Trout Fishing on Crowley Lake
There are countless ways that fishing can be a metaphor for life, but one of the ones that always stands out is firsts. In life you remember your first love or first job, baby’s first steps and so on — in fishing, too, you remember the first of a certain fish you caught, or your first visit to a region that changed your life. Welcome to trout fishing on Crowley Lake.
My first visit a few years back was special to me before we even got out into the Sierra Nevadas. One of my good buddies and his father have been going out to Crowley together for almost 35 years — his father had been going even longer, maybe 60 years since his own childhood trips with his own father. I had heard of Crowley and dreamed of the Sierra Nevadas, but to get an invitation to a special family tradition made it even nicer from the start.
Located in the beautiful Sierras
Crowley sits on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas, on the outskirts of Yosemite. It’s some of the most stunning scenery in California, taking on almost mythical depth meaning (seriously, this region was the site of an actual quest I took on to find an elusive golden trout around Laurel Lakes).
Driving up there from southern California, you’re just cutting through high desert, watching the world slip by, expecting to see tumbleweeds rolling across the 14 or 395, and finally the desert gives way to…more high desert. And just when you’ve convinced yourself that any beautiful mountain range would certainly have to be a mirage, you’ll start to see the majestic, jagged peaks popping up to the west. You’ll come across proud Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous US towering at 14,505 feet, and like an omen you’ll know you’re getting closer.
Maybe I’m making this drive and buildup out to be more of an adventure than it really is, but think back to your firsts and you’ll understand how important the experience was to me. I’m not exaggerating the magnitude — Crowley literally sits adjacent to Mammoth Mountain and Mammoth Lake. More importantly, when you eventually get up the path to Crowley, you feel its actual power. It sprawls out through the valley, surrounded by peaks, and then you remember reading somewhere that Crowley is actually on top of an active volcano.
Known for its trout fishing
But Crowley is more than a gem in the Sierra Nevadas. It’s known for brown trout and rainbows, as well as some Sacramento perch. I’ve been fortunate in my time to catch all three, but my fondest memories are not of incredible catches — just exploration and camaraderie.
My buddy and his dad took me out on the water and we just trolled for hours, talking and laughing, getting lost in conversation and losing count of how many beers or hours had passed by. It was a stunning place where I remember feeling totally comfortable sitting back, trolling all day long, drinking all day long, and going back to the cabins by the water to laugh more, drink more, and plan to do it all again the next day.
It’s worth noting that most people seriously fishing at Crowley wouldn’t be trolling like we were — I just liked doing it so I could sit back and relax. I typically don’t like letting the fish come to me anyways, so I like to go after them more aggressively. At a place like Crowley though, most people will fish stillwater nymphs, a fly fishing technique using a lead and mid-level rig dropping from the surface towards the bottom. The pros at Guide Recommended have a great cheat sheet on stillwater nymphing if you want to pursue that. more.
The Bigger Picture
Crowley is by no means the best fishing spot I’ve found in the Sierras, but it was my first, and there are plenty of thrilling features to make it a worthwhile destination on your next adventure: stunning scenery, quality fishing, the presence of an underground volcano, and ideally some great company sharing it all with you. What’s also neat about Crowley is the way it sprawls through the valley, and all these different river systems flow into it, feeding it. It makes it feel like the center of the universe when you’re there.
And for that reason, it’s started to become a lot more populated in recent years. There are more boats, it’s more heavily-fished, and a just a little crowded. I don’t get there as much, but still go on occasion. Now, it’s more of a fond memory for me, a place that set the tone of my career and my love of the Sierras. A sort of “gateway drug” to the rest of the fly fishing scene up there. It’s special.
I suppose you could say, all good things flow into Crowley Lake. And for me, lots of good things have flown out since.