WATERS OPEN YEAR-ROUND
Fishing season doesn’t have to end in November
Increasing numbers of anglers are realizing there’s more to the Eastern Sierra fishing scene than a visit to the high country between the last Saturday in April and the Nov. 15 closing of the general trout season. Both Inyo and Mono counties host year-round open waters offering challenges for any angler’s pursuit: bait, lure or fly. On the plus side, the crowds are down, providing a refreshing break from the freeway trout fishing environment.
Inyo County tops the list of premier California fishing destinations among avid anglers. The Eastern Sierra’s hidden alpine lakes and streams, Owens River, Owens Valley tributaries, and annual trout derbies offer year-round reel and fly fishing. The California Department of Fish and Game stocks Trophy Trout at various Inyo County locations. Anglers can also catch California golden trout, rainbows, bass, catfish, and crappie. Regular trout season in Inyo County runs from the last Saturday in April through October. Early-season fishing in Southern Inyo County opens the first weekend in March. A California fishing license is required to fish the Eastern Sierra.
Four waters are open year-round in Mono County: Hot Creek, Upper Owens River, East Walker River and, effective March 1, West Walker River. On the menu are wild brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout, with many catches definitely in the heavyweight class, 5 lbs. and better.
Hot Creek and the Upper Owens River are located near Mammoth Lakes. The East Walker River is located near Bridgeport with the West Walker River in Northern Mono County near the town of Walker.
These waters are governed by special regulations during the off season catch and release, barbless hooks, lure or fly only, no bait. Weather conditions can vary from bright, sunny days to blizzard conditions. Always call ahead for an update.
Bishop area wintertime and spring anglers focus on Pleasant Valley Reservoir on the downstream Owens River. On the catching menu is a combination of stocked California Department of Fish and Wildlife rainbows along with wild brown trout.
For the fly angler, directly below Pleasant Valley Reservoir there are more than three miles of Owens River designated wild trout water. Governed by special regulations catch and release barbless hooks and no bait this section of water has become recognized as one of the premier fly fishing locations in the state. The majority of hook-ups are brown trout running to Fish Eastern Sierra waters year round Season doesn’t have to end in November around the 15-inch class.
Below the wild trout area, general regulations apply on the Owens River. Stocked rainbow trout make up the majority of catches, but the river also holds a healthy population of wild brown trout.
The highlight of the year-round season is Bishop’s annual Blake Jones Trout Derby in the spring. On the calendar early in March, both the Owens River and Pleasant Valley Reservoir are primed with heavyweight CDFW broodstock and privately funded Alpers rainbows with catches to the 10-lb. mark making a yearly showing.
Pleasant Valley Reservoir is a steady winter and spring producer, with rainbow and brown trout filling the stringers. Fly fishers favor the float tube scene, and bait anglers find more than a mile of easy shoreline access. Boating is not allowed on the water.
If a little solitude is on the agenda, the Owens River Gorge, beginning directly above the reservoir, is the answer. The small stream is populated with a thriving, small brown trout population (8 to 12 inches). It’s a rare occasion if you encounter another angler on this water.
Access from the LADWP aqueduct road is easy going downhill into the gorge, but definitely on the strenuous uphill side coming out.
For a new fishing experience, check out the guided float trips on the Owens River near Bishop. Local guide services are available for the trout waters in both counties. Be prepared for changing weather conditions. If the southern Owens Valley is the target, pick up a topographical map covering the area.
BIG PINE SOUTH TO LONE PINE
The Owens Valley year-round waters focus on the Owens River, Tinnemaha Reservoir and a handful of small lakes. Owens River waters host a mixed population of trout and bass.
Trout are the dominant fish from Big Pine south to around Tinnemaha Reservoir. Favored locations, stocked by CDFW, are the area of the bridge crossing on State Route 168 and directly below Tinnemaha Reservoir. However, respectable-size largemouth bass catches are not unusual on this stretch of river.
Tinnemaha Reservoir is primarily a bass and catfish water. Boating and float tubing is not allowed. Spring months produce a good number of largemouth bass 5-lb. class and better for anglers fishing off the face of the dam.
Below the reservoir, largemouth and smallmouth bass are the target for anglers working the river and small lakes. Several years back saw the river re-watered along its length to Owens Lake south of Lone Pine, providing right around 62 miles of additional bass fishing possibilities.
Small lakes throughout the southern Owens Valley east of U.S. Highway 395 offer bass and respectable-size bluegill for the angler willing to do a little exploring. With the exception of the Owens River drainage, trout may not be taken from these waters until the opening of the general season, the last Saturday in April. The majority of these waters are prime candidates for float tubing, with shore access difficult because of dense tule growth.
Diaz Lake, located a few miles south of Lone Pine, is a popular late fall, early winter and spring roadside fishing hole for mainly stocked rainbows on the menu. It’s not unusual for a heavyweight largemouth bass to make a showing.
March 1 marks the opener of the Southern Sierra trout season. In addition to the open year-round waters, the small streams on the west side of U.S. Highway 395, flowing east from the Sierra from Independence Creek south, are on the angling agenda with stocked CDFW rainbows the target.
The same day, the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce hosts its annual Southern Inyo Early Opener Trout Derby headquartered at Diaz Lake. Local waters are primed with stocked rainbows, with the lake water receiving a bonus plant of heavyweight Alpers rainbows.
Always check the CDFW regulation book before fishing year-round open waters. Many locations are governed by special regulations that differ from regulations applicable during general season, running from the last Saturday in April to Nov. 15.
Story by Martin Strelneck
Inyo County anglers are not shy about sharing their favorite fishing spots.
These locations can provide fun for the whole family since they also offer a variety of other activities besides fishing.
- Diaz Lake – Created when an 1872 earthquake opened a depression in the earth 3 miles west of Lone Pine. The location of the Early Opener Trout Derby every March. Birding, camping, fishing, hiking.
- Billy Lake, Independence – Created in 1872 similar to Diaz, now a wetland home to numerous birds and wildlife. Popular for warm-water fishing. Birding, wildlife viewing, fishing, hiking, hunting, photography.
- Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery, Independence – A French tudor structure built in 1916 resulted from a fish and game commissioner’s order for a building “to match the mountains… last forever… and be a showpiece for all time.” Now closed due to damage from a mudslide, visitors can enjoy the scenic grounds and in the summer months tour the building. Birding, wildlife viewing, camping, hiking, motor touring, photography and mountain biking.1 Golden Trout Circle, Independence, CA 93526
- Tinemaha Reservoir, Big Pine – One of Inyo County’s best locations to view waterfowl and shorebirds… ducks, geese, American white pelicans and bald eagles (seasonally). Tule elk graze west of the reservoir. Thousands of trout are planted here each year, plus largemouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish.
- Bishop Creek Recreation Area, Bishop – Sloping canyons, moraines, cirques and sawtooth ridges. Bishop Creek, South Lake, Intake Two, Lake Sabrina and North Lake are prime fishing spots as soon as the snow melts (closed to fishing in winter). Birding, wildlife viewing, fishing, fall colors, bouldering/rock climbing, hiking, motor touring, photography, spring flowers, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
- Pleasant Valley Reservoir, Bishop – Still water fishing from shore and float tubes, year round. Each March, the Blake Jones Trout Derby provides anglers with a chance to get on the water just before the opening of fishing season. Birding, wildlife viewing, fishing, hiking, hunting, star gazing.
- Owens River Gorge, Bishop – Feisty trout are caught in the bottom of the gorge, year round. Climbing, hiking, fishing.