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CATCH IT ON THE FLY : Challenge of Outsmarting Wily Trout Lures Sespe Flyfishers to Piru Creek, an Accessible and Well-Stocked Area Stream

August 03, 1989|RALPH NICHOLS | Times Staff Writer

Wayne Crain appears impatient. He flicks his line upstream and waits only seconds before yanking it out of the water, only to flick it back upstream.

Crain is playing a waiting game with a wily rainbow trout and the trout is winning.

Even if Crain snares a trout with his hand-tied mayfly nymph fly, the trout still wins. Crain only keeps his prize long enough to examine it before releasing it back into Piru Creek.

So why go fishing if you don't plan to fry trout for dinner?

"I don't even care if I catch the fish anymore," said Crain, of Oak View. "It's being out here that matters. I can't believe this area is only 30 miles from Los Angeles."

Most members of the Ventura-based Sespe Flyfishers share Crain's attitude and his appreciation of Piru Creek near Pyramid Lake. Crain would rather spend a day in a trout's habitat than cook one for dinner.

"A lot of technique is involved along with just plain perseverance," Crain said "You can make 20 casts and not catch one fish, but I always have a good time fishing."

Crain's fishing partner, Jim Franklin of Ojai, has been hooked on fly-fishing for 12 years. He teaches classes in fly-tying and fly-fishing at Ventura College when he's not standing knee-deep in Piru Creek in his neoprene hip boots hunting trout.

Even though he teaches fly-fishing, Franklin is also a student of the sport. He studies insects, ties his own flies and he can estimate the water temperature of Piru Creek before even dipping his thermometer in the water.

Franklin is not unique, however, since most fly-fishermen take the sport very seriously. For true aficionados, fly-fishing is as much a life style as it is a hobby.

"There's no real challenge to bait fishing," Franklin said. "In fly-fishing, the trout has to think your fly is an insect. And once he grabs it, you have less than a second to hook him. That's challenging."

Because of a scarcity of well-stocked creeks throughout Southern California, bait fishermen and fly-fishermen have shared the same streams for years. They do not share the same philosophy, however.

Bait fishermen usually measure their success by the number of fish they catch, which leaves that many fewer fish for fly-fishermen.

"The problem with bait fishermen is they keep everything they catch and they usually keep all the big fish," Franklin said.

Another difference between bait fishermen and fly-fishermen is the bait. Bait fishermen use anything and everything a fish might find appetizing--from worms to corn to salmon eggs. Fly fishermen don't use any bait; they use flies--small hooks topped with multicolored feathers, fur or any camouflage that can be used to make the trout think it's looking at a fly or an insect.

Experienced fly-fishermen like Franklin, Crain and Walter Leighton, president of the Sespe Flyfishers, are as adept at tying flies as casting them. Tying the fly is half the fun.

In fly-fishing, there is no such thing as one fly fits all hooks. No true fly-fisherman would dream of being caught without a smorgasbord of flies. Like the Boy Scouts, fly-fishermen believe in being prepared.

Having a brightly colored fly adorn the hook is not enough to land a trout, however--trout are considered finicky eaters. A fly-fisherman would not have much luck using a fly that resembles a worm when a trout is dining on mayflies.

In addition, a fly fisherman has to know where a trout is feeding in order to approach it from the right angle and not scare it away.

"Trout are very lazy, they don't like to work for their food," Franklin said.

To better prepare themselves for the trout, members of the Sespe Flyfishers schedule speakers and stage seminars at their monthly meetings. Guest lecturers speak on such wide-ranging subjects as how to properly tie a nymph fly to the latest development in neoprene waders.

Club members also swap fish stories and share tips on how to cast and present the fly to achieve the best results.

With more than 150 members, the Sespe Flyfishers is one of the largest fly-fishing clubs in Southern California. Other area clubs include the Conejo Valley Flyfishers and the San Fernando Valley-based Sierra Pacific Flyfishers.

The Sespe Flyfishers attracts some of its members from Franklin's class at Ventura College. Franklin doesn't bother using a classroom for his lessons. He takes his students directly to Piru Creek to teach the finer points of fly-fishing.

Piru Creek is a favorite fishing spot for many members in the Sespe Flyfishers, even though the club gets its name from Sespe Creek in Ojai.

"If you wanted to pick one stream in Southern California where fly-fishing is the best, it would be Piru," Crain said.

Piru Creek is just one of several popular spots for fly-fishing throughout Southern California. Other accessible spots include: Malibu Creek in the Santa Monica Mountains; the Kern River near Lake Isabella; Sespe Creek in Ojai; Deep Creek in Lake Arrowhead and the west fork of the San Gabriel River in Azusa.

Even though Piru Creek is popular for fly-fishing, it's not yet overcrowded. Crain is unsure how long that will last, however.

Crain said: "The vast majority of people don't even know this place exists. A lot of people involved in fly-fishing get very elitist and want to keep the best spots for themselves. I don't want to give that impression of the sport."

No matter where Crain or Franklin go fly-fishing, they always enjoy the experience.

"A lot of people with high-pressure jobs are into this sport," Crain said. "It's a great escape."

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