Middle Owens River

eric kool stanford 3:25:14 ss1 Middle Owens River:

Trout thrive in most of the 40 river miles leading into Tinemaha Reservoir near Big Pine from its source at Pleasant Valley Dam.  The heavily brushed lined banks provide habitat and cover for many species of animals and birds as well as rainbow and brown trout.  The Cal DFG plants rainbows of various sizes year around in this section and bait fishing/barbed hooks with varied catch limits depending on time of year are allowed.  The Lower Owens snakes its path along the floor of the Owens Valley and becomes larger with every creek, spring, and well that flows into it on its journey to Southern California.  Flows may reach near 1000 cfs in the lower sections during heavy snow years and the river is generally not easy to access or wade due to the higher flows and thick brush.

Drift boats and pontoon boats are the key to accessing the secluded sections that hold the best numbers of trout. Float tubes are not recommended by this guide for drifting.  There are no formal “put in” or “take outs” (otherwise known as launch ramps) so some knowledge and scouting of the area is suggested before launching.  We pioneered guided drift trips on the Lower Owens and have been drifting  for 30 years. A float trip here is productive for fishing,  and very relaxing with the majestic Sierras as your backdrop.


Streamer fishing can be very productive and we use an unorthodox method dubbed the “dip & strip”.  The fly rod is fished at various depths below the surface in conjunction with a heavy sinking tip fly line to get the imitations down closer to the fish.  This is best done from a drift boat, but one can position himself in some places to be effective while wading or walking the banks.  There can be some consistent dry fly activity during fall,  late winter and spring, so one should have a good selection of midges, mayflies, and caddis adults.  Conventional methods of fly fishing also can be effective and nymphing with a strike indicator and weighted midge, mayfly, stone fly, and caddis patterns work well at times.

Summer in the Owens Valley and on the river can be extremely warm, and when combined with high flows as water demands increase, the Owens may not be a good choice for fly fishers.  We typically guide the river from September through June and may alter this with the rivers levels.  Numbers are historically the best in the fall as flows begin to decrease or stabilize, and then again in the spring as the water warms and insects start hatching before the flows begin to rise.  Large trophy sized trout are caught  in the winter here when flows are at their lowest.  DFG brood fish and private fish brokers add to the increased odds of catching a large trout on the fly here.

Wild Trout Section

This tail water is located below the dam and campground near Pleasant Valley Reservoir and can be accessed easily. There is a rustic fee campground here that is open year round. There are special angling restrictions on this four mile section of the river.  This is predominantly a wild brown trout fishery, however rainbow trout can also be caught as well.  Flow rates fluctuate greatly and are controlled by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.  Ideal releases for wading run from 75-200 cubic feet per second.  Above this the Owens can get more difficult to wade and cross.  Highest flows are near 600cfs. and the river is not safe to wade or cross.  A wide range of aquatic insects feed the wild trout population here with midges and mayflies the dominant species during fall/early spring and caddis flies abundant during the warmer months.  Hoppers are also a food source in the summer and fall.  Indicator nymphing is the most popular method of angling with a fly rod and proper weighting is necessary to get the imitations down along the bottom.

We walk and wade this area while guiding and can enhance your nymphing skills and fly casting with dry flies.  The access is good here and we do not drift this section as it is not necessary during good conditions.

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