Eastern Serra

Eastern Sierra Report: Winter bite improves despite winter chill

BY ERNIE COWAN/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Dec 08, 2016

MAMMOTH LAKES —The first serious storm of the season blew into the Eastern Sierra last week, but despite snow and shivering temperatures, the trout bite continues to improve.

A brief, but intense storm, brought snow, ice and sub-teen temperatures, but then things warmed up a bit allowing access to some areas difficult because of mud. By the end of the week, things had dried out enough to allow anglers access to the best fishing, which has been on the Upper Owens River as big Crowley rainbows and browns continue to move upstream to spawn.

UPPER OWENS PRIZE — Kevin Oberon caught this beautiful “Crowley Steel” on the Upper Owens River while fishing with Sierra Drifters. Big rainbows continue to move upstream to spawn. We are now officially into December, year-around waters are open but be aware of the winter year-around regulations.

Until the next storm hits, access to the Upper Owens is good for high clearance vehicles and the fishing continues to improve.

“There are some big Crowley Steelhead, but most of the browns are headed back to the lake. It is very similar to steelhead fishing currently,” said guide Tom Loe with Sierra Drifters.

He said the big rainbows are moving daily in some areas of the river, but once located they are willing to bite a proper presentation. That means long casts are required to avoid spooking the fish, especially in the sections of clear water above Hot Creek.

Expect numbers of migratory rainbows to increase once Crowley freezes over

Attractor patterns and streamers are good calls for migratory trout. Drifters Crawlers, Crystal Eggs, San Juan Worms, Crystal Leeches, and Assassins are go-to nymphs below an Under-Cator.

Hot Creek still has some snow and ice from the recent storm, along with very cold temperatures. Fishing has been good from smaller rainbows and browns.

Guide Kent Rianda from The Trout Fitter in Mammoth Lakes said the creek is currently running at 23 cubic feet per second and the water is clear.

WINTER POSTCARD SCENE —  It may be beautiful with winter scenes like this on the Upper Owens River, but access will become a challenge as snow accumulates. Spawning rainbows continue to move up from Crowley Lake.

Traditional dry fly patterns and nymphs are working well and tight lining a Woolly Bugger or any perch imitation through the deeper holes can yield some larger fish.

The brown trout bite at Pleasant Valley Reservoir has slowed a b it, but rainbows continue to bite well at the upper end when the river flow in according to Reagan Slee at Reagan’s Sporting Goods in Bishop.

Slee said Kastmaster and Rapala lures are a good choice, along with streamer flies.

“Water temperatures have cooled and the fish are moving up into the shallows now,” Slee said.

Action on the Middle Owens River around Bishop has slowed down with anglers having to cover lots of water to find fish. The deeper pools, however, are holding some larger fish.

Small Mayflies, Midges and the last generation of Caddis are still emerging daily. Hi-Vis para Mayflies and Caddis adults used as the upper fly, with dropper bead head nymphs like Assassins, Flashback PT’s, Olive Dubbed Crystal Caddis, and Tiger Midges can be effective in the deeper tailouts, and brush lined slots, according to guide Tom Loe.

The East Walker River continues to be slow and cold.

“It’s just really cold out there with morning in the teens or lower,” said Jim Reid at Ken’s Sporting Goods in Bridgeport. “I’m only seeing two to three guys a week right now.”

The West Walker River becomes a ice box this time of the year, with fish generally moving downstream to warmer areas.

“It’s just too cold and the fish just shut down,” Reid said.

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Ernie Cowan is a veteran outdoor writer and photographer who focuses on the Eastern High Sierra. He can be reached at

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