing flows make the waters unfishable and possibly unsafe. The long-term effects of flushing flows are to redistribute sediments and riparian vegetation. This will improve spawning habitat and increase insect populations. Personally, I hope it removes the stinging nettles from the Owens River gorge.
My game plan is to fish Hot Creek and the upper Owens River from now to the start of the runoff. I’ll continue to fish both waters during the run off as I know a few tricks to take trout. My biggest brown trout from Hot Creek came during spring runoff when most anglers were not fishing Hot Creek.
I will be focusing most of my attention during the run off on the still waters. While not trout fishing one of my go to adaptations is to fish the still waters of the Owens Valley for bass and bluegill. This is always a treat for me. I love to fish surface poppers as the take is incredible.
While late winter and spring conditions will not be optimum, the angler willing to adapt will find fishing opportunities.