Catch big bass at Ventura County's Lake Casitas

Ken McAlpine

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

"The experts predict the next world-record bass will come fromCasitas," says Marc Mitrany, owner of Ojai Angler ProfessionalFishing Guide Services. "Being one of the experts, I agree withthem 100 percent."

The bass-obsessed Mitrany is familiar with the statistics. Therecord for the biggest bass catch in history still goes to GeorgePerry, who caught his 22-pound, 4-ounce monster in Montgomery Lake,Georgia, in 1932. But that is not much bigger than the record21-pound, 3-ouncer hauled from Casitas itself. For anglers, thiswhiff of possibility is a powerful siren call. Avid bassers' boatsdot Casitas's coves like floating lawn ornaments.

Lake Casitas isn't just about fishing. Its 32-plus miles ofshoreline tilt up into rolling hills spotted with oak andwildlife�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 youdecide to stay overnight, there are 400 campsites in 12 differentcampgrounds (805/649-1122). And Lake Casitas Cafe (805/649-2514) opens at 5:30 a.m.; itserves breakfast and lunch and has a fine view of the water.

Because Casitas was created in part to provide drinking waterfor surrounding towns, you can't actually go into the water. Butyou can travel its surface: the Lake Casitas Marina offers boat andkayak rentals. Come May, you can splash at the Blue Heron WaterPlayground, which offers water slides.

But this month, your mind should be on fish. It's prime time forbass, as this is typically when the ravenous creatures start tospawn. (Casitas is also home to rainbow trout, catfish, and redearsunfish, and many anglers are satisfied with them.) If bass areyour 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 getbig by being stupid," opines one basser. It pays to be accompaniedby someone who knows their ways.

Casitas essentials

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

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

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

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