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Some Anglers Don't Hand Fish Any Lines


John Pollard was fishing at Lake Casitas last February when a tanker truck pulled up and began disgorging thousands of rainbow trout into the water. Disoriented from hours of total darkness, hundreds of fish beached themselves. To Pollard, their helpless flopping was a sad sight, but what happened next "was absolutely disgusting."

Pollard witnessed about a dozen young men descend on the beached fish and begin threading them onto stringers, a violation of state Department of Fish and Game laws that require all trout to be taken only with hook and line. One of the stringers broke from the weight, Pollard says. He also saw two men carefully select only the biggest fish and discard the rest.

"There was no sport to it," says Pollard, a 30-year-old Ventura resident who works in the oil industry.

"I'm not opposed to putting trout in the lake, but the day it happens, that portion of the lake or the entire lake should be closed."

But the Casitas Municipal Water District, which operates the lake, doesn't want to keep anglers away--it wants them to catch their five-trout limit and tell their friends.

Stocking the lake is purely an advertising gimmick, a way "to increase attendance out here," says Doug Ralph, park services manager.

"We could do the plant at midnight and still draw people," he adds. "It's an exciting thing."

Others call it shooting fish in a barrel, a situation created by the policies of the state Department of Fish and Game.

"The DFG should be promoting a quality fishing experience instead of the sale of licenses to meat hogs," says Jim Edmondson of CalTrout.


Casitas spends between $30,000 and $40,000 a year to buy trout and catfish from private hatcheries. It is also supplied with trout by the DFG. According to the latest figures, the state put 28,500 pounds of fish into Casitas in 1990 and the district purchased an additional 19,250 pounds.

Deliveries are made every Thursday during the winter and spring. Attendance (the fee is $5 per car) almost always goes up that day, Ralph says. It levels off in three or four days when the planted fish stop biting. "If we didn't plant, we think attendance would drop," Ralph says.

Activist groups such as CalTrout and Trout Unlimited want to take a more humane and balanced approach to trout planting. They're trying--without much success so far--to get the DFG to require a 24-hour waiting period "to let the fish spread out," Edmondson says.

Trout Unlimited wants the DFG to stock lakes, including Casitas, with only wild trout, which would have a better chance of surviving than hatchery trout.

The day Pollard saw the trout plant at Casitas, 2,000 pounds of rainbows--average size was three to a pound but some were as big as three pounds--were being delivered by the Lost River Trout Farm in MacKay, Ida. Although catfish breed in the lake, trout don't and have to be artificially introduced. But why trout from Idaho? Casitas is required by law to take bids from private hatcheries. Lost River has had the lowest bid for the last five years.

Although anglers lie in wait for the delivery truck, they're not supposed to ambush the fish and scoop them up by hand. "It most certainly is unsportsmanlike if someone catches a fish with something other than a pole," Ralph says, "and we don't encourage that (behavior)."

But the district doesn't exactly station guards to chase poachers. Pollard saw nobody but the truck driver during the delivery. "We trust people to do things right," Ralph says. "We don't want to be the fish police."

But the fish police have been on the scene elsewhere. Confirming that some fishermen will go to any lengths to catch a fish, Ken Hashagen, the DFG hatchery coordinator, reports that his department has caught and given citations to anglers standing on the top of the delivery truck, "fishing through the hatch."

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