Location and Overview
California’s Owens River loosely parallels the path of U.S. Highway 395 as it runs along the eastern side of the scenic Sierra Nevada mountains (check out the map). Along with the often breathtaking scenery, this area also boasts some excellent trout fishing during most of the year. The nearby towns of Mammoth Lakes, Bishop and Big Pine offer lodging and other amenities to anglers who want to try their luck in the area.
Fishermen rate the Owens River:
Fishin’ The Owens River
The Owens River is home to both rainbow and brown trout, and a number of different baits and techniques can be productive depending on which stretch of the river you choose to fish. Bear in mind that various pieces of the Owens are subject to special fishing regulations (summarized below), so make sure you do your homework prior to fishing here.
From Crowley Lake downstream to Pleasant Valley Reservoir, German browns in the 8 to 12 inch range abound, and are best taken on small spinners or natural bait. Worms, crickets, and salmon eggs all do well. Fly fishermen should consider using #16-#18 midges (both dries and emergers work) or soft hackles here.
In Pleasant Valley Reservoir itself, many fishermen like to throw medium-size lures along the face of the dam at the lower end. Try using Rooster Tails, Mepps Aglias, Panther Martins, red and gold Krocodiles, Super Dupers, and gold or silver Kastmasters. Natural baits work well here, too, as do fly and casting bubble combinations. No boats are allowed within the reservoir, but float tubes are permitted. Pleasant Valley Reservoir is also home to the annual Blake Jones Trout Derby, held every year in March.
Downstream from Pleasant Valley Dam to the Five Bridges area adjacent to the town of Bishop, expect to see larger browns and rainbows. A variety of artificial lures will work here, including spinners, spoons, and flies such as tiger midges, Copper Johns, gold-ribbed hare’s ear patterns, caddis flies, and soft hackles.
In those parts of the lower Owens that are not restricted to artificial lures, you can use standbys such as salmon eggs and nightcrawlers to take home a limit of tasty trout. For more information on other baits and techniques that might be working, stop by Culver’s Sporting Goods in Bishop or Rick’s Sporting Goods in Mammoth Lakes and get the lowdown from their knowledgable staff.
Click here for the latest fish planting information from the Department of Fish and Game.
Owens River Weather
The weather along the Owens River is milder than farther up in the Sierras, allowing for comfortable fishing all year round. At an average elevation of about 4000 feet, it can still get pretty cold in wintertime, with low temperatures falling to freezing some mornings, but daytime winter and spring highs are usually comfortably mild. Summertime high temperatures can get up in the 90 to 100 degree range during July and August. Although the weather here is more predictable than higher up in the mountains, you should still check the weather forecast before heading out and plan accordingly.
Click here to see current weather conditions and forecasts for the town of Bishop.
Lodging and Camping
Lodging is available at several motels in the towns of Bishop, Mammoth Lakes and Big Pine, and numerous campgrounds in the area make it easy to find a place to stay. Campgrounds administered by the U.S. Forest Service and other government agencies include Tuff Campground, French Camp, Holiday, Pleasant Valley, Baker Creek Campground, and Glacier View (formerly known as Big Pine Triangle). Privately run campgrounds and RV parks include Highlands RV Park, Brown’s Millpond Campground, the J-Diamond Mobile Home Park, the Shady Rest Trailer Park, and Brown’s Town (click here for more info on all of these).
While the map shows only those campgrounds located in close proximity to the river, keep in mind that there are numerous others in the area. The U.S. Forest Service website has an all-inclusive list of area campgrounds.
Depending on which stretch of the Owens you’re fishing, assorted special regulations may apply. These can be found on the DFG website (follow the link below), and are summarized as follows:
– Except as noted below, the Owens River is open to fishing year round. The bag limit is five fish in possession, although from the first Saturday in March through October 31 five fish may be taken per day with a total of 10 in possession.
– Along that stretch of the Owens River from the Benton Bridge Road crossing upstream to where U.S. 395 crosses the river, fishing is allowed from the last Saturday in April through November 15. Maximum size limit is 16 inches total length, with a bag limit of 2 fish in possession. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used.
– From the Benton Bridge Road crossing downstream to the Owens River fishing monument (located about 1/4 mile above the maximum lake level for Crowley Lake), fishing is allowed from the Saturday preceding Memorial Day through September 30. Five fish may be taken per day, with a maximum of 10 fish in possession.
– From the fishing monument downstream to Crowley Lake, including the lake itself, fishing is allowed from the last Saturday in April through November 15. Five fish may be taken per day for a total of 10 fish in possession up through July 31. From August 1 through November 15, a minimum size limit of 18 inches total length applies, with a bag limit of 2 fish in possession. During this time period only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used.
– From Pleasant Valley Dam downstream to the footbridge at the lower end of Pleasant Valley Campground, fishing is allowed year round. From January 1 through September 30, the bag limit is two fish in possession. From October 1 through December 31, only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used, and no fish may be kept.
-From the footbridge at Pleasant Valley Campground to the redwood fishing regulations sign located 3.3 miles downstream, fishing is permitted all year. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks may be used, and no fish may be kept.
The California Department of Fish and Game has the complete, current fishing regulations on their website.