Eastern Sierra Fishing Report

Sierra winter fishing continues without snow

BY ERNIE COWAN/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Feb 06, 2012

Eastern High Sierra has been less than spectacular

owens on ice

OWENS ON ICE — This postcard scene is pretty normal on the Upper Owens River every winter, but so far only two days of snow have fallen in the past few months and fishing access and trout action has remained as active as the fall bite. Photo courtesy of Tom Loe

MAMMOTH LAKES — Winter in the Eastern High Sierra has been less than spectacular so far, which means trout fishing on the year-round waters open to anglers continues to be exceptional for this time of the year.  

“We’re seeing more fishermen than skiers in town and it’s been that way for the past month,” said Jim Elias at The Troutfitter in Mammoth Lakes. And that’s because the absence of snow has kept the best fishing waters open and accessible and the fish has also been cooperating.

“Things on Hot Creek are starting to pick up again and the canyon section has been fishing much better that it was,” Elias said.

The gate to the parking area has now been closed, but there is only light snow and the walk to the parking area is only about 100 yards. Elias said the hike into the canyon is a bit slick because of ice and light snow, so wear good winter hiking boots.

The fish are still a little spooky, so Elias suggests small sub surface midges and drift the far bank. Most anglers are catching a good number of 14 to 16-inch rainbows and browns, with a few bigger fish showing up.

“The water is very shallow and the fish can see you, so the farther away you are, the better,” he said.

The action on the East Walker River out of Bridgeport Reservoir continues to be remarkable for this time of the year. Normally access to “The Miracle Mile” is quite difficult in February with plenty of deep snow and road ice. The mild winter has kept angler interest high.

“The fishing continues to be quite good,” said Rick Gieser at Ken’s Sporting Goods in Bridgeport.

“We are hearing about a lot of 14 to 17-inch browns being caught along with some to 22 inches in the right spots,” he said. Those “right spots” include the tailouts or the drop offs into the pools.

The best action is coming to small midges in 18 to 22 or dry flies like Parachute Adams or Black Midges in sizes 20 to 22. The fish are spooky, so approach softly.

The two days of winter that did hit the Sierra late last month left enough snow along the Upper Owens River to make access challenging.  But hardy hikers of those with snowmobiles were getting into some good fish.

“The numbers of catchable browns and rainbows have increased recently and I have guided some groups to 40 fish days here while nymphing and tossing parachute midge patterns during the hatch,” said Tom Loe in his Sierra Drifters report this week. “The Bigs are still holding and these legendary migratory rainbows that move up during the winter from Crowley are spectacular.”

These fish are not easy to catch, so be prepared for some action if you do get one on the line. Loe said these bigger trout should be around for another month to spawn before heading back south into Crowley Lake.

Loe’s Assassin bird’s nest pattern in 16 and 18 and Flashback PT’s in 16-20 along with San Juan Worm’s is bringing in fish.

Pleasant Valley Reservoir continues to fish very well. The lake is heavily stocked and there is plenty of food flowing out of Crowley.

The best area is the transition zone between the lake and the short section of river immediately below the powerhouse when they are not running the generators. The fish here feed on an abundant supply of midges and mayflies so try those patterns.  

The Owens River Gorge only has a little snow and has not been crowded the past few weeks. Consistent dry fly action can be had in the Gorge as the fish seem to be more opportunistic and concentrated in the biggest pools. Midges and BWO’s are on the menu right now. Casting 25-40 feet upstream will catch more fish.

Action on the Lower Owens has slowed I both the drift boat and wild trout sections. February should be a great month to fish the Lower Owens as flows level off, the weather continues to warm and fish begin to migrate into riffle water.

Sierra anglers have two big events coming up in March as a preview of the regular season opener in April.

On March 3, waters below Lone Pine open to fishing and The Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce is hosting the Early Opener Derby at Diaz Lake. Prizes will be offered for the biggest fish and the largest catch. For additional information contact the chamber at

On March 17, The Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce hosts the 45th annual Blake Jones Trout Derby at Pleasant Valley Reservoir. Prizes will include float tubes, rods & reels, fishing tackle and gear. Entry forms can be downloaded from the chamber website at or by calling toll free (888) 395-3952.

owens river snowbow

OWENS RIVER SNOWBOW — Snow in the Sierra was not very serious last month and it didn’t slow down the fishing action on the Upper Owens River. Larry Bertolucci from Bakersfield landed this impressive “snowbow” while with Tom Loe of Sierra Drifters Guide Service.  

The Longfin Tackle Shop
The Longfin Tackle Shop