Hwy. 395. 10 miles east of Mammoth Lakes at an elevation
of 6,720 feet. This eastern Sierra reservoir, created in 1941, has 45 miles of shoreline and is located
28 miles north of Bishop, and 15 miles southeast of Mammoth Lakes.
Crowley is best fished from either a boat or float tube. It is a rather large lake at
6,500 acres with plenty of weed beds and shallows holding "trophy-size" trout and perch. The lake was created in 1941 when L.A. Water & Power dammed the Owens River. Best tubing is
at Green Banks, Alligator Point, Layton Springs, Sandy Point, and McGee or Hilton Bay. McGee and Hilton
Bays are particularly good in the mid-summer months. They are shallow flat feeding areas located within
major springs and are nearby the outlets of spring creeks. This keeps these areas high with oxygenated
water and extensive weedbeds. An afternoon Easterly wind occurs during many afternoons which brings cool
water from the deeper Eastern shore to these areas. This wind creates favorable currents that maintain
these shallow areas with cooler waters.
Use sinking lines with 2x to 3x tippets for streamers. Floating lines with a 9 foot leader and indicator
is the choice for nymphs and midges with a 5x or 6x tippet. The fish can be hitting flies anywhere from
the surface to about 12 feet in depth. Select the proper sinking line, accordingly. A 5wt to 7wt rod is
your best choice.
There are four types of Rainbows in the lake: Coleman, Kamloop, Eaglelake, and
Colemankamloop hybrids, along with Lahontan cutthroat and
Brown trout. Crowley once held the state record for Browns at 25 lbs. Now it is the large Rainbow
strains that gives Crowley a long and unique flyfishing season.
According to Curt Milliron, fishery biologist at DFG's Bishop Station, "The three strains really
complement each other, the Kamloops are a good shallow-water fish, and the shore-anglers get a lot of
these early, but they are also running into the tributaries and spawning at the time of the opening weeks
of the season. So as those fish come back and recover, they give a second bump to the fishery in June
and July. You'll notice the Kamloops from their aerial leaps and aggressive runs. The Coleman fish are fall
spawners, so they are in deeper water for the opener. They are pelagic fish, so the trollers get into a
lot of these fish in the middle of the lake." The Coleman also do not holdover very well with only a 4%
Milliron also said the Eagle Lake trout spawn in the spring, but noted that even the smaller ones don't
get caught early. "They tend to show up in July. They also have a great capacity to survive for more than
one year, and they provide a lot of the larger fish that people catch. They probably survive 10 times
better than the Kamloops or Coleman fish. These often show up as 2 1/2-pounders or larger fish the
following year". The Eagle Lake trout have large spots, big shoulders and a small head for a
classic "football" shape. The Eagle Lake Trout and the Lahonton Cutthroat are the only trout
native to the Eastern Sierras. Hot Creek Hatchery plants 15,000 to 30,000 Lahonton Cutthroats each year
in the 6-10" size. Some now reach 18" in the lake.
During the Fall, many of the larger fish provide a lot of the action. These fish are either the wild fish
spawned from Crowley's tributaries or holdovers from the previous year's stocking. Brown Trout are no
longer stocked due to Whirling Disease at the Whitney hatchery, however, they still exist in some sizeable
numbers through spawning practices in the local tributaries. Sacramento Perch were introduced illegally
in the early 1960's and the State Record of 3 lb.s 10 oz was caught at Crowley. About 400,000 Rainbows are
planted in the Spring, usually consisting of 100,000 Kamloops, 150,000 Eagle Lake Strain, and 150,000
Coleman Strain. Another 50,000 are planted in the fall near the season end. Many of these will holdover
for the following Spring.
Most of the flyfishing is done by using Chironomid-type midges (ie Zebra midge), with an indicator
generally at 8-11 feet depth. Local Guides, Mike Peters and Harry Blackburn developed a successful midging
technique that is being used widely among anglers at Crowley. They use a 2-3 midge rig using Disco, Zebra,
or similar midges in sizes 14-22. These midges are spaced about 6 inches apart and are fished about 6
inches from the bottom. You can use a hemostat attached to the dropper fly to ascertain the proper depth.
Adjust your indicator accordingly.Many guides like to use a larva imitation as the dropper with a bead
head pupa on the top. When the hatch is fully under way, guides will switch to a bead-head pupa for the
dropper and a bead head emerger on top. If only one fly is getting hit, tie on both the same. A strike
indicator is set to help ascertain the proper depth control as well as indicating strikes. They apply no
movement to the fly as they found that movement generally kept the trout from striking the midge.
A split shot about 12" above the top fly helps to keep tension on the leader. Starting in 2004, many
guides were switching from a 3X tapered leader to a straight piece of 8 foot 3X Fluorocarbon with a
12 inch 4X or 5X Fluorocarbon tippet tied to it. The thinner diameter of the leader allows the midges to
sink more rapidly and the fluorocarbon creates a more invisible connection to the fly.
Bugger or leech
patterns trailed by a Beaded Nymph like a Prince Nymph can be a killer combination in a trolling/stripping
situation. At times, particularly during mid-summer, the trout are chasing perch fry and streamer patterns
like the Hornberg and Mohair Leech work well.
The opening season usually finds fish around the mouth of the Owens River for the Spring Spawning runs.
Trout will also congregate around Layton Springs and Sandy Point since the spring will warm up the
chilly water early in the season. Sometime in mid-June, the lake will turnover which will make
flyfishing difficult. Algea will increase with the warming waters and weedbeds have yet to develop.
During this time, McGee Bay is usually the best option since there is oxygenated water near the creek
inlet. The trout tend to remain within a thermocline and will seek the areas where the creeks enter the
lake as at McGee, Crooked Creek and Hilton Bay.These conditions may perist into July with the additional
onset of Daphnia , a microscopic arthropod , causing a shutdown on the trout bite.
In June and July, a damsel hatch comes off in which stillwater nymphing with Damsel Nymph patterns can be
rewarding. Local Guide, Tom Loe, gives some good tips on damsel nymphing:
"The damsel fly hatch
is a great time to pull imitations of the nymphs #10-14 with a light to moderate sink tip or floating line.
Find a weed line or scum line free floating with the current or wind and stay on the leading edge of this
as long as you can. Damselflies lay their eggs on this dead vegetation and feed on spent midges that
have accumulated on these unattractive but lucrative fishing areas. The trout will "migrate"
with these rafts of dead weed hoping to ambush a damselfly adult or nymph. If you have never
experienced a grab on a damselfly now is the time! Fish the nymphs using multiple rapid movements by
pulling or stripping the fly line in quickly and aggressively. Allow the fly to stop dead and sink
periodically, this is called a pause. The grab comes more times than not after a pause. Try to keep
your rod tip at an angle when tugging damsel imitations, you will understand when you break off a time
or two after a hard take when the rod can't absorb the hit by bending!"
During July, weed beds form up to 14 feet deep and the fish will reside within the channels of the
weedbeds. This can be a great time to fish Crowley. The algea has abated and the water clarity has
improved. Perch Fry and Damselfly nymphs will be taking refuge in the weedbeds and working the weedbeds
with Buggers, hornbergs, and damselfly nymphs will be productive. Most of the chironomid hatches will be
taking place during the morning. Prime areas are Layton Springs, Green Banks, and McGee Bay. The weeds
start to die off by late July due to water draw-down and are usually gone by September. When the water
temperature drops in August, there can be a regrowth of the Algea again. The fish will usually be found
in 10-14 feet of water and your best locations are the oxygenated ones like Leighton Springs and McGee
Bay. Chironomid Hatches will be the predominant food source. September can be the best month of the year,
despite the die-off of the weedbeds. The Perch Fry are lacking cover and the trout are after them.
Use Hornbergs and Buggers with an intermediate line fishing 5-10 feet. McGee is a consistent location,
although Green Banks has also had some excellent years. Chironomid hatches will also extend throughout
most of the day. Crowley Lake offers a "Double-Haul" Tournament around the thrid week of September.
Try to get your fishing in prior to this date as the 400 contestants create an impact on the fishery
that lasts a week or two. The fishery usually recovers from this tournament by early October. Most of
the larger fish stage up along Green Banks and Leighton Springs for the Fall spawning up the Owens River.
Streamer patterns and Stillwater Nymphs are your best bet. By late October, the City of L.A. starts to
lower the water level of the lake and this has a significant effect on the fish. Colder temperatures
also reduce the Chironomid hatches. Crowley closes up to fishing on November 15th.
The major tributary is the Owens River which enters Crowley Lake at the North Arm. There are a number of access roads to reach this area extending from Benton's Crossing down to the lake. The fishing can be quite good throughout the season for both Browns and Rainbows. A boundary marker was established in a section of the river between the bridge crossing and the mouth of the lake for protection of spawners. Above the boundary marker to the Benton Crossing bridge , the season is year-round with a 16" minimum size and 2 fish limit from the last Saturday of April to Nov. 15th. From Nov.16th to the last Saturday of April, there is a zero fish limit with barbless hooks only. Below the monument, the 16" size and 2 fish limit exists from the last Saturday of April to July 31st, after that it is an 18" minimum, 2 fish limit barbless hooks only to November 15th. You cannot fish this section during the Winter months.
Smaller tributaries are Convict Creek, McGee Creek, Hilton Creek, Whiskey Creek, and Crooked Creek. All of these creeks recieve a Spring spawning run of Eagle Lake rainbows and a Fall spawning run of Browns and Coleman rainbows. Recently, there have also been Spring runs of Lahonton Cutthroats into the tributaries as well. McGee and Convict Creeks tend to be more popular due to size. On Convict Creek, there is a study area (UC Berkeley) next to Benton Crossing road, that is closed to fishing. Below the study area, Convict Creek is open to fishing with a 18" minimum and 2 fish limit with barbless hooks and lures from the last Saturday of April to the Friday before Memorial Day. After the Friday before Memorial Day to Oct. 1st, Convict Creek and McGee Creek can be fished for 5 trout per day, no size limit. After Oct. 1st to Oct. 31st., it's back to the 18" minimum, 2 fish limit with barbless hooks and lures. These regulations apply to the other tributaries, as well, with the exception of Crooked Creek. Crooked Creek has a zero limit with artificial lures or flies only throughout the season.
The lake has a full-service marina. There is also a good unpaved road along it northeast side.
A four mile drive on a washboard dirt road accesses the northern shores via Benton Crossing Road off
US 395. Season opens on Crowley the last Saturday in April until Oct. 31st. From the Opener to July 31st, there is a 5-trout limit and the waters are open to both lures and bait. Special regulations exist
from August 1st until November 15th with limits of two Trout 18 inches or larger and you must use
artificial flies or lures with a single barbless hook.