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Eastern Sierra

Eastern Sierra: Anglers shift attention to Lower Owens

BY MIKE STEVENS/WON Staff Writer Published: Dec 31, 2019

BISHOP — With chilly daytime temperatures slowing the bite in the Eastern Sierra’s year-round fisheries, area and visiting anglers alike are setting their sites on the Lower Owens River and Pleasant Valley Reservoir.

Former Castaic Lagoon local DJ Smetana is now a Bishop resident, and he hit Pleasant Valley Reservoir on Christmas morning and popped a solid brown trout on a Ned rig featuring an 1/8-ounce leadhead and a 3-inch paddle-tail plastic.

“I also lost a big brown on Christmas Eve morning,” said Smetana. “I saw the tail, then it spit the hook. It was a good one.”

pleasantvalleyPLEASANT VALLEY RESERVOIR produced this solid brown for DJ Smetana of Bishop on Christmas morning. PHOTO COURTESY DJ SMETANA

In his Southern California life, Smetana specialized in targeting bass in Castaic Lagoon with finesse gear, and he continues to deploy the same stuff for Owens Valley trout and bass in fisheries like the Owens, PVR and Buckley Ponds. The presence of warmwater species in the Lower O is no secret down in stretches behind Big Pine, Independence and Lone Pine, but due to the baits he uses, he finds mixed bag action through the entire stretch of river as it flows through Bishop.

“The Wild Trout Section of the Owens River is where I fish the most,” he said. “I’ve been catching 14-inch browns and the occasional bass using Ned rigs with Keitech Easy Shiners in Electric Bluegill. The only way to really fish it is in waders, and I just started fishing the reservoir this week. I’m going to put some time into it, because I was spooled there years ago.”

The single-hook, barbless rigs puts him within the regs as far as catch-and-release fishing in that Wild Trout Section, which runs between PVR and the north end of the city of Bishop.

Fly fishers like Bishop-based guide Fred Rowe have also been doing well on browns throughout the Wild Trout Section of the Owens as well. He’s been connecting to nice browns migrating from Pleasant Valley on Czech nymphing rigs worked through pools, especially in areas lined with willows where only wading anglers and drift boats can get to them. Rowe also targets bigger PVR rainbows in the Owens both below PVR and above it between the inlet and the Power Plant.

“The Lower Owens has been fishing the best it’s been in years,” said Doug Rodricks of Sierra Drifters Guide Service. “Large rainbows and bigger browns than in previous years have all been showing up throughout the river. Most of the fish have been caught along the transition zones.”

THE LOWER OWENS RIVER is producing good numbers of brown trout throughout the Wild Trout Section. This one fell victim to a Czech nymph rig flung by Fred Rowe. PHOTO COURTESY SIERRABRIGHTDOT.COM

Andre Nersesian an angler who also runs the popular Country Kitchen restaurant in Big Pine, and he told WON the Owens is also fishing well in his stretch of Highway 395. He’s still saying the best bite is in the afternoons with things warm up a bit and the fish are less lethargic, and he said action is being found on Sierra Slammers miniswims, Panther Martins, Thomas Buoyants and nightcrawlers. Both rainbows and browns are biting down here, but this is a great time to target brown trout in particular with a great zone to target being the Owens from the outlet of Tinemaha Reservoir downstream for several hundred yards and beyond depending on fishability and flows. That area actually gets some unannounced DFW broodstock deliveries and at times, stocked brown trout.

Up the hill, conditions on Hot Creek are good, and fishing has been fair on dry flies during afternoon hatches up around the Interpretive Center. The canyon stretch has less angler pressure, and is also featuring small windows – usually between late morning and early afternoon – of surface fishing during hatches. Still, guides heading down there are finding trout locked into winter mode and focusing more on pairing up and getting on their redds rather than taking interest in common fly patterns.

“The best approach has been soft egg patterns in colors like Tangerine Opaque, Apricot Flash, and Dead Eggs,” added Rodricks. “Same story for the Upper Owens, but the big news is the river has really filled up with the next push of trophy rainbows. These fish like to hold in the slowest and softest water and flies must be presented to them with zero drag.

Quality trout have moved from Crowley up into the Upper Owens, and a lot of them are being caught by anglers matching the afternoon midge hatch, but when that activity is not popping off, working big attractor nymphs methodically through deeper holes and undercut banks will also work. Classic meat-and-potatoes stuff like San Juan Worms, Prince Nymphs and egg patterns.

SOME REAL QUALITY is coming out of both the Upper and Lower Owens River right now. Here’s a solid specimen handled nicely by Bishop angler, Joel Cline. PHOTO COURTESY JOEL CLINE

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