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Winter Fish'N Conditions 2012

Capt. Tom Loe
February 21, 2012
Eastern Sierras - Freshwater Fishing Report

Howdy friends and Sierra Drifters. Best fishes to all for the late winter Fish'N Conditions from the Eastern High Sierra. I have plenty to report for this update beginning with the continued mild and dry winter weather pattern that appears to have anchored itself over central & northern California. There have been a few insignificant disturbances that have dashed through the region, but not the sustained or substantial storms that will alter the weak snowpack thus far. It has been great for winter fly fishing in the region but the "piper" will be paid this summer and fall with low water in many rivers and creeks. The good news is the reservoirs in this area remain very full from last season's torrential precipitation and we should have a very good spring and summer in these areas although you will see the levels decrease this year instead of rise as they did last season. Both Crowley and Bridgeport have been "ice free" since mid-January; this is far from the norm. Look for flows to increase substantially by early March on the Lower Owens and East Walker Rivers. The Upper Owens and Hot Creek will come up as it gets warmer, however you will not experience the huge flows we saw last season unless a major dump occurs in March at lower elevations.

Upper Owens
This has been an exceptional year on the Upper Owens with regards to the mild weather and incredible fishing overall for migratory rainbows and browns moving up from Crowley Lake. Access has become good to the UO, however many of the two track roads leading down to the river are frozen in the morning but mud pits when it thaws. You really need to closely evaluate where you drive or expect a hefty towing bill.
Flows remain higher than normal and the water can be off color at times, especially when it gets above freezing in the mornings. The fall run rainbows and browns are beginning to thin out substantially and I have seen numerous hens that have dropped their eggs and are spawned out. The next wave of spring bows (Kamloops and Eagle Lake strain) are beginning to arrive with the much smaller population of Cutts not far off if this weather pattern holds. The numbers of smaller fish have also decreased substantially and are returning back to Crowley. This migration shift is about a month earlier than normal due to the mild winter. Good midge activity on the high pressure days, with some baetis popping on the warmer days after 1:30 pm. Nymphing with an Under-cator has been the best means of getting into the bigs and a variety of patterns will get you grabs. I have always believed it is the "archer", not so much the arrow- in this type of fly fishing. Remember the three "P's"- Positioning, presenting, and playing. This rule will get you a shot at seeing one of these gorgeous fish.
We have been getting fish on everything from midges to mayflies with a side of "ham & eggs" (Roe and a San Juan Worm) patterns. These spawning fish are not looking to feed folks; it is a programed behavioral response that gets them to take a fly. Because they are cold blooded, their metabolisms will rise or fall with the water temperature. They are very stoic at times and will not move far to take a fly. Redundant drifts in front of their snouts are what will get you opportunities.

Lower Owens
Get it while you can folks. Crowley is full pool and you can expect the discharges to go up significantly in early March. Flows are perfect at 125cfs. below PV Rez currently. I will post changes on my Facebook page (see link at top) when needed. The real-time online gages for the LADWP are not working in several areas. I do not know why or when they will be accurate again. Wading is very good in the wild trout section and the Blue Winged Olive (BWO) hatch is the highlight of the day, if not the entire season currently. The baetis begin popping after noon and continue for a couple hours most days. The wild fish are focused on this emergence and one may find slower fishing before and after this hatch. Use mayfly nymphs as your imitations if you do not see the high winged adults floating in the suds.
Drift boat fishing has been on and off despite ideal conditions. My own theory is that many fish migrated upstream during the extended period of flood last season to escape the silt and debris in the lower sections and have not returned. We have had some good trips using streamers like my Spruce-a-Bu and Punk Perch and sinking tip lines. We are also targeting the afternoon mayfly hatch at times and getting into some fun surface action.

East Walker River
This will be an interesting season on the EW. Bridgeport is super full & Jeffery at the lakes "finest kind" of marina is keeping a life jacket handy if it gets any higher! The flows as of this report are at a trickle (19cfs) this is very low, even for winter releases. I prefer not to fish it at this level. The irrigation people are holding water back until the last minute due to the poor snowpack. You can expect flows to go up soon and condition's to improve after the fish adjust to the new levels. Typically early March is when water demand begins to increase.
Flows have been at 25cfs most of the winter and during the warmer days the BWO hatch was very strong with active fish. The warmer winter has kept the fish feeding and overall reports here have been pretty good. Nymphing the deeper pools near the dam section or Miracle Mile have been productive. Midges and mayfly imitations with or without an Under-cator, and BWO adults after lunch.

Hot Creek
It has been fun fishing the BWO emergence after 1pm. Flows are still fine and nice drifts in the slots will produce decent numbers. Access is good with very little ice and snow along the banks. The trails leading down are clear. If you had to choose one month to fish HC I would take March first, with September being a close second. The fish here are bonkers for baetis and if you like to fish adults on top this is prime time. Nymphing the "holes" with small midge or mayfly patterns is also working during off hatch periods. Try a scud pattern #18 for a shot at one of the bigs here.

Pleasant Valley Reservoir
It has been disappointing the last two weeks here in the transition area due to very high lake levels that have this sweet section flooded into the trees. The gage for the level is not correct here, it is currently 4287' plus most days. The small river section below the powerhouse has been great using dry dropper bead head or emerger patterns & BWO or para midge adults, but it is not large enough to spend an entire day on, especially if there are other anglers on this section. Tubing has been fair near the inlet and around the launch ramp, but it got pounded over President's Day weekend so a truck load or two of DFG fish will need to get dumped to get numbers back up again. Full sinking lines and streamers fished along the drop-offs on the west side are best. Still water nymphing here will also produce-stay down 10-13 feet and rig like you would for Crowley using midge and mayfly imitations.

The Gorge:

The late winter and early spring periods here are prime time. The flows will remain constant here even when they increase in other areas. This section is open year around and not subject to runoff or seasonal fluctuations. Moderate hiking and rock hopping are mandatory, wild browns kinda on the small side- but as pretty as you will see anywhere. The BWO hatch is the "thang" right now and these fish are eager to take dries. You need to approach from a downstream position casting upstream in order not to spook these wild browns. Keep your patterns in the #14-18 range; a 3-4wt rod is perfect.

Eagle Lake:

We remain hopeful that Eagle will get more rain and snow this season; however at this time I am holding off bookings until the end of March. I will put out an email asap if we decide to go this spring. There have been some positive changes to keep as much water in Eagle as possible-a long standing battle with an irrigation pipe has been resolved with the valve to this drain closed recently. I have been told that the lake is coming up despite the poor winter and that the fishery is in good shape by the resident DFG biologist. Keep your fingers crossed!

Be the fly friends, Tom Loe Sierra Drifters Guide Service

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