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Owens River fly fishing

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California’s Owens River is really a tale of three rivers, created by the trifecta of unique sections -- the Upper, Middle and Lower Owens.

Which section offer the best Owens River fly fishing opportunity? Depends on who you talk to.

Steven Osterman, owner of Performance Guide Service (760-934-6101) in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., for example, is partial to the upper river with his favorite section heading upstream from Benton Crossing.

Upper Owens River

A true spring creek, the Upper Owens River above Crowley Lake is accessible via Highway 395 just north of Mammoth Lakes.

“The upper Owens River is unique due to the fact that it's broken up in to three sections – each with it's own regulations,” Osterman said. “You need to be sure where you are and what the rules are. There are signs posted at all access points explaining the regulations.

“My favorite section is upstream from the Benton Crossing. Regulations here are barbless artificials only.”

Check with the Department of Fishing and Game for the latest fishing regulations. Because of the many sections and hatches on hand, Osterman says the fly selection on the Owens varies through the season.

“Caddis are present in large numbers most of the season so elk hair caddis or small stimulators can be effective,” he said. “Tricos can also be present in large (numbers), so you want a few trico duns in the box. Yellow sallies are present during mid summer. Standard nymphs like pheasant tails, hares ears and birds nests are a must.”

Equipped with the right flies, now the challenge is fining fish.

Osterman says the key is to keep moving if you’re not catching fish.

“The fish here tend to be scattered and some days you have to hunt,” he said. “In the spring and fall some large spawning fish will move into the river from Crowley Lake. This can be great fun.”

Middle Owens River

The Middle Owens -- sometimes called The Gorge -- runs 20 miles through a canyon between Lake Crowley and Pleasant Valley Reservoir.

The Middle Owens, also known as The Gorge, isn’t as easy to access as the other two sections (expect longer hikes in here), but there is more fishable water once you get to the bottom of The Gorge.

“Like the upper section, the views are nice and you will soon find out that fishing is not the only activity which goes on in the gorge,” said avid fly angler Mike Moreno, who hosts a Central Coast outdoors radio show and frequents the Owens River whenever possible. “… You will share the area with climbers who travel from all over to climb the gorge. If you look close on the way down you will walk past bolt laden cliffs marking existing routes.”

Lower Owens River

This is Moreno’s favorite, as evident by the photo above.

Moreno kicked off the 2010 season with an 8-pound, 27-inch hook-jawed rainbow trout. He caught the beasty ’bow despite flows of about 500 cfcs, using area guide Tom Loe's popular "dip and strip" approach with a Spruceaboo fly (760-935-4250).

“One thing is for sure,” Moreno said. “There are some big fish in the section of river below Pleasant Valley Reservoir.”

The Lower section begins just below Pleasant Valley Lake and runs for about 25 miles to Tinemaha Reservoir.

As for flies, Moreno says the usual Eastern Sierra patterns will work. Tan EHCs were a hit early in the season along with parachute adams. Nymphing below an indicator or the ol’ dry/dropper combo works well here with your basic Sierra nymphs.

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