Convict Lake: Your Guide to Epic Trout Fishing

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The trout fishing at Convict Lake can be almost as good as its stunning scenery surrounding it.

The lake is nestled in a bowl in the Eastern Sierra at an elevation over 7,500 feet, with taller mountains looming above. Just a short 2-mile drive from the main highway, access is open from April through November.

Convict Lake has everything you could want out of a high alpine setting: Pristine, clear water holds healthy rainbow and brown trout populations, and regular stocking keeps anglers busy throughout the season, which begins in late April and extends into fall.

The winters and early springs are brutal at this elevation, but the lake is closed to fishing them and winter sports take over the region.

Located a quick drive from Mammoth Lakes in Southern California, Convict Lake is part of a great recreation area.

Some of the region’s best hiking, boating, fishing, skiing and more await you. Who doesn’t love fishing in the fall and being surrounded by aspen trees that are almost glowing in gold and red?

The entire area in this part of Mono County is beautiful, but one of the real draws for any angler is definitely Convict Lake. Plan a trip to catch giant trout in a truly scenic, highly photogenic lake.

Convict Lake Trout Fishing 

Trout are the draw at Convict Lake.

With crystal clear water and abundant forage, the Convict Lake rainbows are hearty and ready to put your knots to the test.

Thanks to regular plantings and cool, high-elevation waters, the bite stays relatively good throughout the year, although definite peaks occur in the cooler spring and fall weather.

Brown trout can be found here as well, though there aren’t as many as the ‘bows. They do get big, though, so it’s definitely worth a try.

The fishing season runs from the end of April through the middle of November. Check with current regulations to make sure you’re within the seasonal guidelines. 

To focus on rainbow trout at Convict Lake, you must first decide if you want to fish the lake or the creek. Both are excellent fisheries, and both get a ton of pressure during the high tourist season.

The lake will offer more in the way of size, while the creek often offers faster action. It’s a toss-up, really, and you can do some of both if you’re staying a few days. 

The lake has several areas to target, though the key here is to fish the edge of the bowl. There’s a ledge around it that drops off into much deeper water. Fishing along this edge can provide some pretty great action.

Starting at the main parking lot at the marina, you can go out on the jetty that forms the bay. From the jetty, you can cast straight to the edge of the ledge and get your bait in front of schools of fish. 

If you choose the jetty, keep in mind boats are coming and going all day, and nobody wants their prop tangled up with your line. Use proper etiquette, and you’ll be fine.

Following the road partway down the southern side of the lake will get your to several parking areas with trails along the lake.

Intrepid anglers can continue on foot to reach additional areas with fewer bank anglers.

Trout can be caught right from shore all around the fisherman’s trail. It wraps around the lake and offers access to all sorts of great fishing holes. 

Fresh baits work great if you’re bait fishing, as do PowerBait and mouse tails. Using minnows can also be very productive here, as can injecting a nightcrawler with air to float it in front of cruising trout.

Check at the marina for minnows and other baits.

If boats are more your thing, this lake will give you plenty of reasons to come back.

Troll from the marina around the lake just off the drop-off, and you’ll likely do well.

Use the standard trolling techniques and watch your finder. Baits, spoons and spinners are always a go-to for trolling. 

The resort has reported that trolling Needlefish in the Green Frog pattern or Tasmanian Devils in the Bleeding Frog patterns have been effective.

Tie on a rainbow-colored lure, and you just might find the browns that are sprinkled around the lake. Browns love eating fingerling rainbows, and in Convict Lake, they don’t have to look very far to find some.

The lake’s southern end has some pretty great areas for setting off in a float tube and slinging some streamers.

The inlet usually has some pretty big trout holding below it, waiting for a tasty snack.

Toss some Woolly Buggers in the 8- 10-size range, Clouser Minnows in 6-8, and Mohair Leech patterns. These will bring big fish to the net.

Early mornings also offer excellent dry fly opportunities, as long as the wind stays away.

Fishing for Convict Creek Trout 

Convict Creek is a favorite fly-fishing destination, with decent-sized ‘bows, browns, and brook trout.

You may find a few brookies in the lake, but for the most part, they stick to the creeks.

The rainbows are the most common catch, especially after the California Department of Fish and Wildlife plants it below the dam in the spring, which is likely to occur by May.

If approaching the creek with a fly, think Olive Caddis in sizes 12 to 16, possibly with a Hares Ear Nymph below. Use the dry as an indicator.

Some flies you must have in your kit for the creek are Pheasant Tail or A.P. nymphs in 12-16, and one more dry, the Yellow Humpy, in 14-18.

Bait anglers can do well on the creek using small hooks in the size 10 to 12 range with one or two chartreuse garlic fireballs. If they aren’t biting on the chartreuse, try the orange shrimp flavor.

Trout go nuts for this stuff. Just don’t spill the liquid on your hands. Tough to wash that stink off.

Planning Your Trip

Convict Lake is located about five hours (give or take a bit) from pretty much everywhere, whether you’re starting in Sacramento, Los Angeles or Las Vegas.

Carson City is about two hours north, and the Mammoth Yosemite Airport is just 10 minutes away.

Wherever you’re coming from, you’ll have a scenic drive along the way and once you start fishing, you’re likely to be even more glad you came.

In addition to Convict Lake, several more lakes dot the area, and each one has its own merits as a quality fishery. Bring your family along, stay awhile, and make a vacation out of it in the Mammoth Lakes and John Muir Wilderness areas and Inyo National Forest.

Lake Crowley, one of the bigger and most famous trout fisheries in this region, is to the east.

You can ski in the winter and fly fish pristine high-alpine lakes in the summer. There’s always something to do around Convict Lake.

Boat and Bank Access

A shoreline trail provides access around the entire lake, and boating access is easy at the marina. 

Shore anglers will do well on the south shore from the avalanche debris field through Rocky Ledge Cove and Browns Cove.

The southern end of the lake gets deep fast, so anglers can get their bait out far enough to entice the bigger fish.

Launch at the marina and take advantage of the crystal-clear waters here. It’s possible to sight fish from a boat, with fish being easily seen at depths of 30 feet or more.

You’ll find boat rentals, a general store and other amenities at the lake.

Camping and Lodging

There are several campgrounds, RV parks, lodges, and resorts in the area.

Convict Lake Campground at the eastern end of the lake offer places to stay, with prime access to lake and creek. Convict Lake Resort is nearby.

Mammoth Lakes is only a short drive away, and from there, you can find anything you may have left behind, as well as hotels and resorts to stay.

There are restaurants at the lake, so if you aren’t in the mood to eat your catch, give them a try. 

Enjoy your time at this scenic lake, and be sure to explore the surrounding areas. Hike up the upper Convict Creek for native brookies, hike down the outlet, and you’ll eventually end up at another lake altogether.

It’s an area that almost demands exploration. Just don’t forget the fishing rod.