Upper Owens River

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The Upper Owens River upstream from the bridge at Benton Crossing is a true spring creek that emanates from groundwater sources near Big Springs. Hot Creek merges into its flow about 2/3’s into its journey into Crowley Lake. It flows along private property for much of its upper sections until it finally becomes accessible to the public at the upper end of Long Valley, named “Long Years”. Its path meanders along the Glass Mountains which lie to the east.  The Upper Owens is a slow moving river flowing through a huge pasture with many oxbows, pools, and deep straights along the way. 

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The best access to this area is by taking Hwy. 395 near  Mammoth Lakes California, then turning east towards Benton Crossing/ Owens River (Hwy. 120 east). There is a little green church on the east side of the road at this junction.   You will continue east until you cross a bridge at the Owens River, it’s about 6 miles.  There is a seasonal campground here. Take the first dirt road turn-off north or left past the bridge.  You may park here, or continue along this road which has several unlocked gates.  This improved dirt road parallels the river for several miles and will become inaccessible for even 4X4 vehicles due to mud, snow.  There are many two track dirt roads leading to the river off this improved dirt road and a barbed wire fence spans both sides of the river, with numerous walk in entry points.   At times Sierra Drifters Guides use snowmobiles to access the area in the winter.

Upper Owens Snow Bow caught in winter while fly fishing with Sierra Drifters Guide Service

The area upstream from the bridge is under special regulations, only BARBLESS artificial flies and lures may be used. This section is currently open year around . There are special seasonal closures in the section below the Benton Bridge during the regular season, and this area is not open to year around fishing currently so check the regs carefully here before you fish!  Rainbow trout get planted by the Cal DFG during the summer downstream from the bridge.

You will find deep undercut banks, perfect for pulling a streamer along side and large deep pools that need careful approach. You must properly weight nymphs to get the fly down to the big resident and migrant spawning trout that frequent this area.The water here is very clean most of the season except for a brief run-off period. Careful and methodical approaches are needed if you wish to fool these fish. The spring spawn runs from March until early June; and the fall run which can start in late September and run through February, are the best times to fish this area. There are resident wild fish here year round and good dry fly action can be found during the warmer months.  Caddis flies and hoppers are on the trout’s diet in the summer.

The real treasure here are the “Crowley Steelhead” which  migrate upstream from Crowley Lake in the fall.  These magnificent rainbows are the best the Sierra has to offer and most run 18-26 inches with wide thick bodies and unbelievable paint jobs.  Trophy browns also make the trek up the Owens in the fall and can go up to 30 inches!

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A variety of patterns work well here. Hare’s ear, bird’s nest, pheasant tails and caddis imitations work well under a strike indicator.  Roe patterns and San Juan worms fished during spawning periods will also produce . One of my favorite methods of fishing this area is pulling a streamer under the cut banks. Keep your rod tip under water along the deep side of the river and hang on! 2X and 3X tippet will get bit when tugging the streamers.

This is a beautiful river nestled in a panoramic valley that can be highly productive for huge trophy trout. It is a must do if you are fly fishing in the Eastern Sierra.

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