Fishing the Upper Owens River

Oct 15, 2020

The longest river in the Eastern Sierra is also the most famous: the Owens. While folks have been fighting over the rights to the water for generations, people have been fishing here even longer. The Upper stretch of the Owens River is a popular spot to fish for a tackle box full of reasons.

The first thing the Upper Owens has going for it is its easy access from Mammoth Lakes. It takes less than half an hour to make it to the river and the ride is often rewarded with big trout. As the largest tributary of Crowley Lake, the Upper Owens reaps all the rewards of being connected to one of the best stillwater fisheries in the West.

The “Upper O,” as many anglers call it, is a sweet spot to cast for hefty rainbows in the spring and beastly browns in the fall as the species make their spawning runs. Some of the trout get so large during the spawn that they have earned the nickname “Sierra steelhead.”

The spring fed Upper Owens is also a rather unique river for the region. It’s not so much a high alpine creek as it is a stream that oxbows its way through a long meadow. One of the biggest rewards of fishing the heart of the river as it makes its way through the Long Valley Caldera is the spectacular view of the Sierra Nevada on one side and the Glass Mountains on the other. During the spring and fall the Upper O is also a resting spot for all kinds of migrating birds.

The river is also rare in that it’s one of only a few fisheries in Mono County that stays open year-round for fishing. Winter catch-and-release fly fishing is especially popular on the Upper O.

The Upper Owens is also popular because it’s an easy place to cast. It’s not very wide and the banks are bare of much shrubbery. Since there is no real concern about losing lures in trees or bushes, the river is a great place to bring kids or folks new to fly fishing. The wading can be tough, though, as the current is strong and it does get deep in places. You do have to be a little sneaky when fishing the Upper Owens. Without much cover above the banks the fish will often see you before you even see them swimming away.

Another bonus for those fishing the Upper O is that there are several hot springs not too far from the river—popular après fishing and skiing spots for many fans of Mammoth Lakes.

Fishing 101

The Upper Owens River is one of the most user friendly fisheries in the Eastern Sierra. It’s easy to reach as a dirt road follows most of its route from Big Springs to Crowley Lake. While it can get crowded at easy access spots, a bit of walking will often be rewarded. While any method used for trout can be effective on the Upper Owens, the most popular combination has long been “bacon and eggs,” worm and fish egg imitations.

General Season rules and regulations apply from the last Saturday in April through November 15 throughout most of the river. Catch-and-release regulations apply during the rest of the year. There are special regulations on some stretches of the river. Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations should be consulted for more details.