Fly Fishing California’s Eastern Sierra.
This past winter my fly fishing adventures took me West, far West to a land of gold and warmth. I was in search of new water and to satisfy my endless desire to explore. I fly fished nearly every day of the winter season, seeking out wild picky trout on tiny dry flies and nymphs. Camera and fly gear in hand, I stepped off a plane to the greetings of good friends, ready to venture to rivers and creeks I had never seen before.
Nothing is hibernating here. Everything is alive and in full swing of life. I left our winter covered Thunder Bay, trading cabin fever to feed my never-ending fishing fever. I was clearly in the right place. A breathtaking landscape awaited, with upheaving snow capped mountains, blue skies and a plethora of wild life.
We fly fished alongside grazing wild mule deer in deep gorges with rivers running ice cold. Despite being the middle of winter, we wore t-shirts and enjoyed the serenade of tree frogs every evening. Osprey watched from towering pine trees as we crawled over moss covered rocks to find hungry wild rainbows in swift, deep runs. Every now and then we came upon a person panning for gold in a stream. I still have to try that my self.
We hiked mountain trails in search of new water, only come to the decision every time; this place is heavenly! This place is California. The California I visited is far from the sandy beaches on post cards, or bright lights and bumper to bumper afternoon traffic. The busy streets and flashy cars quickly fade out of the rearview as you race up I-5 into the vast emptiness of Northern California, or east over golden rolling hills to the jagged granite Sierra Nevada range. To me this is California, still wild and unruly, still able to get out of touch and in touch with wild trout that take dry’s and put a good bend in my rod.
I’ve been visiting / exploring the land of gold since I was a teen. It’s a place to escape winter while my home in the north is frozen.
I want to tell you a little about one location I really love and share some photos in this article.
The Upper Owens River is mostly a drive to location that is accessible by car and then a short walk. Located just 15 minutes from Mammoth Lakes, this river is open year round and has abundant populations of resident and migratory Brown and Rainbow Trout, along with Cutthroat Trout.
My gear recommendations for these locations would be:
Leader: 9 ft leader
Tippet: 4x tippet . I did 4x down to 5x .
Best fly rod: 9ft. 5 wt or 6 wt.
Best fly line: WF trout fly line
Best fly: Blue winged olive parachute dries, midges, or small mayfly nymphs when there is no hatch. Larger lake run rainbows prefer egg patterns and large attractor nymphs.
The set up I used was a 6 wt rod with matching reel size with a 6 wt floating line that is weighted forward with a “trout taper”. This line has a long front taper for smooth delivery at any distance and makes roll casting, mending and long line pick up a breeze.
The Upper Owens is a spring creek that can offer many varieties of techniques for all anglers. The river runs through a scenic valley, set with breath taking views of the Eastern Sierra Mountains while it meanders through the valley floor. Tall grass surrounds the river, providing great hopper fishing opportunities in the later summer months.
Keeping a low profile I could get close to the edge of the water and cast to deeper pools, tail outs, and more “trouty” water. One tip to remember is to know where the sun is casting your shadow. Keep your shadow behind you! I found that by staying low and moving slowly I could get close enough to see them and present a fly.
The range of fish was fantastic; I could not believe the colors! The lake run fish of the upper river are a treat to hook and they fight hard! We even had the pleasure of hooking, landing, and releasing the stunning Lahontan cut throat trout! These wild fish are gems to see.
As an avid (fishing obsessed) fly angler and photographer (also photo obsessed) it was a double bonus! Here I am in mid winter, with beautiful scenery all around, fly fishing for wild trout: rainbows, Lahontan cutthroat, steelhead and browns!
The second location I would like to share is Hot Creek. This place is a phenomenon…. It’s actually an active volcano! There are hot springs all around the creek.
I dipped my fingers in a small pool of bubbling water near the creek …it was like hot bath water. Hence the name “hot creek”. I fell in love with this area. My crew and I struck it rich that day, hooking and landing no less than 25 to 30 trout each! That’s not a fisher ladies lie, either! In this area we used tiny mayfly nymphs and size 22 midge emergers on a tight line drift. Each pool and deep run held amazing numbers of trout, often producing fish after fish on consecutive casts!
Hot creek is in a gorge, so when you are fishing you can look up to see gorgeous rock cuts and birds of prey landing in their sky high homes. Accessing the creek is semi challenging to trek to due to it being in a gorge, but the trails to it are well worn.
Deer came to visit the creek for a drink as I was fishing, although leery they stayed to quench their thirst. I reeled in to get some photos of them, of course.
Time flew by with that adventure. There are some places that are so special they forever have a place in your heart, and both the Owens River and Hot Creek certainly left a lasting impression on this girl.
Dusk was upon us, and we found our selves so satisfied with catching endless trout we where ready to go. Like typical fisherman, we reminisced over pizza and beer laughing about the ones that got away, the many that took flies on the surface, and the monsters that broke us off. There is no doubt I have a deep appreciation for the natural world. As I looked around the surrounding locations I found my self in deep appreciation for the connection to the water, to the fish and to my self. Grateful for the opportunity to seek out new water and challenge my angling skills all the more.