100 Best: Owens River
Location: East central California
Type of stream: Spring Creek, tailwater
Angling methods: Fly, spinning
Species: Browns, Rainbows and Carp
Season: Late April through mid-November
Supporting Services: Mammoth Lakes, Bishop
Short take: More trout per mile than anywhere else in California
Handicapped Access: Yes
Closest Chapter: Sac Sierra (Sacramento)
Just east of the tiny village of Crestview on US 395, the Three Flags Highway, big springs charge Deadman Creek creating the Owens River. For 15 miles downstream from the springs to Crowley Reservoir, the Owens is California’s quintessential spring creek and perhaps its richest trout fishery. An estimated 7,000 to 11,000 browns and rainbows lurk beneath undercut banks and under aquatic grasses. Below the dam, the river becomes a freestone tailwater that runs for roughly 20 miles through a tight canyon before being impounded by Pleasant Valley Dam. Downstream from the second lake for about 25 miles, the Owens once again resembles a spring creek.
The famed upper Owens spring creek reach meanders back and forth for nearly 14 miles to Crowley Lake. Fishing is difficult. Vibrations from walking its grassy banks spook trout. Gusts from incessant wind grab your casts. Myriad micro currents like the wrinkles in old glass impart drag that you can’t begin to see to your fly. About half of this section is open to public fishing. Five miles above the lake, Hot Creek, another excellent spring creek, comes in from the west.
The Crowley tailwater runs between walls of a canyon rising on average 500 feet above the stream. Here the Owens, much of its water diverted into the Los Angeles Aqueduct, is a small stream of riffles and pocket water. Those willing to slide in loose rock down steep paths to the river will find good fishing. Trout, browns mainly, are plentiful but small.
Regaining a spring creek appearance below Pleasant Valley Dam, the lower Owens offers exceptional fishing for good sized browns. From the dam for about 3.5 miles, the river is open to fishing year ‘round. During high releases, the river can become unwadeable. Fish nymphs and streamers then. When flows permit, fish dries, caddis primarily, but also mayfly patterns.