If you set out to make a proto-type habitat for trout to thrive, Crowley Lake would be the result. Crowley is at an ideal altitude: 6,800′. It is a man made reservoir formed by the damming of the Owens River Gorge. It stays cool enough in the summer, yet does not go into a deep freeze during winter months. The lake has an ideal ph, on the alkaline side. This is essential for aquatic insects, (primarily chironomids) the base of the food chain for the fish that inhabit the lake. Crowley has numerous creeks that continually bring in oxygen and nutrients… the Upper Owens River, McGee Creeks, Convict Creek, Hilton Creeks and Crooked Creek. Not only do they provide the above, they also provide spawning habitat for wild fish, something that most Eastern Sierra Lakes do not possess. The Eastern Sierra has no native trout other than the Little Kern Golden; wild fish exist in Crowley, in good numbers. These are fish that have propagated in the system.
The introduction of Sacramento perch into the lake has also been a benefit to the larger trout. These fish spawn late spring early summer and the fry are numerous in the lake by fall. This is an ideal scenario for the aggressive feeding that takes place in the fall months. Massive amounts of protein from the feeding of perch fry help to build up body weight for the long winter.
The most important reason Crowley remains a solid fishery is the implementation of the restricted gear season. This takes place August 1st. and continues until the closing October 31st. Fishing with organic baits is no longer permitted, the limit is reduced to only 2 fish over 18″, and only barbless artificial lures or flies may be used.
The California Department of Fish and Game stocks or plants if you will, as many as 500,000 rainbow and brown trout during late summer and fall. Most of these fish are between 3″-10″. These fish will grow at a tremendous rate and be catchable by the following season. Growth rates can be as high as 4″-8″/year.
Several species of rainbows thrive in Crowley, and this provides good activity throughout the entire season. Eagle Lake, Kamloops, and Coleman strains of rainbows fill various niches in the lakes system. Von Behr, and Lock Laven strains of brown trout also exist and reproduce in good numbers. Large Cutthroats can be found in the tributaries each spring and are caught by fly fishers in the summer.
The lake also has a unique weather characteristic. During the long warm days of summer, a diurnal easterly wind will set in around mid-day and push the water from the dam or deep end of the lake towards the shallow or west end of Crowley. This keeps cooler water flushing and circulating continuously during the warmer summer periods. Most shallow water Lakes and Reservoirs do not get this type of natural dynamics and suffer greatly. Many fish will leave the flats in other less fortunate lakes and head for deep water where only trolling is effective. This condition allows Crowley’s fish to remain on the flats, actively feeding and easy to reach with conventional gear. The confluence of the majority of the springs that feed Crowley are also located on the western ends of the lake and provide oxygen and nutrients for the fish and aquatic insects.
The key to Crowley Lake’s unsurpassed trout growth rate is its fantastic chironomid population. These are still water midges. Crowley’s trout forage on these year round. Learn how to present and imitate the chironomids here and you can have epic fly fishing at times!
Crowley Lake is located off Hwy.395, 25 miles north of Bishop, Ca. Take the Crowley Lake/Hilton Creek off ramp and you will find an information/toll booth. Access to the lake is easiest here. There is a parking fee and boat rentals/tackle store are available if you wish. Detailed maps of the lake are available at the Fish Camp Store.
There are also many areas you can access around the lake via a multitude of dirt roads. I suggest stopping by a local tackle store or getting a guide or friend who has local knowledge of these roads before your trip.
Float tubing is very popular here, but you must keep an eye on the strong winds, which come up suddenly and without warning! Be careful, wear a personal floatation device at all times if you tube this lake. The mudflats around the lakes border can be treacherous, exercise caution when transiting or driving along the shoreline.
This is the premier fishery for trout in the Eastern Sierra in my opinion. It is one place you must fish when visiting this area.