Denis Peirce: Crowley Lake premiere trout lake in California |

Denis Peirce: Crowley Lake premiere trout lake in California

Mickey Baron with nice rainbow trout.
Photo by Denis Peirce |

There is a set of conditions that lend themselves to producing big trout. Trout need access to cool water during the warm weather months and they need a prolific food source. If you combine these in a large body of water with a good planting program you can have quite a few big trout.

Some of the very best lakes for trophy trout fishing are reservoirs in the high desert, east of the Sierra and Cascade Ranges. The most economical place to build a reservoir is a large meadow with a river that flows out through a narrow gorge. A small dam can be built in the gorge that floods a large area. Examples include Stampede, Davis, Bridgeport and Crowley in the eastern Sierra.

The key to the food chain in these lakes is the rich meadow soils that remain under the waters. These soils and the nutrients in them produce a rich food chain from algae to insects to minnows and trout. We anglers have a propensity to take these fish home so a planting program is essential to maintaining a healthy population.

The premiere trout lake in California is Crowley Lake between Bishop and Mammoth Lakes in the Central Sierra. That title arguably has been held by Eagle Lake and Lake Davis in past years but the effects of the drought have sent them down the ranking scale for the time being. Another factor that makes Crowley so remarkable is it might be the most heavily fished trout lake in the state. The Bishop – Mammoth – Bridgeport area on the east side is where Los Angeles goes to trout fish. Even with this pressure the lake remains a trophy fishery. Residents of the north state are spread out over a much wider range of waters and no one location is as heavily fished.

Last month, I traveled down Hwy. 395 to Crowley and fished with Mickey Baron. Baron spends the trout season guiding at Crowley and winters at Pyramid Lake, Nevada. We were on the water early and headed for the McGee Creek cove in Mickey’s boat. The meadow has such a slight slope that you must get out from shore quite a ways to fish the outside edge of the weed beds. We were not the first boat on the water and the fleet of fishing boats could be seen from across the lake.

The trout in Crowley tend to congregate where the food is most plentiful and the anglers figure it out and follow. The most prolific food in the lake is the midge. These are small insects that live in the mud bottom and hatch into flying bugs by the thousands. The bugs are small and so the trout have to eat a lot of them to get full. Eating frequently plays into the anglers game.

The common technique is to suspend a midge imitating fly just a few inches off the bottom where the trout are cruising and looking for food. How the trout can find such a small fly among all of the real bugs in a soupy green lake is difficult to comprehend. I just believed and let Baron get us onto the fish.

Within the first quarter hour we were hooking trout. The fellows who fish the lake daily have the system dialed in. We were on the edge of the boat fleet in McGee cove and there were fish being hooked and landed regularly. The protocol for the second half of the season at Crowley is primarily “catch and release” among the fly anglers.

There is quite a good-natured competitive atmosphere on the lake. All of the many guides are on the water together daily. Who has the most fish landed for their clients is standard by which they judge each other. The guides tend to fish the hot spot where the other guides are catching fish. If a boat moves off to fish another area, it does not go unnoticed. If the rods start bending and the net comes out it is noted. If the bite slows for the fleet, the boat that moved away will likely get some company.

That Crowley can produce the quantity and size of fish is a testament to the fertility of the water and the hundreds of thousands of fish planted in the lake. A trout planted at 6” to 9” can be a 20” fish in a couple of seasons.

We are heading into the fall fishing season and as the waters cool the fishing will only improve. September and October are prime months in the Sierra. If you want to fish over large trout and lots of them Crowley Lake should be on your “To Do” list.

There are two seasons at Crowley Lake:

From the opener in April through July 31, a five fish limit with bait and barbed hooks allowed.

Aug. 1 until the close Nov. 15, barb-less hooks, no bait and a two fish limit. Only trout over 18 inches may be kept.

Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at

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