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Spring bass fishing season is in full gear

Time is running out and Marc Mitrany knows it.

The sun hovers over the western ridge; a long afternoon of fishing at Lake Casitas is winding to a close.

The lead guide for Ojai Angler had, a week earlier, hooked a client up with a dream bass, a 16-pound female, which was weighed and released.

Now there’s a reporter on board and all the two have caught are a few 2- to 3-pounders -- certainly nothing to boast about.

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“I’ve been stressing all day about getting a big fish,” Mitrany concedes, while working a plastic worm along the weedy shore, eyes searching for nesting females close to the surface.

The spawning season has not fully kicked in. The fish have moved up, then down again, and the larger females have suddenly developed “lockjaw,” Mitrany says.

But they still must eat and that becomes evident in the form of a loud, whooshing splash that generates tsunami-like wakes visible as widening circles atop the glassy lake.

Mitrany bends down and reaches for a larger rod the way a man might grab a rifle to shoot a charging bear.

It has a bigger bait on the line, a Huddleston Deluxe, which mimics a trout. The lure flies and doubting Thomas inserts foot into mouth.

“Too bad that bass already caught a real trout,” he says.

“I know, but maybe it’s a wolf pack, 10 or 12 of them out on patrol,” the guide answers.

The fake trout splashes down. Mitrany reels. Two cranks, four cranks, six cranks ... Strike! In the distance, a golden fish leaps and shakes.

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The guide yields no slack, however, and moments later has alongside the boat another dream bass, a plump specimen weighing perhaps 11 pounds.

The camera shutter clicks away and Mitrany’s sigh of relief sounds almost like a balloon that has come untied.

His flare for the dramatic -- this final-hour catch -- is duly noted as the engine turns and Mitrany speeds eastward toward the marina, staying just ahead of the shadow cast by the ridge.

He has been fishing since dawn with other clients and will sleep well. But tomorrow’s another day, he points out, with more clients and more expectations, although admittedly with far less pressure to perform.

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Fine fickle friends

The spring bass-fishing season has sprung throughout the Southland.

Fish are rising -- or have risen -- to build nests and procreate, and fishermen are zipping around in speedy bass boats, making sport of this phenomenon.

The game is not always easy, as the big fish are interested primarily in making little fish.

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A cold spell or strong wind can drive them back into hiding. Even the slightest rippling can make locating nests difficult.

Then there’s the fickle nature of fishing -- any kind of fishing -- and few fisheries are as fickle as Lake Casitas.

“That’s for sure,” said Mitrany, 40, a lifelong resident of nearby Ojai, and a longtime fixture atop this sprawling reservoir west of Highway 33 and the roadside community of Oak View.

When we embarked last Friday afternoon, only partial evidence of the spawning season could be detected. Mitrany, guiding his boat from the bow with a foot-controlled trolling motor, pointed to empty beds made of white shells and rocks.

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Small bass swam lazily near some of the nests, but none hovered directly over them or lashed out at our lures in an effort to protect them.

When the spawn is in full swing and the males are guarding these beds, the larger females on or below them become fiercely protective of the males.

Finding an occupied nest, thus, is for a serious bass angler like discovering treasure, with egg-laden females representing the choicest nuggets.

The only thing more exciting, perhaps, is encountering a wolf pack out on patrol.

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Spring flings

* Dixon Lake: Repairs after a 12-foot drawdown are complete and water is being released back into the Escondido reservoir -- site of a 25-pound 1-ounce bass catch and release last March -- and anglers eagerly await improved spawning conditions and, perhaps, another shot at that world-record-class behemoth.

* Diamond Valley Lake: Poway’s Mike Long set a lake record last Friday with the catch of a 16.43-pound largemouth at the Hemet fishery’s west dam. He used a Real Trout swimbait.

Lake biologist Mike Giusti said that some bass are on beds but predicted that the lake-wide spawn wouldn’t occur for at least two weeks.

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* Trout opener update: The Eastern Sierra received six inches of snow this week, but the pack remains light and access to higher destinations, barring more wintry weather, should not be problematic during the trout season opener April 28.

“Before the storm -- and I’m sure again by the end of the week -- I was able to ride my Harley almost to Parchers,” said Gary Olson, owner of Bishop Creek Lodge. Parchers Resort is at 9,200 feet.

Ice cover is thin at high lakes such as South and Sabrina, and there is virtually no ice at Crowley, which bodes well for a lively opener.

* Skiing/snowboarding: Mountain High in Wrightwood closed this week, citing poor conditions. Snow Summit, Bear Mountain and Snow Valley in the Big Bear area remain open with base depths up to 30 inches.

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pete.thomas@latimes.com


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