Upper Owens River, CA
Humility. For all that fishing can teach you about competition, adventure, and appreciating the insanely beautiful world we’re blessed to live in, it also teaches a thing or two about humility, the less sexy side of what we do. To me, humility is about stopping to appreciate how small we are in the big picture, as well as how much room we always have to continue learning. And that lesson is never more clear than the time I’ve spent on California’s Owens River.
The Upper Owens River isn’t far from McGee Creek and the main river system that runs through the Sierras flowing to Lake Crowley and Convict Lake. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until I die, this entire river system is truly one of the most stunning and visually breathtaking I’ve ever had the great fortune to see, but you know looks only get you so far.
I’d never fished Owens River before, but I’d heard stories of migratory Crowley steel bows, these big rainbow trout that run out of the lake in the winter time to spawn up Owens River. A first timer out there in Winter, I might have been dead on the water, so even though I had a few ideas for things I thought might work, I decided to bring in some support.
Now, many people stop and ask me, “Chris, why do you need a guide?” I’ll tell you right now, it all comes down to knowledge. No matter how many places in the world I’ve been, or what I’ve caught, there’s always something unique that makes every spot different. How the fish run, what bait they like, which spots they like to frequent, which time of day is typically right. It’s not just about that moment and the excursion itself, it’s about the next trip, and the next. It’s understanding the process.
This approach is especially true if I know I’m going to be coming back again and again to the same area. With the Sierras, I knew I’d be back more times than I could count. So I did some research on the front end to see what I was getting myself into, and then I reached out to Sierra Directors out of the Crowley lake area. These folks are top notch guides and total experts on the region, so I was confident it would be a great learning experience.
And it was. I teamed up with Tom Lowe, a super sharp guy who really knows his stuff, a truly world-class guide. It was late November, the mountaintops white with fresh powder and a little bit of haze against the gray skies, like it was still snowing up there where clouds and land blended into one. Back down on earth, the snow blanketed the valley floor, with just the stubbly tips of bramble and dead prairie grasses sticking through. It was freezing cold, too, so all these beautiful views were a little clouded from the fog of hot air we kept puffing out with each breath.
Right off the bat Tom started to show me the lay of the land, so to speak. He taught me to tie some neat patterns that would be useful not only on this system, but other systems with spawning fish, too. I was fortunate to catch two of the larger fish that trip, using this pattern and technique. We had a ball out there.
If you’ve spent any time on my site you’ve probably seen one of the main photos, a 23” rainbow that came up out of the Owens River waters like a dream. The water sliding in gray sheets off these shimmering scales, not a scar or scratch to be seen, not a scale out of place. It was beautiful, like a snapshot moment frozen in time and locked into my memory as art. Words don’t do it justice. Hell, pictures don’t either.
There aren’t many times you leave a place completely fulfilled, but this was one of them for me. With Tom’s guidance, I went through the process of learning, duplicating, and being rewarded for my own hard work, catching one of the purest fish of my lifetime from the most pristine, awe-inspiring landscape. What better way to kickstart a love for that river system that will last my lifetime?
I’m grateful again to the Sierra Directors and Tom Lowe, specifically. A couple months after this initial outing, I took some time away from work for a few weeks in the middle of January to journey back out to the Upper Owens and the surrounding system. Not only was I able to duplicate his techniques and utilize the knowledge he’d shared, but I rented a 4-wheeler and drove around to some areas he had recommended.
You’ll hear a ton of stories about secret spots in those systems, and I had my own share with McGee Creek, among others out there around Crowley Lake and the surrounding Sierras. But whether you’re brand new to the game or some kind of fish-whispering expert, you can’t lose sight of the forest for the trees, because no spot can eclipse the grandiosity of sitting on an active, seismic landscape looking out at the whole world, and feeling totally content.
Like I said, no photo will ever compare to the memory of pulling that beautiful rainbow out of the water, and no story will do justice to the rugged wilderness of the Sierras and the sharp feeling of natural wonder that shoots through your belly when you try to take it all in. But as much as I fish to compete and go on adventures to have crazy experiences, I’m always reminded of the importance of humility. I owed my fortune out there to Tom Lowe for passing along his knowledge, and I guess that’s why I’m sharing my stories, too.
So pass it along, and then get back out there.