Hooked on Lake Casitas


With a Boy Scout book for guidance, 10-year-old D.J. Spilsbury learned to fish Wednesday.

D.J., who leaves for Boy Scout camp on Catalina on Sunday, hopes to receive his fishing badge and advance his rank. But first, the Duarte youth was working on knot-tying and hook-baiting.

"I like fishing because it's fun," said D.J., adding that he hadn't actually landed a fish yet.

D.J. was among scores who turned out Wednesday to fish and relax at Lake Casitas Recreational Area, Ventura County's premier freshwater fishing spot tucked between Ojai and Ventura.

The 2,700-acre lake attracts more than just Southern Californians, said Randy King, manager at Lake Casitas Boat Rentals. Nearby, two Swedish girls were learning to fish from their uncle, a Thousand Oaks resident, while a couple from Japan headed out with a guide, hoping for a big catch.

In the summer, King said, he rents about 20 boats a day during the week and 100 a day on the weekends. About 750,000 people visit the lake each year, he said, most of them during the summer.

"We are moving into the time when we get more people here every day," he said. "Instead of being overwhelmed on holiday weekends, it's pretty constant."

Dan Rogers, 13, recently started fishing at the lake about twice a week with his friends, Tyler Spann, 13, and Brian Evans, 11. Dan and Tyler live in Ventura; Brian is from Ojai.

"It's fun and it's challenging," Dan said. "It's also a way to relax."

Dan had hooked a 3-pound bass that he planned to take home for dinner. Tyler, meanwhile, was out more for the sport than the food--he threw back two 5-pound bass.

"We use plastic worms so we have a chance for the good fish," he said.

Nearby, 61-year-old David Rankin of Oxnard was preparing to haul his new boat out of the water, after taking it out on the lake for the second time.

"Any time is a good time to come here," he said. "I'd come up all the time, but [my wife] won't let me get away."

Holly Booth of Ventura was getting away for the week with her two kids and two of their friends at the recreation area's campground.

"It's so nice out here," she said. "We got the campsite for a week, so we play, fish and take the boat out."

Some people were hoping to relax and make money at the same time.

John Wilcox, 58, brings his cellular phone and pager on his boat, along with his three fish detectors and two fishing poles.

"I'm into the stock market and it's nice to come here and keep track of the market and make $20,000 while fishing," said Wilcox, of Ventura, a retired district manager of a drug company. "Most of the time when I go fishing, the market goes up."

Wilcox said he didn't catch any fish or make any money Wednesday morning but hoped to land a couple of thousand by the end of the day.

Like most of those Wednesday, Wilcox was out as much for the scenery as the potential catch.

Because prime fishing season--February, March and April--has passed, anglers now have to outsmart the fish, said 30-year-old Rick Johnson of Ventura. The lake is stocked with bass and trout.

"It's real hard to fish because the bass are too smart and you have to stay deep," Johnson said. "The lake is fished a lot, so you have to come in the morning and evening or know where fish are hiding."

But King said that fact doesn't discourage many visitors.

"Fishing isn't as intense through the summer, but there are still lovely fish being caught," he said.

Jake Bledsoe, 14, of Ojai has come to Lake Casitas as long as he can remember, and he has some fishing secrets of his own.

"There are a lot of humps and structures in the lake where I go and no one knows about," he said.

On the other end of the competitiveness scale is Alex Zarifis, 71, a Westlake resident who sat on the shore about seven feet from his two fishing poles. Zarifis doesn't much care if he ever lands a fish.

"I just like to see the pole bend," he said. "I can't get there fast enough, but if I catch one I just throw it back. It's the bend I like."

Zarifis also entertains himself by feeding some of the Lake Casitas wildlife.

"I bring three loaves of bread, and I get a kick out of it when the squirrels fight over it," he said.

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