September 29, 2010
This famous largemouth bass water is actually made up of
two lakes. Here's how and where to catch bucketmouths on both of them.
In any listing of trophy largemouth bass made in the last couple of decades, you'll find Castaic Lake prominently featured. An unofficial list of California's 25 largest bass maintained by Dennis Lee of the California Department of Fish and Game shows that nine of the 25 largest bass ever caught in California were taken from Castaic. A similar list that covers the whole country was published in Bart Crab's 1997 book Quest for the World Record Bass. It lists the same nine giant fish, noting that while the world record of 22 pounds, 4 ounces was caught in Georgia in 1932, places 2 through 5 are held by fish from Castaic, including the huge 22-pound, 1-ounce fish caught and released by Bob Crupi in 1991.
There are actually two Castaic Lakes. The main, or upper, lake is a deep, V-shaped junction of two canyons and measures 2,235 surface acres captured within 29 miles of shoreline. The lower lake, often called Castaic Lagoon is just three miles around and covers 197 surface acres. Both lakes have good populations of largemouth bass. Some of the larger bass in recent years have come from the lower lake, and it is a popular spot with many anglers.
The upper lake is a boater's lake, while the lower lake allows 24-hour fishing from the shore, and anglers can take to the water in float tubes. Boats can be launched, but only electric trolling motors are allowed for powering about the lagoon.
Neither Castaic is a natural lake. They are part of the California Water Project, a system of canals, reservoirs and pumping stations that bring water to southern California from the northern half of the state. Castaic, opened in 1971, is the last reservoir on the west branch of the California Aqueduct. In addition to storing water, Castaic also produces electrical power from a powerhouse just north of the lake
Stocked at the time the lake was being filled, Florida-strain and hybrid largemouth bass make up the primary fishery. In recent years, striped bass have made their way through the aqueduct system into nearly all the in-line reservoirs, and Castaic is no exception.
Like all the aqueduct reservoirs, Castaic is very fertile. The continued transport of water from the north brings with it many kinds of food, and in large amounts. Threadfin shad are the top forage for all the large fish, and in Castaic you can add another tasty bit of prime bass and striper food: planted rainbow trout. Nearly all the lakes that have produced giant bass in southern California have this key ingredient.
Big-bass specialist Troy Folkestad once posted a single-day five-fish limit of 55 pounds, 7 ounces at Castaic. Photo courtesy of Troy Folkestad
Castaic is not just a place for world-record largemouths. Tournament anglers regularly boat limits of chunky 2- to 4-pound fish, and there are enough largemouths in the 3- to 8-pound range to promise anglers the prospect of catching several quality fish in a day. The current evaluation of Castaic, which has had its ups and downs over the last decade, is that the forage base appears strong, and bass are plentiful; this despite the rapid growth of a striped bass fishery in the upper lake.
The Castaic Lagoon does not have a population of stripers, but it has a number of extremely large bass swimming in it. A great many of these fish came courtesy of bass anglers who, over the years, would take trophy fish from Castaic Lake to a local convenience store to be weighed and photographed. After weighing, it proved easier to release the big fish in the lagoon rather than return them to the larger lake. The practice has all but stopped now that certified scales are available at both lakes and the mini-mart has closed. Still, the smaller lake has a number of very large bass in it and should never be overlooked as a trophy bass hotspot.
EXPERT FISHING TIPS Trophy bass guide Troy Folkestad believes Castaic is past its prime as a pure trophy bass lake but says it's still a good bass water. Folkestad is certainly no stranger to the two Castaics. He's fished both many times over the last few years, and in 1997 posted a five-fish limit on the lagoon that weighed 55 pounds, 7 ounces.
"For the most part, you can fish both lakes the same way in the spring," Folkestad said. "If I had to pick a high-percentage bait for the first good months of February and March, it would be the pig-and-jig. Crayfish are an important food for bass in the early spring, and the bass at Castaic are no exception."
Folkestad noted his favorite colors at Castaic are muted shades of blue and blue, brown and brown, and black and brown, referring to the color of the jig and the pork trailer. These he fishes quite slowly, imitating the crawl of an undisturbed crayfish. At times, you may want to jig the lure a bit to simulate a crayfish kicking backwards with its tail, but for the most part, it's a slow drag over rocks and through submerged brush and trees - the habitat preferred by live crayfish.
Of course, a number of bass anglers hit both Castaic lakes with the real thing. Live crayfish slowly fished over deep structure like isolated points and rockpiles are deadly almost any time of the year, but particularly so in late winter and early spring.
The technique used by most is often referred to as stitchin'. The name refers to a slow, finger-twisting retrieval of line made with an angler's free hand. Spinning gear is used, with long, soft-action rods that can cast something as light as a crayfish - often with no additional weight - a considerable distance. Once the cast has been made, the slow, inching retrieve is made with the bail open.
One finger of the rod hand traps the line on the spinning reel spool to keep it from falling off in coils, while the actual retrieve is done with the left hand, a couple of inches at a time. Once you've retrieved several feet of line, you close the bail, reel up the slack, open the bait and repeat the process until it's time to cast again.
One popular method has now been outlawed. Slowly dragging a live waterdog through the structure on the bottom of the lake was a technique that worked well for some anglers on the big lake. Now, of course, you are not allowed to have or use live waterdogs in California, but you can duplicate the action by Carolina-rigging a soft plastic waterdog and either retrieving it slowly or dragging it along the bottom while under power of an electric trolling motor on your bass boat.
BIG-TROUT BAITS Since both lakes get stocks of rainbow trout during the winter and early spring months, the large swimbaits that mimic trout are especially good at the time of the plants, at least in the
"I like to use big swimbaits on the lagoon, since there are no striped bass on this smaller lake," reasons Folkestad. "On the upper lake you always find yourself fishing for stripers when you didn't intend to with the swimbaits. Stripers are more aggressive and often hit a swimbait first even if there are big bass in the area."
In Folkestad's mind, the swimbaits are best used in the lower lake, and he often slow-trolls them deep with his electric trolling motor rather than wear out his arms casting. You can cover a lot of lake bottom with this technique - a fact not lost on many trophy bass anglers at lakes throughout the region.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION Castaic Lake is just off Interstate 5, north of Los Angeles, near the small town of Castaic and is operated by the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department.
Castaic is open all year except for Christmas day. Entry fees are $6 per day per car from March through October; the fees apply only on weekdays/holidays from November through February. The fee to launch a boat is $6.
There are senior citizen and annual passes available. Call the lake office - (661) 257-4060 - for a list of options, including up-to-date fishing reports. Fishing information can also be obtained from the marina, (661) 257-2049.
Camping is available at the lake and in nearby private campgrounds. Food, lodging and other services are in close proximity. For vacationing anglers, Magic Mountain Park is only seven miles away. A good source of info is www.castaiclake.com.
If you are interested in a guided bass fishing trip on Castaic, contact Troy Folkestad at (949) 562-7588, or visit www.folkestadfishingguide.com online.
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