Dry fly fishing for wild trout on the San Joaquin has been great, nymphing the Upper Owens, guided drift boating the Lower Owens and tubing Crowley Lake also very productive for fly fishers here in the Sierra.
Fish’N Conditions September 16th 2012
The Sierra continues to bask in summer like weather conditions with warm days and no precipitation in the immediate forecast. Most of the creeks and rivers are running low and clear, the exception being the Lower Owens River which remains very high and is currently running at 480cfs below the dam at Pleasant Valley Reservoir. The large reservoirs like Crowley and Bridgeport are being dropped to very low levels as water demands continue to be high. Cooler weather is inevitably on its way as the aspens & willows in the upper elevation are beginning to turn yellow-the pines are dropping their needles, and the alpine wild flowers go to seed. Do your version of rain dancing and hope for a wet winter here in the Sierra, and in other parts of the west that have been hammered by drought conditions this season. We are still wet wading and enjoying the warm days; however if you are planning a trip that requires wading within the next couple weeks or so, I advise you bring along dry wading gear, especially in the upper valleys.
San Joaquin River
As the weather turns cooler and the upper snow fields stop melting the SJ will begin to get very low, October will be tough here. Currently it is fishing great and access is fantastic in the open day use areas & trail heads. The road into the SJ is now open for all, however the INFS is removing the huge trees that fell during last falls wind storm by logging trucks and there will be significant delays at times while the trucks come up and down the narrow road that leads into Devil’s Postpile. Soda Springs and Agnew Meadows campgrounds remain closed. It is possible to fish a dry fly all day on the SJ right now. I like para mayfly (#18-20), caddis adults (#16-18), floating ants (#18), stone fly adults (#12), and para high vis midge patterns (#20) cast with a 5X tippet. The fish are really moving into the deeper pools now so concentrate on water that is deeper than a foot for more consistent grabs. Wet wading is still pleasant with studded boots and a staff, however it can be a little uncomfortable until 10-11 am.
Mark Vidovich with one of the “dozens” of beautiful wild trout he fooled recently on the San Joaquin while casting dry flies with a 3 wt. fly rod
John Ballotti had a great day casting dries and nymphing with #18 Assassins to many aggressive wild trout on the San Joaquin. The larger pools are holding the highest concentrations of trout due to low water conditions.
This is a bona- fide golly whopper for the San Joaquin, although this long rainbow John caught is “stunted” due to a lack of food for its size. Most likely this is attributed to the low water this season and flood conditions last year.
Mark properly showing us the first of my “three P’s” crucial to catching trout while fly fishing in the Sierra. “Positioning” downstream and “presenting” upstream-will allow you to “perform” more catch & release!
Now you see why they are called “stone flies” This is the exoskeleton of what the trout deem to be PRIME RIB baby.
Lower Owens River
Its time to start thinking about drifting the Lower Owens. Although the flows remain high for wading the wild trout section at 480cfs. they have begun to drop and are currently down from 540cfs which we saw all through August and early September. The Bishop Creek has also come down 20cfs making the sections we drift below the confluence well below flood levels with good water clarity. The morning bite is best due to warm water temps as the sun gets higher most afternoons. The fish seek the shelter of the deeper pools and under cut banks making presentations with heavy sinking fly lines and extra split shot while nymphing difficult during the afternoons. Even if the flows remain high, I fully expect some excellent drift boat fishing soon as the water temps cool and the fish become more active for a longer duration during the day. There are abundant numbers of Tui Chub, Tahoe Sucker, Mosquito Fish, & stickleback fry present along the slack water and protected areas near the banks and artesian spring feeds. These small bait fish are food for the larger predatory browns and rainbows that we target with streamer patterns like the Loeberg and Punk Perch. Using the “dip & strip” method from the drift boat is a great way to get into numbers, and these trophy fish that hunt the small bait fish along the secluded and hard to reach areas of the LO. I am also observing good numbers of caddis, midge, & mayfly hatches during the cooler morning periods, with extended emergences on the cloudy afternoons so dry fly opportunities may also present themselves at times. The still mornings/afternoons will have the skeeters out and until it cools down here make sure you bring along the bug juice!
Scott McClintock tight to a leaping rainbow on a recent drift trip. The bloody battle for bragging rights between Todd the fireman, Paul the city manager, and Scott the sheriff ended in a draw with a lot of laughs and banter between fish . Fun day guys, thanks.
Upper Owens River
We are having some fun up here and it will continue to get better. Numbers are increasing as fish begin to migrate upstream from Crowley. Brown trout are fall spawning fish and I have seen the best brown numbers for Crowley in quite a while. This is a strong indication of what may prove to be an epic fall and winter season on the Upper Owens. If you enjoy dry fly fishing with tiny mayflies, the Trico hatch is dominating this area currently and the fish are very active on these tiny rascals during the late morning period before the wind comes up. #20-22 adults will get plenty of looks, use a larger dry fly with 2-3 feet of tippet between the two patterns if you have trouble seeing the small point fly. Flows remain consistent at 65cfs with good water clarity and no weeds. Water temps are on the warm side, however it will not be long for a significant cooling trend as I am already seeing some morning frost at Drifters HQ here on McGee Creek-close to the Upper Owens. Wet wading remains comfortable after the sun comes up at this time. There are some large rainbows also showing up in the deeper pools. These fish are best fooled using flashback PT’s, Assassin bird’s nest, and broken back midge patterns #14-18. Dead drifts with, or without an Under-cator are necessary to to fool these trophy fish and one should always keep their shadow off your target water and a low profile along the banks if possible. Streamer fishing is also really picking up here and you will see small chubs and Sticklebacks along the edges. Loebergs, Spruce-a-Bu’s, and Punk Perch patterns are good choices while casting a light sinking tip fly line along the under cuts and at the head of deeper pools and ox-bows.
I am very grateful to the SDFF members who participated in my first on the water advanced fly fishing clinic for the concept. We will be offering this type of seminar for groups of up to 6 people in the future at discounted rates and taylor it to your time frame. Please contact us if you are interested. The clinic covered rigging tandem nymph rigs with and without an indicator, dry dropper & dry/dry set ups, various special knots (this was a big part of the clinic and I was told it was very helpful), streamer rigging, reading water and positioning for nymhping, dry fly, and streamer fishing, hook setting methods, casting critique, entomology, & of course fighting and landing big trout!
Long time Drifter and good friend from the San Diego Fly Fishers Larry Sorenson got an “A” and passed with honors after doing an “on the water” advanced clinic with a handful of other SDFF members recently.
Dennis Marquardt tight to a big rainbow while using a twin Assassin rig after nymphing a deep hole on the Upper Owens
Paul Woolery tight to a hog on the Upper Owens. Good fish story on this one. I dumped this same fish earlier in the day while doing a nymphing demonstration for the SDFF advanced clinic. After a lengthy battle this big old hen gave Paul “the fin” as well. That’s why they get so big on the Upper Owens!
Randy Arnott hit this trophy bow on a Loeberg streamer while doing the “dip & strip” on the Upper Owens thanks to guidance and the picture from long time Drifter Dave Kendrick. Nice job guys, thank you!
The algae situation has improved just recently and water conditions in the north arm of the lake are good. The bulk of the fish have “gone around the Horn” at Sandy and have begun staging in the Green Banks area making the move from McGee Bay last week. There are still decent numbers of fish in McGee, however it is far more consistent with better water quality from Sandy Pt., Six Bays, Layton Springs to the UO’s inlet. Tubers are doing well fast trolling & casting perch fry or damsel nymph imitations along what is left of the weed lines. The lake is very low and will continue to drop steadily eradicating what is left of the aquatic weeds soon. There is still a good chironomid bite at times while still water nymphing; however it can become down right dead when the fish decide to target on the larger prey, or the midges do not emerge in significant numbers. Stick to an emerger or Gillie as the upper, tigers and zebras as the lower- with broken backs doing well with some texture on the water. You will find fish in very short water; as little as 3 feet during the morning, and out to 9 feet as the sun gets higher. Please use soft mesh or rubber nets, the alkalinity is exceptionally high this year due to the poor influx of fresh water, and it is crucial to keep the slime on the fish or they will get severe “strawberry” pox which is becoming prevalent in many rainbows and browns that have been in the lake for two or more seasons. Stiff nylon nets and belly boat aprons are not good for preventing the protective slime from being removed during hook removal or a release. Pinch those barbs down, its a regulation currently.
Mammoth local Don Stanley got a fat brown on Crowley
John Diaz, another local who knows Crowley is hot also got a nice brownie recently
Bill Chien loves pulling streamers and you can see why! He booked a combo tube/fish magnet trip and did well. This fish is a pig , nice Bill!
Bill got this one from our “fish magnet”
Sterling Newton with a fattie from McGee, copper tiger #18 did the deed
Bobby Burke showing off a thick bodied bow
NINETY years of experience and still spanking them. Jack Stalder with a nice brownie
First timer Rufus Ethington absolutely put on a clinic in McGee Bay and took all the titles for the Dave Arias group. Super fun day guys, thanks again! Way to go Rufus, you da fly man!!!
This kid can fish. Brayden Fleming with a nice one, way to go Bray!
JR. showing off a trophy brown. Way to stick those downs JR!
Steve Gold hit a bunch of nice rainbows like this one recently on Crowley
Former SDFF president Art Reifman hit a high percentage of his grabs on a slow day on Crowley and got this nice brown for his efforts
East Walker River
Slowly but surely conditions are improving on the EW and it will not be long before we will see some good “catching” here. Due to the low water levels on Bridgeport Reservoir, the fall /winter release rates will be very low and down to legal minimums. Get up here before late October/November for sure. The flows are great currently-145cfs, and water clarity and weed issues are much better than a couple weeks ago. The elevated water temps and low oxygen levels are causing the fish to be lethargic during the warmer parts of the day, you’ll have to work for them. Best fishing is very early, and then again late afternoons. Nymphing is best, use small mayfly and midge patterns in tandem. Assassins work well here, as do broken back midges. Hoppers are prevalent now, and in the afternoons a hopper/ bead head nymph dropper in the riffles and along the banks can prove effective.
Thanks to the Fishin Mission gang for performing the annual Labor day trash pick up on the EW. This local volunteer has been helping the East Walker for many seasons
Five cfs is very low water for this time of year, and is limiting the spots to fish here. Mammoth Creek (a major source of flow for HC) is running very low as many of the Mammoth Lakes are also down due to the low snow pack this season. The fish are concentrating in the deeper runs and pools obviously and although it can be good at times using small mayflies and caddis adults or emergers, things have got quite a bit more challenging this September.
Most are fishing pretty well although we have not been guiding on them lately. Reports have been favorable for numbers in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, June Loop, Rock Creek lake, Convict Lake, and Virginia Lakes regions. Not hearing anything about large browns yet. Trolling streamers from a tube is the word, use Loebergs, Agent Orange & Spruce-a-bu’s with a full or heavy sinking tip line. Some of these resorts have low water levels, however no reports of launch ramps or marinas closing due to low levels yet.
Water clarity is much improved, and the levels have dropped enough to put the weed lines in water less than 5 feet in the key locations. The launch ramp at the marina is now closed. Boating access can be done at the public ramp called “the bath tub”, stop by the marina store and RV Park and Jeffery will give you the details. Tubers fishing toward the dam and along the deeper water outside of the marina and Paradise are finding catchable sized rainbows, with a few browns beginning to show. The water still needs to cool some for the fish to come out of the deeper sections and begin feeding in less than 20 feet. Jeffery at the marina has flies for the East Walker and streamers/nymphs & Under-cators for the Bridge. Look for the fly fishing bite to turn on very soon. I have seen incredible fall fishing in years such as this at Bridgeport. The low water has the fish very concentrated, and although it is not a good thing in the long run, you could have an epic experience here when it cools down.
With cooler weather on the way, the browns at Dobe will come out to play! Private water, there is a rod fee and we gots the key. Sight fishing from a drift boat for wild browns. Contact us for booking info, check out the “waters we fish” link at the top of the page to get a look at this special place.
Thank you for reading my report, be the fly… Tom Loe, Sierra Drifters Guide Service