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Operation Crowley : Anglers Should Find More Than Good Fishing at the Popular Lake, Thanks to a Change in Atmosphere Provided by New Management

April 21, 1993|RICH ROBERTS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CROWLEY LAKE — . . . Tent-covered structures such as might be found at an Alaskan fish camp . . . the look and feel of an upscale camp catering to patrons who travel to the Eastern Sierra for its world - famous fishing opportunities.

--The Sierra Recreation Associates in a 1992 bid to operate Crowley Lake

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The vision expressed in the prose above, Jim McInnes would like to think, is what carried the day.

McInnes is chief operating officer of Sierra Recreation Associates, which last year won the bid from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to take over management of Crowley Lake after 40 years under the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks.

McInnes said: "When we were trying to figure out what this should look like, (it was considered that) a large part of the fishing public has been coming here for 40 years, and those guys remember what the old fish camps in California were like before everything got modern . . . tent cabins, an older style, a more relaxed kind of fish camp atmosphere."

So now it's Crowley Lake Fish Camp, a nostalgic touch that SRA co-owners John Frederickson and Arnie Beckman hope will strike a chord with anglers young and old longing for the good old days.

SRA, which manages other campgrounds and marinas in the Eastern Sierra, won the bidding more than a year ago. But until the last month, it held only a five-year interim agreement to manage Crowley and didn't want to commit to its full $500,000 proposal until it had a long-term lease. By the time a 15-year lease was signed, the winter's heavy snows had combined to delay all but some basic capital improvements, valued at about $150,000. Work on tent cabins, a 55-site RV park, landscaping and other additions will start later this year.

But those same storms raised the water level so high that longtime resident Randy Witters says, "I don't think I've seen it this high since before the drought."

With the water content of the snowpack at 176% of normal, according to the DWP, it will only get better until reaching maximum level in midsummer.

SRA didn't exactly promise that, but the timing was good for the resurrection of what McInnes maintains is the "most prolific still-water fishery in California--and maybe even in the Western United States."

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Return now to the days of yesteryear, when Crowley was full of water and nearly everyone went home with a trophy trout. The Eastern Sierra season will open Saturday at 5:20 a.m., when the traditional flare goes up, an hour before sunrise.

There could be a few hundred boats on the lake, which was still mostly frozen last weekend but was expected to clear in time. Fish Camp Manager Don Schultz said his 85 rental boats have been reserved since early February and registration for private boats is up 20% from last year. The gate from U.S. 395 will be opened at 6 a.m. Thursday so fishermen with their own boats can launch early and avoid the Saturday morning rush.

SRA introduced that convenience last year. It also increased the hours and lowered boat fees, addressing two longtime sore points. The gate will now be open daily from daylight to dusk throughout the season, instead of cutting back to 8 a.m.-7 p.m. and closing on Tuesdays after July. Boats will be allowed on the lake beyond August, through September and October, and private-boat season permits are now $35 instead of $75. Owners will be issued card keys so they may enter and leave before and after hours.

Witters, president of the Committee to Save Crowley Lake, is delighted that a local private enterprise is delivering the kind of management and capital outlay the L.A.-based bureaucracy was unable to provide.

"They're a thousand percent improvement over what we had before," Witters said. "That's one of the reasons our group got started. We felt that Recreation and Parks was running fishermen away. The fishing was bad enough.

"Now both things have turned around. SRA is people-oriented. They've got smiles on their faces."

Bill Wisehart, another CSCL officer, went along on an electroshocking expedition with the California Department of Fish and Game one night last fall to study the potential quality of fishing.

"Even though the electroshocking can't stun fish in depths over 10 feet, we still caught many brown trout (larger than) five pounds," Wisehart said. "We also caught (Sacramento) perch that I know would have broken the state record--many in the four-pound class."

The state record is 3.1 pounds by Jack Johnson of Carson in 1979. SRA will pay to mount the fish that breaks it. The perch suffered a severe, mysterious die-off four years ago but apparently have come back in size and numbers. After the trout, they are a lesser-known feature of Crowley exploited mainly by the locals. The Fish Camp plans to change that.

"We're going to have a number of events built around the perch this year," McInnes said.

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