Lake Casitas: Big Bass Paradise
By Mike Blackwell
VENTURA, Calif. - Ed Guyette and Randy Crabtree are trophy hunters. They load up with magnum size lures big enough to scatter fish like a flock of spooked seagulls with a shark nipping at their tail feathers.

The two Californians have come to the right lake to do their big-game fishing. Picturesque Lake Casitas is to big-bass fishing as the Serenghetti is to old-time big-game hunting.

"There is not another lake in the world that is producing the amount of large bass," claims Randy King, who has worked at the marina for more than 20 years and sees about every big bass landed in the lake. He takes snap shots of most of them.

King, who loves to fish but only in the ocean, says he counted 47 bass of 10 pounds or more between Feb. 12 and March 6.

"I don't know how many others were caught by anglers who didn't say a word," he says. "Some fishermen don't say a thing about catching big fish, for one reason or another."

Guyette and Crabtree look as if a movie casting director had picked out the two for roles of fishermen who fish for big fish. They look like they could just as easily have stepped off the football field instead of stepping out of their high-powered, fully equipped bass boat swaying lazily with the waves at the marina dock.

Nowadays, they fish almost exclusively for double-digit bass, fish that weigh 10 pounds or more.

"It's a thrill. I would rather catch one 10-pounder than 20 4-pounders," Guyette says. "It's more of an obsession now."

"When I go out and catch a bass that weighs 10 pounds or more, it makes my day," says Crabtree, his eyes lighting up with the thought. "I'm happy the rest of the day."

If he knows the exact figure, he's not saying, but Crabtree has caught at least 200 bass of 10 pounds or heavier.

There are three keys to consistently catch big bass at Casitas. You've got to fish the right spot at the right time with the right lure.

"You've got to fish where there a stick-ups, or you're just praying," says Crabtree.

"They've got to have a place to hide," says Guyette.

The lure of choice for all the hundreds of anglers seeking big bass is a replica of a rainbow trout. The Department of Fish and Game and Calaveras Trout Farm plant thousands of pounds of trout in the lake each year.

There are a number of trout imitation lures on the market: Stocker Trout, AC Plug, Castaic Soft Trout, Osprey and Eagle to name a few of the favorites. More will probably be out on the market within the year. The plugs cost from $15 to $30 each. Guyette once bought one of the more in-demand lures for $60.

The lures are 9-12 inches long. When cast with an 8-foot rod and top-notch conventional reel with 25-pound test line, they land with all the subtlety of a red-nosed clown doing a belly flop for laughs.

Big bass love big lures.

"They feed mostly on shad and crawdads," says Crabtree, "but trout is filet mignon to them."

"They really slam it," Guyette says.

"It's not like the tick-tick you feel when fishing with a plastic worm," says Crabtree. "There's no doubt when they hit."

When fishing the big lures, you basically cast as far as you can and still be in big-bass territory. "The boat spooks big bass," says Crabtree. "You want your lure as far away from the boat as possible."

With the reel in gear, you let the lure sink. Sometimes the lure is hit on the drop. But most of the time, the hits are near the bottom. A slow, stop-and-go retrieve sometimes works. Don't work the lure fast.

"Big bass are like me," says Crabtree, laughing. "I'm not going to sprint 40 yards to chase something down."

If you're after big fish, it's critical to find spots where they rest. Typically, this is in water 20-30 feet deep off points and underwater humps in the lake. Knowing the lake is crucial if you want to take luck out of the equation.

You want to fish where there are rocks, logs and other structure so the bass can hide in good ambush spots. When a small fish swims by, big bass attacks and swallows in the blink of an eye.

The lake has about 2,500 surface acres of water so there are plenty of spots for bass to hide. You can't just motor out and begin casting indiscriminately.

A good spot to look for is a ridge with a sharp drop-off to 30 or more feet that has a nearby weedline, a magnet for small fish and crustaceans.

Because the lake is so clear, anglers sometimes inadvertently spot big bass lying on the bottom.

"I have seen them hiding by a rock, hardly moving," Guyette says. "You don't see them until you're almost on top of them."

Bass are cold-water critters. As the water warms up, their metabolism speeds up, so they feed more often. Bass are opportunists. Drop a tasty morsel - a trout lure for instance - in front of their nose and you you might get a bite. And you might not. You can drag your lure through 10 bass and not get a second look. Then the 11th will attack.

When an angler finds the final solution to why some bass strike and others won't, he will become the master fisherman of all time.

"These big fish aren't dumb," says Crabtree. "They have seen about every lure made."

The heaviest bass ever caught at Casitas weighed 21.19 pounds, just shy of the 70-year-old world record of 22-4 set by George Perry in 1932 in Montgomery, Ga. Ray Easley caught the Casitas record on March 4, 1980, on a live crawdad.

"For a long time, I didn't think the lake had a bass that big," Crabtree says.

He has since changed his mind.

"I had one follow my lure up to the boat where I could see it. I said, 'Ed, look at that...look at that.' It was the biggest bass I had ever seen. It was huge."

"I think that might have been a world-record bass."

Visions like that keep pulling anglers like Crabtree and Guyette to the lake like nature calling salmon upstream.

"It's a passion," says Crabtree.

"It's an obsession," says Guyette.

So, the big-game hunters go about their sport knowing they are fishing in the best of times.

Species Present: Lake Casitas is known as a premiere Southern California "Big Bass" lake. Other game fish include smallmouth bass, catfish, bluegill, crappie and red ear sunfish. Trout are stocked early Fall through early summer.
Seasons: All Year** Be sure to check fishing regulations on the Department of Fish and Game website listed below under "Valuable Links".
Access: Lake Casitas is located 78 miles northwest of Los Angeles and 12 miles north of Ventura, off Highway 150.
Camping: The Lake Casitas Recreation Area offers fishing, boating, picnicking, and camping. There are no Forest Service Campgrounds close to this area.
Comments: Approximately 2500 surface acres and 30 miles fishable shoreline.
More Information: Ojai Ranger District Office 805-646-4348




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