Lower Owens River Wild Trout Section
Two major access points exist for the Lower Owens River Wild Trout Section. To access the upper portion of the Wild Trout Section drive north on Hwy 395 and turn off Pleasant Valley Road northwest of Bishop. To access the lower section take Hwy 6 and Five Bridges Road just north of Bishop. Chalk Bluffs Road parallels the river betwen the upper and lower access points, providing ready access to the river for all but about 2 miles of stream.
Lower Owens River
The lower Owens River from Pleasant Valley Dam to Five Bridges Road was designated a Wild Trout Stream in 1972. The headwaters of the Owens starts about 15 miles east of Yosemite National Park and flows southward paralleling the scarp of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From its origin at Big Springs, the riverflows through Long Valley and drops into Owens Gorge. From the mouth of the Gorge the river travels a meandering course southward through the Owens Valley, terminating in a sink called Owens Lake.
The natural course and flow of the Owens has changed to meet the water and power needs of the City of Los Angeles. The biggest changes have been the importation of water by tunnel from Mono Basin into the upper river, the closure of Lake Crowley in the early 1940's, the diversion of water from the gorge into a series of powerhouses, the impoundment of Pleasant Valley in 1954, and the transfer of water from the river into the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
The Wild Trout Section of the Lower Owens flows about 16 miles from Pleasant Valley Dam downstream to Five Bridges Road which is 2.5 miles north of Bishop. As the river flows from the mouth of the gorge downstream from Pleasant Valley Dam, it turns eastward and meanders through a broad floodplain. The average river gradient in this section is about 11 to 15 feet per mile.
The Lower Owens lives in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the nearby town of Bishop averages just under six inches of rain a year. As a result, the Wild Trout Section is a desert river with an open canopy which allows massive aquatic vegetation to grow. The Lower Owens River is largely a pool with deep runs, and riffle stream. The first 7 miles of the Wild Trout Section contain the majority of the riffles, but productive riffles exist throughout this section. Aquatic insects, especially caddis flies, thrive in the riffle areas. Deep pools, typically found on the outside river bends, provide ideal cover for brown trout.
Fish & Flows
The Lower Owens below Pleasant Valley Dam is mainly a wild brown trout fishery. Rainbow trout reproduce in limited numbers, if at all, and hold primarily in the lower portion of the wild trout section. Estimated brown trout densities in the first 4 miles below the Pleasant Valley Campground have ranged from 679 to 7,422 fish per mile. The low end of the range was sampled after several years of high flows during the fall/winter which impacted the browns ability to migrate and spawn. While on the flip-side, the high end of the range came about during a prolonged period of lower flows.
The City of Los Angeles importation of water from the Owens Valley has brought significant changes to the flow patterns of the Lower Owens. The average annual flow at Pleasant Valley starting in the 1970's ran about 450 cfs. Regulation of the Owens River knocked back peak runoff events so that maximum flows from the dam do not exceed 700 cfs. In exchange, base flows have been reduced and big swings between high and low flow levels has increased in the Wild Trout section. The winter produces the biggest flows along this stretch. Look for releases below 200 cfs range if you are looking to easily wade or cross this section of river.
In the section from the Pleasant Valley Campground to the redwood sport fishing regulation sign on Chalk Bluff Road only barbless flies or lures may be used with a zero kill limit. This section is open all year. Below the redwood sign, general trout regulations are in effect and the designated Wild Trout area continues downstream about six miles to the Five Bridges road crossing.