BISHOP— Despite heavy rains and even record snowpack at higher elevations the Lower Owens ran gin-clear just below the Pleasant Valley Reservoir. The stretch of water was devoid of anglers due to crisp, cold 34-degree temperatures, but with broken clouds and still air, the day looked to be perfect fly fishing conditions.
The drive up to Bishop had flown by in six-hours flat, and other than constant distractions of changing scenery, the trip was uneventful. Leaving the less-than-attractive high desert of Palmdale, passing the airplane graveyard at Mojave, and finally catching sight of the huge Cinder Cones alongside highway 395 as it climbs toward the mountains, cares of the work-a-day world simply slipped away along the road.
Roadside signs pointed out the Hollywood Museum at Lone Pine, celebrating the rich film history of the area. Many of the hills along the way have been the backdrop for westerns shot on location nearby. Further up the road between the old towns of Lone Pine and Independence, is the travesty that was Manzanar, where 10,000 Japanese citizens were held during WW2. Now a national historical site the grounds and buildings are being restored in hopes of bringing enlightenment to future generations and perhaps a warning about the miss-use of government powers.
Those distractions had to wait for another day, perhaps when we return to Bishop in April for the Outdoor Writers Association of California spring conference.
Some great little motels await in Bishop and the folks at the Chamber of Commerce had recommended the newly remodeled Holiday Inn Express. The fresh décor and friendly staff really made getting in from the road a pleasure.
Finding the motel to be right down the street from the best damn BBQ, Holy Smoke Texas BBQ, I made a beeline for the dry-rubbed ribs and chicken.
With sunrise came the realization that the day was going to be bright and lovely. The fortunate chance that news having report exaggerated the incoming weather might have played into anglers not showing up along the river. Whatever the reason, the short drive north to the foot of the reservoir was easy and full of anticipation.
Local guide, Gary Gunsolley, had spent some time with me, giving tips on the Czech Nymph-no-indicator technique used most commonly along the Lower Owens. Simply a matter of wadering-up and getting into the shallow water of the river, then high-sticking the fly-rod, while searching the line for a tremble or change of direction. Nothing to it.
Two-hours after stepping into the knee-deep, frigid water I at last saw the tell-tale tremble and struck for the first fish of the day. This brown decided it would show me what L.O. trout are about and quickly I found the need to push up river, regaining some of the rapidly disappearing backer being ripped from my reel.
As I glanced around I was amazed to not see a single angler anywhere up or down the river. There’d be no help with this one. Gingerly stepping along the river bottom as fast as was prudent in such a chill, with the rod held high and constantly grinding the old Ross reel on my Sage, the line came in and at last, so did the 18-inch-plus fish.
Getting photos and releasing fish on your own is an art and every artist knows the difficulties of achieving desired results. The fish flipped out of the net and recovered very nicely before even one picture could be taken.
But lessons learned early in the day paid dividends as the day drew on. A few more fish at a few more spots though the tranquil afternoon were more than enough for any report and soon it was time to call it a day.
The ease of getting to this stretch of water and the lack of competition for spots and likely layups, makes winter fishing the Lower Owens a go-to option for this fly-guy’s next trip. Surely, I won’t wait till April before the road and the river call upon me to make the short drive up to Bishop and these beautiful waters once again.