Lake Crowley/Rock Creek Inyo National Forest
Lake Crowley is best fished from either a boat or float tube. It is a rather large lake at over 6,000 acres, with plenty of weed beds and shallows holding "trophy-size" trout and Sacramento perch. The lake was created in 1941 when L.A. Water & Power dammed the Owens River. The best float tube fishing is at Green Banks, Alligator Point, Layton Springs, Sandy Point, and McGee or Hilton Bay. McGee and Hilton Bays are usually good May thru July. They are shallow flat feeding areas located within major springs and are nearby the outlets of a few different spring creeks. This keeps these areas high with oxygenated water and extensive weedbeds, providing food and shelter for the trout that live there. An easterly wind occurs during many afternoons, which brings cool water from the deeper eastern shore to these areas. This wind creates favorable currents that help maintain these shallow areas with cooler waters.
Use sinking lines with 2x and 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 15 feet in depth. A 5wt to 7wt rod will be your best choice to fish this lake.
There are four variants of Rainbows in the lake: Coleman, Kamloop, Eaglelake, and Colemankamloop hybrids, along with Lahontan cutthroat and Brown trout. Ya... that's variety. Crowley once held the state record for a brown trout that weighed 25 lbs. Now it's the large Rainbow strains that give Crowley a long and unique flyfishing season.
According to Curt Milliron, a fisheries 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 less than a 4% success rate.
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 fly fishing is done by using Chironomid-type midges (Zebra midge, Tiger Midge), with an indicator generally at 8-11 feet depth. The Fly Stop team, including Chuck Ludat, are up there every chance they get. Many times 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.
Seasons open 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-summer, the lake will turnover with a crazy algea bloom, which will make flyfishing difficult. The 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 certain 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. These crustaceans (arthropods) are full of all the good things that trout love to eat, and they will literally gorge themeselves on these tiny morsels. So much so, that they will literally swim around with their mouths wide open acting like vaccuum cleaners sucking up the food.
In June and July, a damsel hatch comes off in which stillwater nymphing with Damsel Nymph patterns can be rewarding. Local Guru, Chuck Ludat, gives some good tips:
"... tie on two midges 10 inches apart with a split shot crimped between them
with an indicator to suspend them. Once you find the depth of water you want to
fish, clamp some hemostats to the bottom fly and lower it down into the water till
it hits the bottom, place your finger on the fly line where it touches the surface of
the water and place your indicator 6 inches to a foot below that mark." A late season Report here from this year
In late 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 them 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 areas like Leighton Springs and McGee Bay. Chironomid Hatches will be the predominant food source. September is usually 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 in depths of 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. Most of the larger fish stage up along Green Banks and Leighton Springs for the Fall spawning run 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 main tributary of this lake is the Owens River which enters Crowley at the North Arm. There are a number of fairly good access roads to reach this area extending from Benton's Crossing down to the lake. In some places, these roads are really rutted out, and a four wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended. The fishing can be quite good throughout the season for both Browns and Rainbows here. 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 hard pulling Eagle Lake rainbows, and a Fall spawning run of Browns and Coleman rainbows. McGee and Convict Creeks tend to be more popular due to size and relatively easy access. 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.
There is a good unpaved road along the northeast side of the lake. 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 fishing. 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.
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