Tag: Lone Pine

Owens Valley hopes for $500,000 to fund unique river trail

ORWT Bottom d_PanoramaprintCrop
Looking west, at the Alabama Hills and the Sierra Nevada mountains with Lone Pine Peak and Mount Whitney visible in the distance. (All photos courtesy Inyo County Water District)

UPDATE: Response from the Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power —

The Inyo County Water Department has submitted a grant application to the California River Parkways Grant Program for funds to establish the Lower Owens River Water Trail. This trail will occupy a portion of the Lower Owens River Project (LORP), which is a large scale river restoration project jointly managed by the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Inyo County, and occurs on City of Los Angeles property.

LADWP is in support of the concept of the Lower Owens River Trail. However, prior to moving forward, Inyo County will need to work with LADWP to determine if construction and long term operations and maintenance of the Lower Owens River Trail conflicts with the goals of the LORP, pose environmental impacts, and/or other issues.


The opportunity to explore unlikely waterways in unlikely places in California may soon increase, adding another one to your bucket list.

By late June, the California Natural Resources Agency will decide if it wants to fund a $500,000 grant to establish the Owens River Water Trail. If funded, the trail would include more than six miles of the lower Owens near the town of Lone Pine on the eastern face of the Sierra. It’s a possibility that enthuses those who love the outdoors.

“The Trout Unlimited regional office, located in Mammoth Lakes, supports the proposed Owens River Water Trail Project.  We encourage the diversification of fishing opportunity in the Eastern Sierra, particularly since the cold-water fishery in the northern part of Inyo County receives heavy pressure,” said TU’s regional representative Jessica Strickland in an email. “Distributing angling pressure across the county would not only improve the fishery, but also the fisherman’s experience.”

If funded, the trail would join one around the San Francisco Bay as a new recreational destination in the state, and would possibly be the only river water trail.

But, whereas the Bay Area water trail is described as “a non-linear trail with no beginning or end,” the river trail would have defined put in and take out points centering around this small town of just over 2,000.

Larry Freilich, mitigation manager for the Inyo County Water District, has build an impressive group of supporters for the project, with letters of recommendation from the American Canoe Association, to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, to the owner of the local McDonalds. All told more than two dozen organizations, local buisnesses and individuals support widening the tule-choked waterway.

Yet, the tules can only be tamed if old politics can be forgotten.

When the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began pumping more court-ordered water into the lower Owens in 2011, fly fishers rejoiced at the possibility of exploring another waterway closer to home. Unfortunately, besides mitigating dust from the dry Owens Lake, the unintended consequence of the $39-million Lower Owens River Project was increased tule growth over the river’s 62 miles that all but choked off recreational fishing, drift-boating and kayaking.

Owens Lower-In the Tules
Explosive tule growth clogs kayak passage on the Lower Owens River.

The Los Angeles Times quoted Mark Hill, lead scientist of the LORP, explaining the increased flow created 3,000 acres of water and wetlands, 4,000 largemouth bass and 2,000 bluegill per mile, as well as 108 species of birds, 41 of them new to the area at that time.

With this kind of wildlife resurgence, access for fisherfolk, kayakers and birders remains a major issue and one seen by some in town as impeding new recreational activities. And outdoor recreation is big business. According to The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership 37 million Americans hunt and fish, spending $58 billion annually.

“Although CalTrout has not been involved, we do support the project and notion of increasing recreational opportunities within the Owen Valley corridor. Importantly to us is trying to enhance the awareness of source water to end users and this project could help support that concept,” said Mark Drew, Ph.D., Director, Sierra Headwaters Program, California Trout Director, Inyo-Mono Integrated Regional Water Management Program, via email.

For Angelinos not entirely sure what “awareness of source water to end users” means, one of the greatest water grabs in history literally drained the Owens River Valley in favor of a then-small-city of Los Angeles some 100 miles to the south. L.A. would have never become our favorite megapolis without the city purchasing 250,000 acres in Inyo County, along with its water rights. The story of Irish immigrant William Mulholland, his famous quote, “There it is, take it,” and the creation of the aqueduct in 1913 are well known.

But what was once considered an Industrial Revolution-strength feat of politicking, engineering and deception now plays to a new generation, one in which Elon Musk can pre-sell 276,000 Tesla Model 3 electric cars in 48 hours, and kayaking trips are offered on two different sections of the Los Angeles River each summer, thanks to river activist George Wolfe’s rebellious kayaking efforts that ended with the Environmental Protection Agency declaring the L.A. River protected under the Clean Water Act.

Now, a mere eight years later, the L.A. River is poised for a $1 billion makeover, to liberate at least some of its 51 miles from concrete and restore its ecosystem.

To abate the clog of tules – 8 feet high and 10 feet wide in some sections — the water’s owner must fully sign on to the project. Although both phone and email requests for an interview to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power went unanswered, its stance on the proposed water trail project, at least at the time of this writing, is conditional at best.

In a letter dated Aug. 21, 2015, James G. Yannotta, LADWP’s aqueduct manager, wrote: “The Inyo County Water Department’s current proposal for grant funding includes new infrastructure and channel excavation activities that were not originally contemplated in the original Plan, and also in new locations than were previously considered. As a result, LADWP is in support of exploring the feasibility of the new project but cannot yet grant authorization to proceed with implementation without more information regarding potential impacts and and/or conflicts with LORP goals. Therefore, LADWP would like to extend support for grant funding through the planning stage and subsequent evaluation under the California Environmental Quality Act for the Lower Owens River Water Trail.”

The original plan Yannotta cites is the Lower Owens River Project Recreation Use Plan (LORP).

Other potential opposition to the plan – and included in the grant proposal – included some ranchers who voiced concern about being sued if a gate was left open and a cow wandered onto a road and was hit, fisherfolks worried secret fishing spots would be identified, and Native American tribes concerned about pot hunting and disturbances of cultural sites.

Plot 4 Capture
The Owens River Water Trail would create a six-mile recreational area near Lone Pine, California.

The application contains straightforward solutions to these problems: for ranchers, install cattle guards, and include “how to behave in cattle country” interpretive materials and signage; for fishers, print map areas that are popular and accessible, so as to keep the best spots secret; and for Native Americans, identify sensitive sites and route use elsewhere, and include educational information in interpretive materials and signage.

The next move is twofold: for the LADWP to give the project its unconditional support; and, of course, to see if the CNRA considers $500,000 the right price for a new generation of recreation.

See you on the river, Jim Burns




The Golden Trout Wilderness is golden, after all

NO PHOTOSHOP HERE: That’s the actual color of Golden Trout … spectacular! (Jim Burns)

Author Thomas McGuane describes fly fishing better than most, and he certainly got it right with his musings about “20-fish days” in “The Longest Silence.” Of course, he wrote about stripper bass in Atlantic Ocean boils, yet the sentiment for all fisherman — from stream, to river, to broad-horizon ocean — remains the same: longing to catch lots and lots.

It’s a wonderfully greedy obsession and one my son and I tested last week over a couple of days in California’s Golden Trout Wilderness. First, topo map in hand,  we plied the eastern approach. From Lone Pine off the 395, you take a left at the only stoplight in town, then watch for signs (virtually non-existent) to Horsehoe Meadow Road, drive up the dreaded “Z” (don’t slip off the edge …), park and walk. From town to your destination is probably two-to-three hours.

By the way, speaking of signs, you won’t see one anywhere in town to announce the GTW, which doesn’t open until July. Very strange. And most of the locals seemed bent on driving tourists (many French and Austrians there to hike nearby Mt. Whitney) away. Seriously, Lone Piners, what’s up?

Sounds much worse than it actually was, however, because once we arrived at 10,000 feet,  our reward was 50 goldens over the day.

“Take one on your first cast,” I said to Will, and sure enough his grin as he pulled the first one out of the water said the rest. I was lucky enough to nab No. 50 in late afternoon, exhausted from the day’s hiking and catching.

The next day, we approached from the south, bunking in Kernville. This was essentially car fishing, with no topo map required. We quit after a couple of hours with only 27 caught and released.  Low water in each spot didn’t deter us. After a scant rain year, you can’t expect the flows you crave.

Nope, they’re not big fish, so if any of you want to laugh, go ahead. The biggest fish was  around 12 inches, which is a whopper by golden standards. But, I ask you, isn’t this one of the most beautiful species on the planet?

With the right rod in hand, small fish become bigger fish. On a dry, they run, fight, dive and try to get your flouro tied multiple times around that poorly placed log or shock of river vegetation. With the wrong rod, you’ll think you’re pulling up sardines from the party boat. I used my 2-weight Orvis full flex, matched to a small Battenkill reel, overlined with a 3-weight line.

Any attractor pattern does the trick with these seemingly starving fish, but don’t forget your terrestrials. Grasshoppers float for days and were a blast to fish. They also proved a great way to keep the tiniest fish off the hook.

The  massive 300,000-acre GTW sits on the Kern Plateau and is accessible from at least three directions. On its eastern edge from Lone Pine, off Hwy. 395; from the south, accessible from the Sequoia National Park around Mineral King, itself a 30-plus mile adventure on a one-lane, dead-end road; or going north from Kernville.

In other words, if you are in reasonably good shape, you can day-trip to some great waters and be home in time for a steak dinner at McNally’s Lodge, north of Kernville on M-99.

The Golden Trout is considered a heritage fish, and by catching six different forms of California native trout from their historic drainages and photographing them in situ, you can receive a colorful, personalized certificate featuring the art of fish illustrator Joseph Tomelleri, according to the DFG Web site. The certificate will show six full-color images representing the trout you caught, along with their dates and locations. So far, the DFG has sent out about 150 certificates.

Remarkably, three of the trout native to the state’s waters are within the area. Besides the California Golden (technically known as the Golden Trout Creek golden trout), there’s also the Little Kern Golden Trout and Kern River Rainbow.

“Common names abound for the golden trout of the Kern River drainable,” writes Robert J. Behnke in is authoritative “Trout and Salmon of North America.” “This can be confusing because they tend to either pinpoint a fish to a particular stream, such as ‘Volcano Creek golden trout,’ or encompass a diversity of forms under one name, such as ‘California golden trout.’ The dozen or so common names for what are really two subspecies (aguabonita and whitei) of rainbow trout reflects the passion that so many have for this pair of jewel-like fish.”

Certificate aside, the Goldens we were after end up on many a fly-fisher’s bucket list for good reason: their jewel-like beauty. And, although they were once transported to Cottonwood Lakes, then to Arizona and beyond, the only place they naturally occur is right here, where they evolved in isolation from other trout.

My son’s a big guy, but it’s still true, most are small fish. (Jim Burns)

As I said, they are a feast for the eye, with two red stripes, one on the belly, the other along the lateral line, running to the mouth and under the gill. Also, look for large black spots – up to 10 – that run laterally as well. Put these together with a predominately yellow-gold color and there’s little reason for their cousins to enter the beauty contest.

This general description will also come in handy when trying to decided if you’ve landed a pure golden or a hybrid, created through breeding with hatchery rainbows. Remember, these very distinct markings mean you’ve got a golden in your net.

David Lentz, who is California Department of Fish and Game’s native trout conservation coordinator, said that the small size is because of 140 years of habitat degradation from livestock.

“Continued livestock use results in shallower, wider, warmer water,” he said. Waters in their natural state would be both narrower and deeper, which, in turn, would mean fewer goldens that were bigger. The largest section of interconnected meadows for grazing lies in the South Fork of the Kern area. Sections are now being rested for eight-to-nine years at a time to regain this natural habitat. Some environmentalists have argued that the best way to prevent lifestock from grazing in the upper South Fork watershed is to get goldens listed on the Endangered Species Act, according to Behnke.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

The DWP needs to do more on the lower Owens

The Lower Owens River Project is all explained on these nifty signs, but that doesn’t help your cast through the tules. (Jim Burns)

Stoked by a warm-water fishing article that recently appeared in Cal Fly Fisher mag, my son and I stopped in Lone Pine over the weekend to check out the lower Owens. After all, I’d fished the ponds behind Bishop for bass and panfish, and this piece sang the praises of throwing a bass bug into the river’s hot summer waters.

After a two-minute ride from town we found, yes, more water flowed; the weather was unseasonably hot as blazes; and we did spot a good-sized bass near a bank.

But now for that all-important cast … bonk. Only the croak of an insistent bull frog kept us smiling.

The looming LORP problem for the fly fisherman remains terrible access. If you’re a tule, you’re really a happy camper surrounded by lots of your tule friends, but if you’re struggling through them, fly rod in hand, feet in the muck leading to where you might find the river’s edge, it’s just not so good. Casting? No way. The only casts we got in were right next to the road.

Last summer, reporter Louis Sagahun from the Los Angeles Times penned:

“The largest river restoration ever attempted in the West — intended to support a cornucopia of wildlife and outdoor activities — has left a 62-mile stretch of the Lower Owens so overrun with cattails, cane and bulrushes that it may take decades to bring them under control.”

Kind of gives a new meaning to “out in the tules,” doesn’t it? (Jim Burns)

He was writing about the Lower Owens River Project, LORP for short, that began about six years ago when L.A. Department of Water and Power began putting more water into the river that it had diverted to Los Angeles Aqueduct since 1913.

It’s a shame to have the restoration project in full swing, as evidenced by the nifty explanatory signage about the project and a new, shiny access gate, and not be able to fish. Anybody got a lawn mover?

I’d skip this one until there’s a solution, possibly like the disabled fishing platform on the ponds outside Bishop.

See you on the river, Jim Burns