Local anglers in the know
by Chris Schaffer
Ed Guyette and Randy Crabtree are two of the best California
anglers that most of you have never heard of. They aren't spiffy;
their old '85 Skeeter boat fools many anglers into ignoring them
as they back into the water and their methods aren't practiced
by many. Their old, beat up, white 1973 Ford pickup hints at
their local allure.
Don't get caught judging anglers by the price of their boat.
Guyette and Crabtree have built a wealth of knowledge by being
low key and keeping to themselves during their mischievous hunts
for only trophy fish. While the fishing buddies from Ojai have
refrained from boasting about their success, naturally, many
anglers have caught on.
Their quiet whisper no longer creeps through the water at Lake
Casitas. The duo has inadvertently created a following of anglers
who attempt to duplicate their methods.
Even by many pros, their success is hardly achieved. Anglers
salivate over what jealous fishermen think of as fabled catches
the two report daily. However, Polaroids, certified scales and
no-bull marina operators can verify it all. Try beating this
... countless limits of 75-plus redear sunfish more than 2 pounds,
32 largemouth bass bigger than 10 pounds this year, including
Crabtree's 19.8, the second largest bass ever at Casitas, plus
days of catching and releasing dozens of catfish whose combined
weight is more than the two die-hard anglers put together. A
38-pound cat is their biggest to date, yet even more impressive
is a combined limit of 325 pounds of cats this past summer.
"That is typical," said Randy King of Lake Casitas
boat rentals. "It's like a soap opera. It's fun to watch.
It's all petty jealousy. All the anglers hate each other. If
they didn't catch the fish they don't believe it was caught.
Nobody gets along. (Crabtree and Guyette) fish their asses off.
They are producing the fish because they put in the time. They
are out there three to four times a week. They are the most consistent
I was fortunate enough to catch the tail end of the "sight
and sought-after" catfish season. It was then I realized
there are no secrets. These guys fish like you and I do. How
are they so successful when the boat next door isn't getting
a nibble? It's all about creating a plan and executing it to
perfection. They have the keys to successful fishing: knowledge,
determination, patience and faith.
While known as one of the best trophy bass lakes in the world,
Casitas' channel catfish go unnoticed. They shouldn't. With fish
that average 8 to 10 pounds, their place has an aspect of trophy
fishing that is hard to come by. A 3- to 6- pound fish is small;
most anglers don't weigh in anything less than 15 pounds. Keep
in mind that Southern California's most well-known and heavily
planted catfish producers, Corona, Santa Ana River Lakes, Laguna
Niguel and Irvine's fish average is 1 to 3 pounds.
Unfortunately, the catfish have spawned and the productive sight
fishing season has passed. However, nearly three months of hot
action still remain. Time to switch methods. Here is what Guyette
and Crabtree will be doing from now until late October, and you
should be, too.
Daytime fishing takes some patience - and a depth finder. Most
of the cats lurk in 100 to 140 feet of water. With a proper weight
attached to reach the bottom, and a chunk of mackerel your day
could be action-packed. However, locating the fish isn't always
easy. Many anglers track the cats for months before successfully
finding their daytime hangouts.
On the other hand, night fishing can be great. The only unfortunate
thing is that Lake Casitas only permits night fishing once a
month. Twilight fishing is allowed on the north end until 11
p.m. on full moon nights. Pencil in these dates: Aug. 23, 24,
Sept. 19, 20, 21 and Oct. 17, 18 and 19.
Take this into consideration; if you pay for your campsite and
are quiet and respectful no one will bother you if you toss a
nice stinky mackerel out the back of your campsite. Fortunately,
that's where many of the big boys are caught. Time to squash
a false rumor; no matter what you have heard from other anglers
trout cannot be used as bait.
"No can do on the trout and parts thereof," said Mike
McBride, a Southern California regional patrol chief for the
California Department of Fish and Game. "You can't use trout
anywhere in the state. People can use dead ocean fish. (The use
of trout) spreads disease and is an improper use of a game fish.
People would be catching trout to use as bait and that's not
why we put them in there."
When night fishing is totally legal your options span to greater
lengths. Crabtree and Guyette use both traditional methods and
a few homemade recipes, which are unfamiliar to most folks in
this part of the country.
Bait fishing is common and productive near the main marina, group
camp area and G Camp, not to mention off points, along rocky
areas, flats and coves, but the surest way to land the biggest
fish is with a crankbait.
"I tell you, they sure tear up a crankbait," said Crabtree,
who uses a G-Loomis rod with a Calcutta reel and 25-pound P-Line.
"My hooks are bent and the paint is chipped off all my lures.
This is an excellent catfish lake. There are a lot more cats
here than people think there are."
Those able to use crankbaits at night have an advantage. Target
places where crawdads reside and you'll find schools of catfish,
too. At night, in the shallows, the catfish move in groups to
try to corral and flush the crawdads into open water where the
cats can feed on them.
"You'll hear a lot of splashing. Usually, you'll find them
by accident bass fishing," added Crabtree, who uses Norman
crankbaits in the red crawdad pattern as soon as the catfish
commence their spawn and up through late October as long as the
water remains warm. "It just takes time. After a while,
you'll know what a catfish splash sounds like."
While unsure if the catfish spawn successfully in Casitas, the
California Department of Fish and Game is proud of the established
trophy catfish fishery in the lake.
"I don't know if they are spawning, because I'm not out
there looking for that, but right now Casitas' catfish are doing
really well," said Fish and Game biologist Eloise Tavares,
who is responsible for Ventura County lakes and electro-fishes
Casitas twice a year. "(Last time we electro-fished) we
got some really nice catfish. We didn't see many 1- to 2-pound
fish. The smallest was about 4 pounds. The biggest was pretty
Fish and Game has no record of catfish being planted since at
least 1991. They also confirmed that no permits to plant catfish
have been granted by the lake concessionaire or United Water
who operates the lake. In this case, a lack of management on
the fishery has proved to be the best management. At least for
Chris Shaffer is a freelance writer
and the author of the "Definitive Guide to Fishing in California."
His books can be purchased at fishingcalifornia.net.
© 2002 The Ojai
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RANDY CRABTREE LANDED an 8-pound catfish using a night crawler
during a recent trip to Lake Casitas.