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A Fish Story : * There are a variety of places in the Valley and Ventura County where anglers can try their luck this summer.


Summer has once again dropped the hot carpet--the hot, brown carpet--onto the Valley, and as the mercury climbs toward that magical Guatema la level, you're thinking about going fishing. Assuming people have already tried to talk you out of it and have failed, let's see if we can help.

On the positive side, at least you're not playing golf, a sport in which you load a 40-pound bag of metal sticks onto your back and walk several exhausting miles under the scorching sun in a game where they talk about strokes and sudden death .

On the negative side, however, is this: Fishing during the summer in the San Fernando Valley is about as low as you can sink on the outdoor adventure scale. With apologies to Robert Redford, A Freeway Runs Through It.

There are, though, places where you can try your luck, from sunrise to sunset every day. The most convenient is the newly built Lake Balboa, a big hole dug two years ago and filled with water and trout earlier this year. It has attracted hundreds of anglers since opening in the winter, and the trout bit readily early in the year. As summer drags on, however, the fishing will degenerate in a hurry. Trout require cool, if not cold, water. Lake Balboa by August should be checking in with a water temperature roughly equivalent to a good bowl of minestrone soup. If the trout are still impaling themselves on fishhooks by then, consider it suicide. Whomp them on the head, take them home and eat them. You'll be doing them a favor.

With slightly more effort, you can find more pristine surroundings. Pyramid Lake, a man-made reservoir just south of Frazier Park off the Golden State Freeway, is worth visiting. For a $5 entry fee, you can roam the banks of the giant lake, and rental boats are available too. The lake is full of trout, catfish and other species, including the top-of-the-line predator, the striped bass, which has an appetite as big as its history.

The fish, native only to the Atlantic Ocean, were trucked and trained across the country in the early part of this century and the survivors were dumped into the Sacramento River basin. With access to the Pacific Ocean, the big fish flourished, both in the salt water and the fresh and brackish river system.

When the Los Angeles Aqueduct was completed and began sucking water from the Sacramento River Basin, it also sucked thousands of striped bass eggs and fry into the system. Pyramid, a catch-basin for the aqueduct, became home to many hugely disoriented fish.

The stripers can weigh 40 pounds or more and are considered a top game fish. They feed on other fish, and a highlight of a fishing adventure at the lake is watching the monthly stocking of hatchery-raised trout into Pyramid.

We don't want to spoil the show for you, but . . . the stripers attack and eat the trout, often as close as 20 feet from the truck. It can be a stunning display of nature. Well, nature as we know it in Southern California. Veteran anglers cast eight- and 10-inch rainbow trout replica lures into the melee in hopes of fooling the thick, heavy stripers.

Even closer than Pyramid, just 18 miles north of the Valley on the Golden State Freeway, is Castaic Lake, which in the winter and spring becomes a mecca for largemouth bass anglers, with giant bass weighing more than 12 pounds frequently falling to lures and live bait. By summer, however, the bass go deep in search of cooler water and the fishing success falls off drastically. Huge catfish are taken even during the hottest months, though, along with occasional trout in the early morning or evening hours.

About 50 miles east is perhaps the most scenic of all the area lakes, Lake Casitas in Ventura County, off California 33 a few miles west of Ojai. Early morning visitors will often get a glimpse of deer returning to their bedding grounds for the day after an evening of grazing on the wild grasses that grow to the lake's edge. Osprey cruise the air currents above the lake in search of the same prey anglers search for: trout.

Casitas is only a few miles from the ocean and is blessed with cooling breezes even during the hottest months, making it a welcome change from the Valley. A word of caution: Those cooling breezes can often become roaring winds, a danger to persons caught in boats. Ask about the winds at the Casitas boat-rental building.

And if you really want a change, there's one more body of water that remains very fishable throughout the summer, and the boats are bigger too. It's called the Pacific Ocean and it is accessible through dozens of charter facilities in Oxnard and Ventura. A trip to the Channel Islands and a chance to hook and fight such hard-pulling game fish as yellowtail, halibut and barracuda is relatively inexpensive. Figure about $50 for the day. The water is as blue as the sky, and a day on the cool ocean can make you forget all about the inland heat.

And the boats' skippers are always looking for new deckhands.

WHERE TO GO What: Lake Casitas, 11311 Santa Ana Road, Ventura. Off California 150. Daily Entrance Fee: $5. Call: (805) 649-2233. What: Castaic Lake, 32132 Ridge Route Road, Castaic. Lake Hughes exit off Golden State Freeway. Daily Entrance Fee: $6. Call: (805) 257-4050. What: Pyramid Lake, Castaic Junction. Tujunga Valley exit off Golden State Freeway. Daily Entrance Fee: $5. Call: (805) 257-2790. What: Balboa Lake, Balboa Boulevard between Victory and Burbank boulevards. Daily Entrance Fee: none. Call: (818) 343-4143.

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