5 Methods of Fishing to Try in Mammoth Lakes

Jul 14, 2021

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve fished or if you’ve ever fished at all, the Eastern Sierra is an ideal classroom to practice the various ways to catch a trout. Worms or flies, trolling from a boat or shore casting—it doesn’t matter. Anything goes in God’s little (make that rather large) slice of trout heaven known as Mammoth Lakes. To help you make the most out of all your options, here’s a rundown of the popular styles of fishing in the Eastern Sierra.

Bait Casting

The most basic method of fishing and the way most of us become familiar with the sport is bait casting. Our dads or grandmas or camp counselors handed us a rod with a worm dangling from the business end of the hook and away we went. That same scene still happens just about every day of the season around Mammoth Lakes. The worms up here in the High Sierra are inflated night crawlers, suspended behind a weight that rests upon the bottom of the lake while a bobber strides atop the surface. Watching that bobber disappear and then feeling the fight of a trout on the other end is a sensation that’s hooked countless anglers to a lifetime of fishing, especially when they experience it someplace as spectacular as the Mammoth Lakes Basin. A big plus for bait casting is there are all kinds of rod and reel options to can accommodate any budget, so it isn’t very expensive to gear up a couple of anglers for a successful bait fishing day. Take your gear up to Twin Lakes, Lake Mary, Lake George, Convict Lake or stretches of Mammoth Creek, all close to town and some of the best places for bait casting. Besides casting night crawlers, live crickets, salmon eggs, all kinds of PowerBait and Zeke’s “Floating” Gold Sierra Trout Bait are all popular and productive.

Spin Casting

While bait casting is the easiest and most widely accepted way to catch trout, spin casting is the most popular way to fish the Eastern Sierra. Using the same gear needed to bait cast, spin casters replace the worm with a lure or a jig. But the biggest difference is in the action. Spin gear is cast and then reeled back in, instead of the simply cast and set on bait rigs (waiting for the bobber to dip below the surface with a bite). The appeal of spin casting for anglers is the constant action—casting, retrieving, unsnagging, tying on new gear and catching feisty fish looking to hit a moving object. Spin casting also usually requires anglers to really work the water, which is another appeal of the fishy pastime. The popular lures for the region include Thomas Buoyants, Kastmasters, Mepps, Rapala, Rooster Tails, Tasmanian Devils and Panther Martins. Small jigs of all colors and scents by makers like Berkley are also productive. Like bait casting, spin casting is also rather inexpensive and can be successful throughout the Mammoth Lakes Basin, especially for brook trout at hike-to lakes in the region.


Trolling a day away at a lake, such as Mary or Convict or Crowley, is the type of move that makes you feel like you’re living your life right. Popular in the larger lakes, trolling from a motorboat can be productive year round, but especially so during the warm weather months.   Trout can be picky, not only about what they eat, but also when it comes to water temperatures. Trout are a cold-water species, so they tend to stay in the depths that hold those ideal temperatures. During the warm weather months, that tends to be at the bottom of the lake. The same gear used for bait or spin casting can work trolling, although heavier line and rods are a safer bet. Down riggers help as well since it’s important to get the lures down to the proper depth. Anything from worms to lures can be used trolling. Althought, needlefish and spoons, including Little Cleos, are the most popular selections. Many larger lakes in the region offer boat ramps and just about every lake in the Mammoth Lakes area rents out a variety of boats.

Fly Fishing

If you’re looking for a bit of a challenge, the most romantic—and some might say snobby—way to catch trout around Mammoth Lakes is with a fly rod. While the region doesn’t have the massive and legendary rivers of places like Idaho and Montana, Mammoth Lakes offers some of the best stillwater fly fishing you’ll ever find, as well as easy access to the Blue Ribbon waters of Hot Creek. For those anglers new to the sport, the Upper Owens River is an ideal place to learn to fly fish, as there’s plenty of room to cast and plenty of trout to cast for. On the other end of the challenge spectrum, Hot Creek isn’t an easy place to fish, but it does offer the classic small stream dry fly fishing experience so many people equate with this form of angling. The Mammoth Lakes Basin and Crowley Lake offer some of the best wet fly stillwater fly fishing in the West. Whether you like to strip streamers or dance midges just off the bottom, you can catch some pretty big fish on some small flies in the waters around Mammoth Lakes. All of the tackle shops in Mammoth Lakes offer fly fishing guides, and nothing assures you’ll have a successful time more than going out with a pro. The start up costs to get into fly fishing are high, but the long term costs are equivalent to that of spin casters or trolling fans.


A simpler form of fly fishing that’s been catching on across the country is Tenkara. Originally used to fish for brook trout in the mountains of Japan, Tenkara rods are different from a traditional fly rod in a couple of ways. The biggest difference is that Tenkara rods don’t have reels. This makes them easier to use, to cast and to pay for since the cost of a reel and a long fly line is cut out. With the line attached to the tip, Tenkara rods are also easier to cast, using a more limited version of a regular fly rod cast. Tenkara rods are a great ways to get introduced to fly fishing and even work well for most children. The second difference is that the modern versions of Tenkara rods telescope out from just a couple feet long to more than nine feet, making them easier to pack into the car, or the backcountry. The moving water, especially the streams that enter and exit lakes around Mammoth, are the best places to cast a Tenkara rod. And any flies that work with a regular rod, like Humpies, Beatles, Pale Morning Duns or Zebra Midges, can be very effective with a Tenkara rod. If you’re interested in exploring one of these methods of fishing for the first time, talk to one of the local tackle or guide shops. They can supply you with gear and even take you on a guided trip to help you get started.

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Mike McKenna

Award-winning author and journalist Mike McKenna is the writer behind the new book Casting Around the Eastern Sierra, which was recently awarded runner-up in the Outdoor Writers Association of California's Best Outdoor Guidebook category. The book focuses on fishing in Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding area, with tips and tricks from local experts.

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