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Don't Count Out Casitas

Don't Count Out Casitas

Right now, you've got two great options to catch largemouths at Lake Casitas: live crawdads or swimbaits. Here's how to fish them to catch a limit or a lunker at this famous Southern California hotspot. (March 2007)

Ed Guyette drags swimbaits around Lake Casitas in March for big bass like this 10-pounder. But live crawdads will get the same result as those $50 lures.
Photo by Chris Shaffer

When you're talking about Southern California largemouth bass, a lot of water goes a long way

Lake Casitas experienced that first-hand in 2004. Unexpected deluges in October, November and December raised the lake's level from near-drought stage to full pool.


Before that massive influx, low water levels led to less forage, diminished structure and increased fishing pressure. Stress was mounting on Casitas' bass, and the lake's reputation was at stake. But as the lake rose, nutrients flooded it. Cover reappeared, and the reservoir's bass population upheld its stardom.


MORE BASS

Anglers are still seeing the effects of that turnaround. That bodes well if you're looking for lunkers this spring.


"The high water is going to mean there should be more forage for the bass, so they should have no problem maintaining weight or actually gaining weight," says Mike Giusti, a fisheries biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game.

Giusti believes that the high water that arrived in 2004 will have a positive long-term effect on Casitas' bass. Consider this: The high water arrived in late fall and early winter. In the spring, when bass spawn, the reservoir was at or near full-pool. Therefore, the large females for which Casitas is well known had great spawning grounds -- and completed one of the most successful spawns since El Nino raised the lake to full pool in 1998.


"We should have had significantly greater spawning success, and you should have higher growth rates with all the nutrients that were flushed into the lake," Giusti added. "I think what it's going to mean is there is going to be a lot more spawning bass this year than there have been the last few years."

Most anglers don't remember that in the spring of 2005, Lake Casitas' water clarity was so poor that sight-fishing was nearly impossible. For the first time in decades, that allowed the bass to live through a successful spawn without being harassed by dozens of anglers every day. Giusti believes the young-of-the-year from 2005 -- who will participate in their first spawn this spring -- could be the best year-class of bass at Casitas in decades.

"The fish born three years ago are going to be able to spawn now, so there's going to be that many more fish on beds," said Giusti, who believes those bass should now be 12 to 15 inches. "So sight-fishing could be very good this year. It's not uncommon to see a year-class dominate a fishery for five or six years, and I think that the fish born in 2005 could do that."

On the other hand, this also means that Casitas will offer anglers many more small bass than in the last several years. Expect to catch greater numbers of 12- to 15-inch bass. Hands down, you'll catch a ton of them.

"Guys may have to go through up to 30 fish to get a better-quality fish," Giusti added.

Don't be discouraged, though. The massive females that appear on the covers of dozens of bass magazines will still be here.

"For a while I was wondering if we still had 15-pound-plus fish in here," said Randy King of Lake Casitas Marina. "But last year we started to see them show again, so we know they are around."

Now, King is sure that there are bass more than 20 pounds in here.

"Guys who know bass well see them all the time in the spring," he said.

But who knows for sure if Casitas can kick out 20-pounder again? Rest assured, it still offers more 10- to 15-pound bass than any other water in the state.

SWIMBAITS

This spring, your ticket to trophy-bass success is the swimbait.

"In March, it's swimbaits all the way. You better have a swimbait with you," says local Casitas angler Ed Guyette, who over the last two decades has caught and released more than 500 bass heavier than 10 pounds in Lake Casitas.

In the last 10 years, swimbaits have become standard practice for nearly every serious shore or boat angler.

"I haven't had to change the way I fish the swimbaits because of the fishing pressure. I've been going out and fishing them the same way, and I still am kicking butt," Guyette said. "It's just taking more time to get bit."

The only thing that has changed is the number, size and style of swimbaits available. Years ago, Castaic Soft Trout and AC Plugs were the mainstay. The Huddleston, Stocker Trout, Rago, Megabait and others elbowed their way into the market.

"There's a lot more different swimbaits out there now, but we are fishing them the same way," Guyette said. "It's become harder to catch bass on swimbaits because of the number of people throwing them. But you have to just keep throwing the swimbaits over and over again.

"You can't just throw it two or three times and say, 'Forget it. It's not working.' I'll stay with it for hours. It's not every time I get a fish. But most of the time, I'll get one big one," said the bass expert.

Casitas yields more big bass on swimbaits than any other West Coast water. And by "big" bass, we are talking 10- to 15-pounders. Fish them over the underwater humps and points, anything with shallow-water and deep-water access, said Guyette. In March, the bigger, 12-inch swimbaits are the best bet.

"They are planting a lot of trout that are 12 inches in March, and that's what the bass are keyed in on," Guyette said.

BAITS FOR BIG BASS

On the other hand, you don't have to invest in expensive swimbaits to cash in on trophy bass. Bait anglers have a direct line to the trophy fish with live crawdads. The technique goes overlooked because tournament anglers frown upon it. However, anglers have proven the technique is a winner at Casitas for several decades.

"If you fish live crawdads in March on points, you are guaranteed to catch fish. That's a given," said Guyette. "I'd fish 3-and-a-half t

o 4-inch crawdads, and we always catch big fish with them."

Come April, the fishery changes drastically. That's when Casitas' bass pound trout, shad, crawdads and panfish. In mid- to late April, shad spawn at Casitas. They ball up, come to the surface and are easy pickings for feeding bass. You'll probably have to sift through dozens of 1- to 3-pound bass before you catch a monster, but April and early to mid-May are prime time to fish live shad.

The swimbait bite is still going, even in April, but it slows down a lot because of the shad. The bass key in on shad in April. You'll need a dip net to catch live shad. They should be fished on 6-pound-test or lighter. With so many anglers using live shad nowadays, you'll have to use light line or else risk spooking the bass.

Also, use small hooks like No. 1. Larger hooks might be more attractive, but they tend to tire out the shad quicker. A smaller, lighter hook puts less strain on the tiny shad. When you locate the bait balls of shad, fish the live shad right outside the bait balls, where bass will be feeding.

"If you can make your shad look wounded and fish it right outside the bait ball, it's a given you'll get bit," Guyette added.

In March and April, anglers can find great action sight-fishing for bass. A single white jig or plastic worm fished in 3 to 10 feet of water on spawning beds is a sure way to catch bass, but many of the fish might be small.

March and April give anglers lots of options to hook up with bass on Casitas. But you'll never land a 20-pounder if you don't show up and wet a line.

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