BISHOP, Calif. It's no secret that come an hour before sunrise on Saturday, April 30, nearly 5,000 anglers will be sitting on the shoreline of Crowley Lake waiting for the horn to sound signaling the start of the Eastern Sierra trout season.
That might seem like a large number of people trying to catch trout, but amazingly many go home with limits.
The California Department of Fish and Game estimates that 50,000 trout are caught on opening weekend here. But that's no sweat off Crowley's brow it's the state's most prized Sierra trout water.
DF&G stocks the lake with up to a half million fish per year, although some years only 350,000 trout are planted.
Most of these fish are planted the first week of August as fingerlings and sub-catchables. Crowley's trout grow so rapidly that many are of catchable size by opening day.
It's a rare case where the state can save money by allowing the trout to grow in the lake rather than a hatchery.
Why to go early
Opening weekend and the first few weeks of the season are historically phenomenal.
While fishing can be dependent on weather conditions, anglers tend to limit out fairly quickly.
Most of the catch is rainbows, but wild browns are also available. Goldens and cutthroat have been stocked, but are rare.
"You are talking about a six-week period where it's really good. The fish are hungry. They've been in there all winter and they are anxious to eat. It works out really well for anglers," said Don Barrett of Barrett's Outfitters (760-934-5353).
"After opening weekend, the crowds are gone and it's down to a normal pace."
On opening weekend, Barrett predicts that anglers will have an advantage bait fishing over trolling, nonetheless both techniques will be effective.
"The water will still be fairly cold and because of that they will hit better on bait," said Barrett.
He recommends fishing McGee Bay. Alligator and Sandy Point are other spots worth trying.
"McGee Bay is always great if you are going to shore fish. You have McGee Creek flowing and you have a little more still area, because it's on the side of the lake that doesn't get as much wind."
"At Crowley you'll always do well on salmon eggs. Pautzke Balls O' Fire Green Label is the mainstay up here, but also the Premium eggs with the glitter in them do well too," Barrett said.
Don't discount fishing orange and yellow eggs, either. Natural colors are always effective.
He is a believer in fishing salmon eggs on a bubble rather than a sliding egg sinker. He said an iron bubble (clear plastic, size FS 35) fished on a 4-foot, 2-pound leader is best.
Fill the bubble with water and use a No. 10 black snap swivel and 4 to 6-pound test on the main line.
"You are fishing the salmon eggs on the bottom. A sliding sinker rig doesn't sink slowly like natural feed, and it gets snagged on the bottom easier," Barrett said.
"If you want an easy way, you can go to a Gamataksu red egg hook in size 12 and you can still get two eggs on there."
According to Barrett, it's more effective to fish the egg actively rather than letting it sit still on the bottom, as you would dough baits.
"I'll leave it out there for a minute or two and then I'll reel in a turn every 15 to 20 seconds. I don't want to move it quickly and spook the fish. I want to move it slowly, like it would be in a stream.
By working it in you are fishing several areas of the lake instead of just one depth," Barrett said.
"Motion attracts trout and the scent of the bait attracts trout. That means you'll have competition for the bait and you can have several fish trying to get it at the same time."
Baby nightcrawlers, a full 'crawler or crickets are also effective. Make sure to float the 'crawlers off the bottom.
"Casting from shore can be really good, because the sun heats up edges of the lake," said Barrett.
"The fishing is good close to the shore where it warms up first."
While just about any spoon or spinner is effective, ¼ or three-eighths-ounce Kastmasters in chrome fire stripe, cutthroat, brook trout, metallic perch and fire tiger, as well as Three-sixteenths-ounce Krocodiles in frog and watermelon are local favorites.
Using scent can help a lot in the early season when the water is cold. Gel Krill and Berkley scents are effective.
You can also tie into quick limits trolling, either toplining or with leadcore or downriggers.
It's all personal preference, as each technique will get fish.
As with casting spinners and spoons, there isn't a wrong thing to troll at Crowley, especially early in the season when trout haven't seen baits in half a year.
Several lures are always popular in the Eastern Sierra, regardless of what water you fish. A No. 2 pink Needlefish, orange Cripplure or red-and-gold Thomas Buoyant is hard to beat.
"I troll quite slowly," said Barrett, who utilizes brighter patterns, such as a brook trout and clown pattern.
"The early part of the season in the Sierra they always strike better on those colors. They are effective only early and late in the season."
Your biggest trolling problem will be dodging all the other boats on opening weekend, but after that, having the lake to yourself for a few hours isn't out of the question.
For best results, troll near the dam and Crowley Fish Camp, the Old McGee Creek channel and the Owens River channel.
While early in the season you may find a better bite from shore rather than trolling, trolling tends to result in larger trout.
Types of trout
The biggest trout at Crowley are the Eagle Lake variety, which tend to occupy deeper water, rather than huddling close to shore as many of the Coleman strain do.
The ELTs historically run 2 to 4 pounds. They've lived in the reservoir for 2 to 4 years already.
Crowley's average catch will likely run three-fourths to 1½ pounds, although fish to 7 pounds can be expected.
"Some will come to the surface, but the majority will still be close the bottom while the water is still cold," said Barrett.
Come prepared for wintry conditions, regardless of the weather report. Clear skies can turn to snow in 10 minutes here. Also, be prepared for wind.
Resting in Long Valley, Crowley is susceptible to high winds, which can keep boats off the lake at times.
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