Fishing Crystal Lake

Oct 15, 2020

What makes fishing Crystal Lake so unique is that it not only offers breathtaking views of the Sierra, but it also offers a short, solid workout and a chance to strike gold.

Leaving the parking lot at Lake George, the trail switchbacks its way up towards Crystal Crag, a 10,700-foot granite monolith that’s popular with climbers. The hike is considered to be moderately challenging, gaining almost a thousand feet of elevation in a little over a mile. The effort is rewarded with inspiring views of the Lakes Basin below. The views of Crystal Lake and the surrounding Mammoth Crest aren’t too shabby either.

While the views are magnificent, the biggest reward for folks fishing Crystal Lake is that there’s a chance to hook into some gold. The relatively small 13-acre lake is home to the usual suspects, rainbow and brook trout, but it’s also home to a self-sustaining species of golden trout-hybrids.

That’s why Crystal Lake is a popular spot for adventurous anglers. The hike may not be easy, but it’s worth it for the views alone. Plus, when it comes to angling in the High Sierra, nothing beats a chance at hooking into some gold.           

Getting There:

Take State Highway 203/Main Street in Mammoth Lakes to Lake Mary Road. Continue straight ahead uphill to the Lakes Basin. Take the first road on the left after Lake Mary. Turn right at the stop sign after the small bridge to the Lake George parking lot and campground. The Crystal Lake Trailhead is in the northwest corner of the parking lot. The hike is slightly less than three miles and fairly steep in spots. The trail forks at 1.3 miles and a sign leads to the descent towards Crystal Lake.

Fishing 101:

The trail enters the lake at the outlet and splits to go around the lake in either direction. Both directions offer access to good fishing spots and anglers will often choose a side based on which way the wind is blowing. It’s a lot easier to cast with the wind in the midst of the High Sierra than it is to try to cast against it. Inlets and outlets tend to be the most productive at mountain lakes like Crystal. The steep, rocky banks can also be surprisingly productive. As with any high mountain lake, be cautious and quiet when approaching the water. The fish in such a place can spook easily, but they can also be very aggressive. Any regular method used for catching trout in still water will be effective.

Crystal Lake is home to rainbow, brook and golden trout-hybrids. Catch and release is recommended at most high mountain lakes, especially with golden trout, but General Season rules and regulations apply. Fishing is open from the last Saturday in April through November 15.


There are a large variety of camping options for everything from tents to motorhomes in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. There are also lodge and cabin rental options available at Twin Lakes, Lake Mary and Lake Mamie. The area is very popular in the summer, especially during weekends, so camping spots or lodging should be reserved in advance. There are also abundant lodging and camping options in the town of Mammoth Lakes.

Know Before You Go

Crystal Lake is a high mountain lake with an elevation of 9,600 feet. When in the mountains it’s always best to be prepared for a variety of weather in any season with proper clothing layers, sunscreen and plenty of hydration. It’s also a good idea to have some high protein and healthy snacks to help keep you feeling strong. The Mammoth Lakes Basin is home to a wide variety of wildlife, which should never be approached, provoked or fed. If you do any backcountry exploring, always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return.