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After-Dark Anglers Lured to Laguna Niguel Lake


LAGUNA NIGUEL — To freshwater fish at night, you need the right equipment--a sturdy rod and reel, a small lantern, enticing bait and, of course, some luck.

But what really helps is a well-stocked lake.

That's what draws many anglers to Laguna Niguel Lake--the only regularly stocked freshwater fishing hole in Orange County that's open every evening. Between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds of fish are dumped into the lake at Laguna Niguel Regional Park every other week.

"You could be Mr. GQ, not know a thing about fishing, and probably still catch something here," said Keith Marlin, assistant manager of the facility. "This is really the easiest kind of fishing there is. It's rare that someone will get skunked out here."

Anaheim's Santa Ana Lakes also stay open for night fishing, but only on Fridays and Saturdays. The three lakes there are replenished with about 5,000 pounds of fish every week.

But Laguna Niguel Lake usually attracts more nighttime fishermen, sometimes as many as 400 a week. There, they talk not about the one that got away but the many they got.

Less than an hour after nightfall recently at Laguna Niguel Lake, Tom Simones discovered how easy it can be. The 29-year-old from West Covina had just baited his two poles with mackerel when something struck his line.

Moments later, Simones, a physical therapist aide, pulled a 2-foot-long catfish weighing about 10 pounds out of the lake.

"I've never left here without a fish," said Simones, who hits the lake a couple of nights a week. "But I didn't expect to catch anything this big. It's headed straight for my barbecue."

Even those who aren't lucky every night still have a fish tale at the ready. Alton J. Smith II, who had left empty-handed on two consecutive trips, told this whopper as his fishing lines remained sadly still:

It was Halloween night and pouring down rain, recalled Smith, who night fishes at least twice a week at the lake, only a few blocks from his home. And he hadn't had a strike in days and was ready to call it quits.

But when the 25-year-old shipping clerk was at the point of packing up his tackle box, something big, really big, took his line. Next thing he knew, he'd pulled in a 21-pound catfish--a bottom-dwelling night feeder and the main catch of those fishing after dark.

"She was growling at me," recalled Smith. "But I threw her back in. It really wouldn't have been good eating--too much fat."

(There's a photo in the concession stand if you don't believe him.)

Unlike day fishing, the nighttime endeavor demands a few special items. In addition to a light source, usually a lantern, many fishermen attach something special to their lines to alert them when a fish is biting. Some use fluorescent bobbers; others attach little bells.

"When I hear that bell," said Tom Ybarbo, a maintenance worker from Huntington Beach, "I know I got one."

After a couple hours on a recent night, the bells were still silent.

But like many of the fishermen who line the lake's edge after dark, Ybarbo uses the pastime not so much for the big game as for the rest and relaxation.

"I just like listening to the outdoors," said Ybarbo, a single father of two sons. "The city is over there, and all you can hear here is the ducks, the frogs and the crinkling water. That's really what it's all about. This is life."

Smith, sitting in his lawn chair in the glow of his lantern, agreed.

"I just like to wait down here for that bite," said Smith, whose luckier friend walked away with a 5-pound catfish that night. "There's no television, no radios; you can just forget about your worries out here."

Of course, there's another advantage to night fishing, enthusiasts are quick to point out:

"Hey, you never get sunburned out here," said Simones.

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