JAUNTS : An On-the-Fly Course Teaches the Art of Fishing in the Surf : It's the angling associated with mountain streams, but a master of the sport shows why he's hooked on using it at the beach.


Ah, fly-fishing. It brings to mind a peaceful, secluded mountain stream. Maybe the Sespe in Los Padres National Forest, or the cool waters of Montana captured in the movie "A River Runs Through It."

Or the foamy surf of Ventura County's coastline?

Fishing pro Richard Schwalm teaches not only freshwater fly-fishing, but also the less popular saltwater version. He has a series of classes starting Saturday through the Conejo Valley Adult School in Thousand Oaks.

Called "Fly Fishing the Surf," the class meets on four Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon at the school. The cost is $42.

"The reason I put the class together," Schwalm said, "is that there is a high interest in freshwater fly-fishing, and here we are living close to the ocean--why not adapt. It's such a natural."

Wading barefoot into the surf near the Ventura Harbor last week, he gave a fly-casting demonstration that drew a few passersby. He flicked the rod back and forth gracefully, snapping the line in and out of the foamy water.

Students in his class learn the tricky casting motion that is basically the same for fresh or saltwater fishing. But the tackle is heavier for fishing the surf--he was using a nine-foot, 5 1/4-ounce rod with a 10-weight line. The fly is bigger too, colorful, fuzzy, feathery creations about four inches long--not the tiny imitation flies used for streams.

"Surf fishing is harder than freshwater," he said, as he cast his line near the jetty. "It's fishing blind--you can't see the rising fish, where they're resting and feeding."

Strategy is a big part of it, stalking the fish and finding them. Surf fishing involves knowing the tide tables and when the fish are feeding, and watching for clues, like where the birds are feeding, layout of the beach, and the location of rocks.

The catch is different too. Instead of trout, it's barred perch, yellow-finned croaker, corbina, and maybe halibut.

The methods, the strategy and the fish--it's all stuff he covers in the class, along with the history of fly-fishing, tackle, and ethics and environmental responsibilities. He preaches the catch-and-release philosophy.

"It's not how many fish I can catch," he said. "It's having a wonderful day on the water."

At the end of the four-class series, Schwalm will lead an additional, optional fishing field trip, probably to the same spot near the mouth of the Ventura Harbor, for an additional fee.

Schwalm, 54, doesn't have much use for other types of fishing. "Boats are boring," he joked. He got a taste of fly-fishing as a boy living near Sequoia National Park. He took it up seriously 10 years ago.

Now he is active with fly-fishing organizations and is a licensed California fishing guide. He has taught fly-fishing through the Conejo Adult School for three years. On top of that, he writes for "Dusty Times," an off-road monthly magazine. Of course all that takes a back seat to his real job: teaching second grade at University Elementary School in Thousand Oaks.


* WHAT: Fly Fishing the Surf.

* WHEN: Four Saturdays beginning this weekend, from 9 a.m. to noon.

* WHERE: Conejo Valley Adult School (Room 13), 1025 Old Farm Road, Thousand Oaks.

* COST: $42 plus $5 lab fee.

* CALL: 497-2761. Advance registration required.

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