Fish story

Catch big bass at Ventura County's Lake Casitas
Ken McAlpine

Somewhere down there, the fatty of all fatties may lurk, a lunker of legend, a fish that indiscriminately inhales trout, frogs, and snakes, but, up to this moment, disdains to take a fisherman's bait. Many believe Lake Casitas, hunkered between Ventura and Ojai, is home to the monster largemouth bass, a piscine porker that, by dint of savvy and gluttony, has grown into something approximating the shape and heft of a bowling ball.

"The experts predict the next world-record bass will come from Casitas," says Marc Mitrany, owner of Ojai Angler Professional Fishing Guide Services. "Being one of the experts, I agree with them 100 percent."

The bass-obsessed Mitrany is familiar with the statistics. The record for the biggest bass catch in history still goes to George Perry, who caught his 22-pound, 4-ounce monster in Montgomery Lake, Georgia, in 1932. But that is not much bigger than the record 21-pound, 3-ouncer hauled from Casitas itself. For anglers, this whiff of possibility is a powerful siren call. Avid bassers' boats dot Casitas's coves like floating lawn ornaments.

Lake Casitas isn't just about fishing. Its 32-plus miles of shoreline tilt up into rolling hills spotted with oak and wildlife�deer, coyotes, and red-tailed hawks. Lakeside trails are good for hiking and biking; rent a bike from Cycles-4-Rent (888/405-2453; reservations required). If you decide to stay overnight, there are 400 campsites in 12 different campgrounds (805/649-1122). And Lake Casitas Cafe (805/649-2514) opens at 5:30 a.m.; it serves breakfast and lunch and has a fine view of the water.

Because Casitas was created in part to provide drinking water for surrounding towns, you can't actually go into the water. But you can travel its surface: the Lake Casitas Marina offers boat and kayak rentals. Come May, you can splash at the Blue Heron Water Playground, which offers water slides.

But this month, your mind should be on fish. It's prime time for bass, as this is typically when the ravenous creatures start to spawn. (Casitas is also home to rainbow trout, catfish, and redear sunfish, and many anglers are satisfied with them.) If bass are your goal, it's best to hire a guide, like Marc Mitrany's Ojai Angler (800/572-6230; www.ojaiangler.com). Bass, especially the big ones, are wily�"They didn't get big by being stupid," opines one basser. It pays to be accompanied by someone who knows their ways.

Casitas essentials

WHERE: From the south, take U.S. 101 to Ventura, then take State 33 north 15 miles to State 150; drive west 5 miles, then go south on Santa Ana Rd. From the north, take U.S. 101 to Carpinteria, then take State 150 east 12 miles.

CONTACT: Lake Casitas Recreation Area, (805) 649-2233.

FISHING: Required California fishing license is available from the Lake Casitas Marina (805/649-2043).