California Fly Fishing 4 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Lower Owens River in California

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

July 10, 2020

Lower Owens River in California

The Lower Owens River in California boasts a large population of brown and rainbow trout that respond well to dry flies. But fishing the Lower Owens River is not exactly a piece of cake.

Accessing the water will require a bit of a hike, and the flows can vary greatly depending on the water needs of Los Angeles. You’ll want to be careful to research the current conditions before making your visit if you are planning on wading. 

Check out our guide so you can tackle this fishery safely and successfully.

About Lower Owens River

Fly Fishing in the Lower Owens River

The Owens River is a 183 mile long river in Eastern California. The river rises in Mono County, and drains at Owens Valley, into the predominantly dry Owens Lake past Lone Pine. The Crowley Lake Dam separates the Upper Owens River from Lower Owens River.

In the early 20th century, the Owens River was a key part of the California Water Wars. The dispute between the city of Los Angeles and the residents of Owens Valley was over the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The valley residents ultimately lost the battle and since 1913, the River has been diverted to Los Angeles. This led to the ruin of the local Owens Valley economy, and the drying up of Owens Lake.

A long time goal of the California environmentalist community has been to restore Owens Lake to its former glory, and small strides have been made in this direction. In 2006, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began releasing water in the lower Owens River, which has since become an excellent fishery in its own right.

The Lower Owens River consists of pocket water and riffles, with a few small pools. The River gradually widens the further you get downstream, and the lowest section is heavily stocked with rainbow trout. There are also plenty of wild brown trout and a rich aquatic insect population. The trout typically measure between 10 to 15 inches, but there are some lunkers too.

Before making your visit, you should ensure that the River flows are below 350 cfs for safe wading. 

Lower Owens River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of fishing access spots on the lower Owens River in California

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish Lower Owens River

The Lower Owens River is located near Bishop, California, and parallels Highway 395. There are several access points located off the highway. There are many parking areas located in the upper section.

The lower tailwater section below the Pleasant Valley Reservoir has its own “Wild Trout” section that provides year round fishing. This section is popular with anglers, and is easy to access and wade.

Below this section, access gets much trickier, and this area is best tackled from a drift boat. Some areas of the River have gear restrictions during different times of the year, so be sure to thoroughly research the special regulations before visiting.

Best Time to Fish Lower Owens River

You can fish most of the Lower Owens River year round. The best time to visit is probably in the winter, when the flows are most stable. You can also find success in the spring and fall. Fishing can be tough in the summer, as the flows are often too high depending on the water needs of L.A.

The most important hatch on the Owens River is the Blue Winged Olive, which hatches from September through April. Pale Morning Duns arrive in mid-April and hatch through July. You’ll also see a variety of caddis from mid-March through August. Golden Stones and Little Yellow Stone come off May through August. Tricos grace the water July through September. Midges are always on the menu.

Try using terrestrial imitations in the warmer summer months, like grasshoppers and beetles. You can also have luck using imitations of sculpin, minnows, and baitfish throughout the year. Streamers are essential at this fishery.

Fly Box – What You’ll Need

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for Lower Owens River:

  • Parachute Adams (#16-18)
  • Blue-winged Olive (#16-18)
  • Pale Morning Dun (#16-20)
  • Elk Hair Caddis (#14-16)
  • Pheasant Tail Nymph (#14-16)
  • Hare’s Ear Nymph (#12-14)
  • Woolly Bugger (#4-6)

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on Lower Owens River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Lower Owens River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide an Lower Owens River fly fishing report are listed below:

Fishing Regulations

The state of California requires that all people who are 16 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available. You can purchase a one-year, 10-day, two-day, or one-day license. Some areas also require a permit. You can purchase the license and learn about the most current regulations through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Trip Planning Tips

The closest municipal airport to Mammoth Lakes, California is Mammoth Yosemite Airport. You can also travel to Reno Tahoe International Airport, which is about 166 miles from Mammoth Lakes. Luckily, you are guaranteed a scenic car journey no matter which airport you choose.

Twin Lakes Campground is a good choice if you are looking for campgrounds in the area. The site offers beautiful scenery, as well as close proximity to the town amenities. Lake Mary Campground is another nearby option, and provides an excellent base camp for outdoor enthusiasts under beautiful towering pines. 

The trout in the Lower Owens River aren’t the easiest fish to catch, but you can have success at this fishery by using the right imitations and technique.

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing California

Feature image by Eekster