CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Jim Niemiec's Blog

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Combo hunts for the Lower Owens River Valley
Owens River Valley now offering up excellent wetlands

LONE PINE — Heavy runoff from the tremendous snow melt of the High Sierra flooded most of the Owens Valley from below Pleasant Valley dam all the way down to the newly constructed levees of the once dry Owens Lake. The Department of Water and Power had to dump millions of acre feet of water down through Bishop and this flooded land that had been dry for years. The banks of the Owens River over flowed and millions of acres of dry desert and open range land became seasonal lakes and wetlands.


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COMBO LOWER OWENS RIVER HUNTING — There are upland game birds and waterfowl to hunt along the lower Owens River. When wild game is tough to hunt many hunters will opt to spend a morning or afternoon hunting the Lone Pine Pheasant Club. Pictured are club owner Sean Ponso and bird manager Levi Gratzke with a mixed bag of native California Valley quail and released pheasant and chukar. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC


The newly created wetlands in the lower Owens River Valley, that first started getting DWP water after an agreement was reached for a dust abatement project, has now expanded into thousands of acres of prime wetlands for waterfowl and other desert critters. With just a little water, Owens Valley has now been transformed into an excellent hunting Mecca for unattached hunters. Now flocks of snow geese, honkers and thousands of ducks use these vast wetlands as a stopping off place on their annual migration south. It is felt that these wetlands, once completed and allowed time to return to those years when there was water in Owens Lake, that this valley could winter tens of thousands of waterfowl and migrating shore birds.


Western Outdoor News was first introduced to the Lower Owens River Valley by the late Bruce Ivey of Independence. Ivey operated the Lone Pine Pheasant Club, outfitted pack train trips up into Golden Trout Country, was a member and avid waterfowl hunter at the Little Lake Duck Club and devoted a lot of time to conservation projects. Ivey was an avid flyer and invited this hunting editor to fly over the newly flooded lower Owens River and Owens Lake in his Cessna to get an aerial view of the developing wetlands. That afternoon saw us checking out newly formed oxbows in the now running lower Owens River where we jump shot a few ducks.


WON has returned to hunt ducks and native California Valley quail along the river with Sean Ponso, now owner of the Lone Pine Pheasant Club, and his bird man, Levi Gratzke and has always had a good hunting experience. While the harvest of ducks and quail maybe only numbered a hand full of birds, there was always the option of spending a few hours hunting released chukar and pheasant on the club.


With all the rains and heavy snow melt the lower Owens Valley is sure to attract and likely hold good numbers of waterfowl this winter. The migration has already started and based on recent reports there are more ducks in the valley now than in recent years and small flocks of geese are starting to trickle into the valley as well.


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OWENS LAKE WETLANDS — Heavy winter rains and a massive snow melt combined to bring a lot of water down into the lower Owens River Valley. This photo was taken on the steep road up to Horseshoe Meadows and shows partial flooding of newly constructed settling ponds. The once dry and dusty lake bed now is a good resting place for migrating waterfowl and shore birds. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC


Access to these wetlands and adjoining foothills is by way of dirt roads that parallel the river. These roads are not maintained and it would not be a good idea to head off in the dark looking for a place to hunt. It would be highly recommended that any scouting be done during the daylight hours and when there are good weather conditions. Dirt roads in this valley are made up mostly of silt and when they get wet they become very slick and getting stuck is just a matter of time even with high profile 4WD vehicles. Getting stuck is not what you want to do in the lower Owens River Valley, as even local tow truck operators will not venture out on a wet unpaved road. Your only choice to is to wait until conditions change and dry out access roads. No overnight camping is allowed in DWP property in the valley, nor are open fires. The main access road to the lower Owens River is by way of Manzanar Reward Road, just to the north of Manzanar National Historic Park located off Hwy. 395.


Western Outdoor News toured this area on a recent fall fly fishing trip to the “Arcularius On The River” ranch, (760) 387-2692, in Long Valley of the High Sierra Mountains and noted that access to some of the duck hunting spots along Hwy. 395 were inaccessible and many of the gates were locked. The lower Owens River doesn’t receive a lot of duck or goose hunting pressure, but there are those dedicated waterfowlers who prefer the challenge of hunting on un-posted or public land. For those thinking about duck or goose hunting this valley, it would be a good idea to check with Lone Pine Sporting Goods or give Reagan’s Sporting Goods, (760) 872-3000, in down town Bishop a call to find out where access roads down to the river might be usable.


Hunters thinking about putting together a combo duck/quail and released pheasant hunt for this year should be in for excellent hunting. Rains have triggered a good hatch on both valley quail and chukar and the wetlands should offer up good waterfowl hunting. The best duck hunting takes place on stormy days, but when there is weekend pressure on the oxbows and newly formed lakes within the wetlands good shooting could occur.


While there is not overnight camping allowed along the river there are places to spend a few days all along Hwy. 395. This hunter opts to stay at the Best Western Frontier Motel, (760) 876-5571, because it’s a dog friendly motel, offers an early complimentary breakfast and is close to all the hunting available in the lower Owens Valley. Too book a morning or afternoon pheasant or chukar hunt at the Lone Pine Pheasant Club contact Sean Ponso at (760) 876-4590 or log on their web site at lonepinepheasantclub.com.


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