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Crowley Lake is known for excellent trout fishing in California's High Sierras region. Before construction of the Long Valley Dam in 1941, few trout existed in the Owens River. After the new reservoir filled with water, trout planted by California's Department of Fish and Wildlife grew into an excellent trout fishery.
Crowley Lake, owned and built by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, feeds the main Los Angeles Aqueduct, providing drinking water to the residents of four regions in southern California. The newly-filled lake reaches a depth of 114 feet and covers approximately 5,300 acres in Mono County. As is fitting for a major new lake in the arid Eastern Sierras, the lake is managed for both fishing and other recreational uses. Its convenient location off of US 395 south of Mono Lake guarantees a large number of visitors each year to appreciate its charms. The lake was named after Father Crowley, the 'desert padre' who is something of a local hero in the Owens Valley residents' battles over water rights.
As a major water supply serving millions of people, access to Lake Crowley (as it is also called) is tightly controlled. That doesn't mean it's hard to use; one concessionaire controls access to the lake and charges admission fees. The Crowley Lake Fish Camp, as the facility is called, also offers boat rental for smaller fishing boats and larger pontoon rentals to families and groups. The full-service marina offers fuel, repairs and rental dock space for long-term rental, a tackle shop, cafe and convenience store. A few full-service RV spaces are rented as are a few dry camping sites on the water and two fully-furnished cabins by reservation only.
Ample parking for private boat owners and their boat trailers is provided at Crowley Lake, along with boat storage during the off-season. Private watercraft must be inspected for invasive species before launching, particularly quagga mussels, a service offered free at the boat ramp. The lake is officially open between the end of April and the end of October. Only 13 miles south of Mammoth Lakes, Lake Crowley welcomes visitors during the warm summer months to water ski, wake board, kite-surf, kayak and stand-up paddleboard.
Trout fishing is one of the major draws to Crowley Lake, with rainbow trout, brown trout and cutthroat trout all caught. Perch are another popular fishing target; their young are a major food source for the trout which grow to excellent size. Two trout seasons exist at the lake, with early summer fishing allowing baits. The creel limit is two trout, both of which must be over 18 inches long. After the end of July, all fishing must be done with artificial lures and barbless hooks only. Fly fishing is always popular, particularly near the several inlets to the reservoir. Several trout fishing competition events occur at the lake during the summer. Trout were originally stocked in the reservoir when it first filled in the 1940s, where they were found to grow exceptionally well. Several years of research showed the best times and varieties to stock for optimal angling experiences. The intervening years have created an excellent trout fishery in great demand with anglers. The trout fishing adds yet another popular recreational activity in the Mammoth Lakes area.
Although there is limited camping directly on Crowley Lake, other campgrounds and outdoor opportunities are numerous in the immediate vicinity. The Bureau of Land Management maintains a small campground across the highway from Lake Crowley, with great lake views and access via the concession docks. Other camping areas are available in the area, along with rustic resorts and cabins with a range of amenities. Several popular hiking trails have trailheads near the south end of Crowley Lake, including the popular eight-mile Lower Rock Creek Trail, famous as a difficult, 'technical' mountain biking trail. Other trails intersect the main trails.
The small town of Crowley Lake holds a grocery store and convenience foods and supplies, acting as headquarters for recreational visitors to the area. Horseback riding can be arranged in the immediate area. An outfitter who offers training in horseback packing invites a small number of experienced horsemen on the annual horse round-up and move to winter pastures. Limited amounts of real estate are available in the vicinity, and a few private vacation rentals can be arranged.
Crowley Lake's history is a long saga of Los Angeles' quest for water and the ranchers and farmers of Owens Valley fighting to protect their water rights. What is now the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began diverting water from the Owens River in 1913, drying up natural Owens Lake in the process. Although court battles ensued, the needs of the growing metropolis soon prevailed, leaving Owens Lake a dry salty lakebed responsible for blowing alkaline dust that became a health hazard. The Water Department attempted to utilize the dry lakebed for water storage during wet seasons with disastrous results, and finally built the Long Valley Dam to contain the water while normalizing stream flow somewhat. In recent years, federal forces have declared the water of Crowley Lake to be impaired by nitrogen from agricultural run-off. That problem appears to have been solved, and LADWP floods the dry Owens Lake bed with enough water to minimize the dust storms.
Water levels grow lower in Crowley Lake late in summer but don't experience rapid change. LADWP no longer posts water levels for the public, but the concessionaire can easily give water level information to anyone interested in making a visit. Come to Crowley Lake and experience some of the world's best trout fishing.
* Statistical information for Crowley Lake is somewhat vague depending on the source. LADWP lists the catchment area as about 350 square miles, while the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board lists it as 1,947 square miles. The United States Geological Service maps show the 'Crowley Lake Watershed' as covering the entire area of Mammoth Lakes, much of the Eastern Sierras and a portion of Nevada. We have used the smaller watershed area as more representative of the actual catchment for Crowley Lake alone.
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