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CASTS OF THOUSANDS : Lakes and Streams Lure Anglers to Drop a Line and Stay Awhile

June 10, 1993|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition.

At Santa Ana River Lakes in Anaheim, 1,500 pounds of hybrid-striped bass--"wipers"--spill down the chutes from the stocking truck into the catfish pond like kids splashing down a water slide on a hot summer day.

Only minutes later, a nearby angler takes in the first catch of the day--a medium sized wiper he scoops up and deftly swallows whole. The catch is made by a great blue heron, standing some three feet tall, whose patient waiting has paid off in a meal.

Orange County boasts several spots where the fishing is good for humans as well as for birds. Although the county is better known as a departure point for ocean fishing, anglers who cast their eyes--and their lines--inland will find it also has its share of freshwater fishing spots.

Of the two most popular fishing areas, both stocked and privately operated lakes, one is decidedly urban, while the other is set amid rolling hills miles from the nearest housing tract.

Santa Ana River Lakes comprises three holding basins for the Santa Ana River in an industrial area along the Riverside Freeway. The location doesn't make for great scenery, but that's apparently no impediment to fishing fanatics, who line the dusty shores well into the night in the warmer months.

Irvine Lake, a reservoir on Santiago Creek in the foothills east of Orange, is a little farther afield, but the drive pays off in tranquillity and wide open vistas. The heavy winter rains have contributed to some of the highest lake levels in years, but while that means a bigger lake, it has also led to the loss of some popular shore fishing areas and a boat launch near Trout Island.

Most visitors to Irvine Lake do their fishing from boats, however, either their own or rented from the lake's operators. The tackle shop manager hands out the latest advice on where to head for the best fishing as well as what bait to use.

Trout are a cold water fish, and the remaining trout at Irvine Lake (rainbow and a few brown) have retreated to the deeper water near the dam, along the west shore and in Sierra Cove, manager Art Pirtle said Monday. Catfish are found in the shallower waters of Santiago Flats and the area west of the parking lot. Crappies (that's pronounced croppies ), which Pirtle praised as good eating, can be fished in brushy areas near the banks.

Irvine Lake is perhaps best known as a bass lake, and largemouth bass can be fished in various areas throughout. Because the lake is never drained, some of the fish reach record sizes (state records for blue catfish and channel catfish were caught here--more than 59 and 48 pounds, respectively--while the lake record for rainbow trout is 14 pounds, 10 ounces). Plantings for the Irvine and Santa Ana River Lakes (both operated by Outdoor Safaris International) reach some 250,000 pounds of fish per year.

At Irvine, the serious anglers arrive around opening time, 6 a.m., and get on the lake as soon as they're able. Before busy weekends, some will even camp out overnight to ensure an early start. The lake has a wide draw, as a perusal of a typical weekend's sign-up sheet will show, with visitors coming from as far as Los Angeles and Moreno Valley.

"I usually go to the Sierras, but this is like a quick fix," said Ludy Frew of Monrovia while he packed his boat on Monday. He goes to Irvine Lake once a month or so until the weather heats up and they stop planting trout, his fish of choice.

"It's someplace you can go and get a halfway decent size trout, without going too far," Frew said. Although he has had good luck at the lake in the past, he admitted coming up empty-handed his last time out, but faced it philosophically: "That's why they call it fishing. If you caught something all the time, they'd call it catching."

Nearby, Michael Trammell and Bob Rodriguez were rigging their lines and getting ready to motor onto the water. "I'm a regular up here. I'm going to take him out and show him the lake," Trammell said. "It's a nice lake to fish. I usually get my limit every time I go out."

(Per person limits at Irvine Lake are five fish total, with no more than two hybrid-striped bass and one sturgeon).

Because of the high water level, some of the most popular shore fishing areas, such as Trout Island, are flooded. Most of the shore fishing now is concentrated near the main parking lot at the entrance.

On Monday, Julia Reiss cast her line from a chair near the back of the car. A Rowland Heights resident, Reiss said she enjoys the quiet and scenery of the lake, although she goes more often to Santa Ana River Lakes, where she and her fishing companion caught 15 fish on a recent trip.

"Then there's days when you get skunked," said Reiss, who had yet to make a catch. "I hope this isn't one of those days."

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