Your gateway to the best fly fishing that California has to offer                                                                                                             
photo by Greg Vinci

If you look west from the city of Bishop towards the close by east slope of the Sierras you see a huge fan shaped glacial moraine that descends of the alpine canyons down to the valley floor and almost to the city limits.   A thin ribbon of green marks the course of Bishop Creek.  The creek is fed by several lakes and runs consistently year round.  When it reaches the valley it meanders through the sagebrush flats and winds through the backyards of Bishop’s residents to finally dump into the lower Owens River.  Some Residents treat the little Brown trout as pets and feed them a handful of pellets each evening. 

The creek is mostly freestone with a couple of sections of spring creek like flat water.  There are a couple of small impoundments that create deep ponds that hold some very large fish.  Much of the creek can be accessed from Hwy 168 that parallels it to its headwaters.  At times the highway vertically veers away from the creek, so if you don’t mind taking a little hike you can get to some water that gets very little pressure.  Where the creek flows close to the highway, you can be sure that someone has fished that stretch before you.  Near the many campgrounds, Bishop Creek does however get planted with hatchery trout quite regularly. All of the generic attractor flies work well on Bishop Creek.  Princes, Pheasant Tails, Rock Worms (Caddis larva) Bird’s Nests etc. sizes #14 -#18 are good choices.  Also try little #14 & #16 Stonefly patterns in Yellow and Brown.  Last but not least, hopper, ant and beetle patterns do very well on the Creek.

Just north of Bishop Hwy 395 turns into a steep grade (Sherwin Grade) that rises over 4000 ft. and then levels out when it reaches Long Valley near Mammoth Lakes.  One of Long Valley’s claim to fame is that among geologists, it is considered one of the most likely locations in the lower 48 to have a volcanic eruption.  Several creeks flow into the valley beginning with Rock Creek at the southern end, then Mc Gee Creek, Convict Creek, Sherwin Creek and Mammoth Creek/Hot Creek.  Each of these creeks hold primarily Brown trout but in the spring, with the exception of Hot Creek, they are also home to Rainbows and Cutthroats that come up out of Crowley Lake to spawn.  In the fall brown trout also spawn.   I have fond memories of crawling up to the edge of the four foot wide Sherwin Creek where it flows through the sagebrush flats, and dapping a dry fly over little eight inch Brown trout.  Small attractor patterns fished with three and four weight rods, are generally all you need on these creeks.  Size #18 Elk Hair Caddis, EC Caddis, King River Caddis, Parachute Adams, and the Royal Wulff are always good choices for dries, and Flashback Pheasant Tails, “Depth Charge” ® Bird’s Nests, and Zebra Midges in red and black will cover most situations if you are going to nymph.

Of all these creeks Hot Creek definitely deserves recognition as the jewel of the Mammoth Lakes area if not the whole east side.  It is reached by turning east of Hwy 395 on Hot Creek Hatchery Rd., which borders the north end of the runway at Mammoth Lakes Airport.  It begins as Mammoth Creek flowing out of the alpine lakes that give Mammoth Lakes its name, and once it reaches the valley it merges with warmer geothermal spring water and becomes Hot Creek.  When it leaves the valley it flows through a picturesque gorge and enters a very active hot spring section who’s temperature heats the water beyond a temperature level that is tolerable to trout.   Mammoth Creek is stocked regularly and can have some great fishing on the right day of the week.  Once it becomes Hot Creek in the valley, it becomes very spring creek like and the fishing is highly technical.  Fine tippits and small #18 to #24 midge, caddis and mayfly patterns are needed to take fish that sometimes can reach twenty inches.  These fish can get very selective so one needs to be prepared with a variety of patterns that cover adult, cripple and transitional life stages of aquatic bugs.  Though Hot Creek is most famous as a dry fly water,  hopper dropper rigs can sometimes be very productive.  It’s good to check with the local shops (see side bar) for pattern recommendations for fishing this very technical water.

Traveling north from the Mammoth Area about (?) miles you come to Owens River Road if you turn east the road winds through arid sagebrush high desert and eventually comes to a campground and the headwaters of the Owens River.  I know that this article is about creeks and not rivers, but the Owens here is only a river by name and for all practical purposes flows like a creek.  The headwater of the Owens is unique in that it literally flows out of several lava tubes that line the canyon.  The Owens has two personalities here in that upstream from the campground pattern selection and techniques are straight forward in that basic attractor patterns are all you need to catch fish.  I remember some years ago fishing this area with my old friend Bob Henley when we sat on the edge of an undercut bank and took turns casting into a run, catching one fish after another.  I was even rewarded with a nice fifteen inch Rainbow.  Bob commented that the only things that that could have made the experience better would have been if a sexy waitress came upon the scene and took a drink order.  Below the campground the river tumbles through a crystal clear pocket water section that is somewhat lined with willows and other vegetation and once it levels out the fishing can get technical.   I’ve had some frustrating afternoons sight fishing for Brown trout holding in the seams while sipping tiny bugs that I was unable to match.   Like Hot Creek, a downstream presentation is necessary to fool these wary fish.

The Owens headwater is the perfect place to break out your two, three or four weight rod.  An eight foot rod isn’t a bad idea either as there is a fair amount of overhanging vegetation.  Water is shallow so a floating line will serve both your dry fly and nymphing needs.  Because of the shallow water a hopper dropper rig is the best selection if you are going to fish nymphs.  Small (size #16 and smaller) high riding attractor dries such as Sparkle Duns, Elk Hair Caddis, Adams Parachutes and Royal Wulffs (which work both as adult mayfly and ant imitations.  Attractor nymphs like flash back Pheasant Tails and Zebra Midge’s will do in the section above the campground and in the pocket water below.  In the flatter water small parachutes colored to match the hatching bugs or a plain old Adams Parachute will do the trick. You may have to go to cripple patterns like Cutter’s EC Caddis, or Quigley Cripples for example, when presenting to fish that ignore the parachutes.

About five miles north of the junction of Owens River Road and Hwy 395 Rush Creek passes under the highway.  Rush Creek is historically important in the efforts by California fishermen to restore water to creeks and rivers that were diverted by the LA Department of Water & Power to be sent to be sent three hundred miles south for consumption by Los Angeles residents.   The successful efforts to return natural flows to Rush Creek were the seed that sprouted several other successful efforts to restore water to the Owens River drainage.  Rush Creek flows between Silver and Grant Lakes and then out of Grant Lake to terminate   in Mono Lake.  The sections of the creek between the lakes, are generally freestone with dense riparian strips consisting of willows and conifers.  When the creek leaves Grant Lake it flows between the low sagebrush carpeted hills on its way to Mono Lake.  This lower section is a designated special regulation wild trout section (see side bar) with a zero fish limit.  Access to the Special Regulation section of Rush Creek is a dirt road that intersects Hwy 395 just south of the bridge.  You need to keep your eyes peeled after crossing the bridge (must be traveling south) so you don’t miss it.  Follow the road to the bridge,  where there is a parking area.  If you want to fish the section between the highway and the lake, you can cross under the bridge (flows permitting) and follow the creek downstream.   As with other eastside creeks, small mayfly and midge patterns both dry and nymph work well.  This is caddis water, so small rock worm and pupa patterns are always a good call.  A two fly nymph rig with a heavily weighted rock worm (try a double tungsten “Depth Charge”® pattern) or pupa pattern with a size #18 or #20 “Zebra” style midge (red or black) as the dropper is a good rig to begin with.  For dries, the venerable Elk Hair Caddis or Parachute Adams in hook sizes #16 or #18 work most of the time.  Make sure you have black ants and hopper patterns to fish later in the summer.  The special regulation section of Rush Creek is all freestone with little if any flat water so pick your dry fly pattern styles accordingly.  Patterns that can stay afloat in rough water are good to have in your fly box so keep a few palmered style patterns available when fishing here.

 A few miles north of where Rush Creek crosses under Hwy 395 you come to Hwy 120 which travels west over Tioga Pass into Yosemite NP and then down slope into California’s Central Valley.  Along the highway flows Lee Vining Creek.  Lee Vining Creek starts practically at the top of the 9,943 ft. Tioga Pass in Yosemite NP and begins by tumbling down a steep canyon for most of its length to eventually flatten out and wind through some lush meadows.  Along the way it is impounded by some small water diversions and passes under Hwy 395 near the town of Lee Vining.   It continues through sagebrush hills and flats to eventually dump into Mono Lake. There are several campgrounds along the creek and it gets regular plants of Rainbow trout during the summer months though it has a good population of wild Brown trout.  Fishing the meadow sections can be as challenging as any spring creek.  The sections above and below the impoundments have deep pools that often hold lots of fish, but you may have to do battle with the power bait guys.  You have to get off of Hwy 120 to access the campgrounds which are along Power Plant Rd.  Power Plant Rd. is accessed off of Hwy 120 approximately five miles west of Hwy 395.  Here the highway begins a steep grade, though Power Plant Rd. continues to run right along the creek.  Generic attractor patterns are all you need here.  Royal Wulffs, Adams Parachutes.  Like Rush Creek, patterns that are designed to float high will do better in the rougher water.  For the meadow sections, fine tippets and spring creek style dries that mimic the various life stages of mayflies are going to be what’s need to fool these trout, so have some size #18 cripples, #18 olive parachutes for early and late season Blue Wing Olives and #16 & #18 tan parachutes for fish looking for summer Pale Morning Duns.  Keep a few spinner patterns (rusty or olive) on hand too.  For nymphing the deep pools bead head Pheasant Tail Nymphs, Prince Nymphs, and Bird’s Nest Nymphs in sizes  #14, #16 & #18 are good here.  Olive, Black and Rusty Wooly Buggers work well on the planters.

Bridgeport, California is best known for the fabulous East Walker river and being situated in one of the most beautiful alpine valleys in the Sierras.  The emerald green Bridgeport Valley is the headwaters of the East Walker and it is fed by several creeks such as Virginia Creek, Green Creek, that  offer good fishing.  Among them, Robinson Creek is one of the most consistent.  “Robinson is planted weekly throughout most of the season and it also can hold some native fish that make their way either up from Bridgeport Reservoir or down from Lower Twin Lakes.  In 2008 it produced a twelve pound Brown. There's plenty of public access on the upper section of the creek and plenty of camping as well.” says Jim Reid, the owner of Ken’s Sporting Goods in Bridgeport.  He also recommends that for flies,  “I usually recommend attractor nymphs (Princes, Pheasant Tails and the like) early in the season, then for the bulk of the summer I'd go with terrestrials (beetles, ants and hoppers) and attractor dries (Humpy's, Wulffs, etc.) as well as small bugger type patterns.”  Four or five weight rods are recommended for the higher water early in the season, but if you go there in late summer or fall, it’s a good creek to test your two or three weight. 

Thirty five miles to the north of Bridgeport, California State Highway 89 intersects with Hwy 395 and if you travel west for about twenty miles you will come to Markleeville, California.  Markleeville is famous for only two things; first and most important is the Wolf Creek Restaurant & Bar (formerly the Cutthroat Saloon, which it is still called by the locals) as it once was notorious for a large collection of bras and panties that hung from the ceiling of the bar, but the new owners removed them so they could attract a better clientele.  I’m not sure whether or not they succeeded, as my friends and I still make it a point to stop there for a burger whenever we’re in town.  The second best thing about Markleeville is that it is near some of the best fishing on the east side.  A couple of miles to the east lies the legendary East Carson, to the north is the West Carson and to the west is Pleasant that is unique in that it is one of the few “pay to play” creeks on the east side of the Sierras.  Though it is a small creek with flows of under 50 cfs it is home to some huge Rainbows.  On a recent outing the smallest fish caught among the three fishermen in our group was sixteen inches with the largest going around twenty-one.  Local guide Don Weirauch (owner of the Angler’s Edge fly shop in nearby Gardnerville, NV) says that rigs and patterns are very straight forward at Pleasant Valley Creek and recommends short leaders of 3X fluorocarbon attached to a size #8 bead head Wooly Bugger in black, olive or rusty brown.  There is some good dry fly fishing in the slower water and in the pond area.  Don’s clients do real well with size #14 tent winged caddis patterns (ie. tied with a turkey quill wing), #14 Yellow Humpy, Parachute Adams #16 & #18 and Madam-X size #14 (works for both stoneflies and hoppers).  Of course ant and beetle patterns are a must for all east side streams.  The pond section has huge hatches of  Callibaetis so it will be good to have some gray colored cripple patterns in your fly box.  A five or six weight rod is recommended so you will have a little extra backbone to handle these big fish.  Stealthy ness, and line handling ability is the key as the water is crystal clear and you are usually casting to fish that you can see.