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SPORTS WEEKEND | OUTDOORS

Santa Rosa Island All a Buzzi Over CIA Day Trips

May 30, 1997|PETE THOMAS

SANTA ROSA ISLAND — There were the Chumash Indians, who paddled their canoes across the Santa Barbara Channel and established villages here and on nearby islands 6,000 years ago. The "island people," as they came to be called, thrived in this rich and diverse region off the coast of what is now Ventura and traded regularly with Native Americans on the mainland.

There was Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese explorer in the service of Spain, who sailed into the channel and in 1542 became the first European to set foot on the islands. Cabrillo died, the result of a fall, and is believed by some historians to be buried on either San Miguel or Santa Rosa island.

There were Sebastian Vizcaino, Gaspar De Portola and the English captain George Vancouver, who followed Cabrillo, and the many fur traders who followed them in search of the sea otter.

And now there is . . . Ruth Buzzi?

Yes, the former star of NBC's "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" with a regular role on "Sesame Street," hit the deserted beach at Becher's Bay here recently to sock it to the unsuspecting barred surf perch.

Buzzi is probably the last person one would expect to find on a fishing trip anywhere, much less one to a remote and largely deserted island such as Santa Rosa.

Turns out she came as part of a small contingent that was among the first to be flown here by the CIA to collar whatever it is that takes the bait in these cool, clear waters.

OK, so the CIA in this instance is Channel Islands Aviation. And Buzzi was along merely to add some fun and celebrity to a group, headed by Gil Sperry of Palos Verdes, that was getting footage for a surf-fishing series called "Surf and Shore Fishing the World," scheduled to be shown on ESPN2 sometime next year.

While waiting for the fog to lift at the Camarillo airport, a beaming Buzzi showed off pictures of a 72-pound salmon she caught on Alaska's famed Kenai River.

"After about two minutes my arm was going like this," she said, letting her left arm go limp and flashing that huge grin of hers.

After landing on Santa Rosa--the objective was Santa Cruz Island, but the fog never lifted enough for a safe landing--she made her way down to the beach, along the way noticing a rusty old bulldozer in a grassy canyon.

"I'm going to need that thing to push all the fish I'm going to catch up the beach," she said.

Hardly, it turned out. But after mastering the fine art of surf casting--her first few attempts landed on the wet sand 30 yards to her right--she learned that although barred surf perch are not salmon, they are scrappy little fighters on light line.

By day's end, Buzzi and husband Kent Perkins had pierced the lips of about 40 sizable perch, hand-bagging a few for dinner and letting the rest go.

And anyone looking for a unique getaway can experience it too.

CIA, through an agreement with the Nature Conservancy, which owns nine-tenths of Santa Cruz Island, is beginning to take customers on day trips to the west end of Santa Cruz, dropping them off at historic Christy Ranch, which has been off limits since 1993.

CIA also is offering two-island excursions, with a stop at Santa Rosa, which is owned and managed by the National Park Service.

The two-island excursion, at $139 per person, is geared more toward hikers and nature lovers who want to see a little of both islands.

The one-island trip, at $129, is geared toward fishermen who will generally spend the day on Santa Cruz, combing deserted beaches and casting for perch, calico bass and halibut.

The fishing at both islands is spectacular, primarily for surf perch, basically because the tidal waters have never been heavily fished. Fly fishermen could have a ball battling perch that weigh as much as four pounds. Conventional fishermen digging sand crabs for bait and using trout rods could catch 100 fish a day if they were so inclined.

But even if the fish weren't biting, the trip would be interesting to anyone who has wondered what the northern Channel Islands have to offer. Basically, they offer a chance to travel back in time. Neither island has changed much since the days of the Chumash and early explorers.

Santa Rosa is the second largest of the Channel Islands, 40 miles west of Ventura. Grassy hills roll on for miles. The tiny island fox--endemic to Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz--can sometimes be seen scurrying about. Gulls monitor the activity on the beach from towering cliffs. Sea lions abound in forests of kelp.

The only structure of note is the Vail Vickers Ranch, which bought the island from sheep ranchers in 1902 and started what is still an operational cattle ranch.

The island was acquired in 1986 by the National Park Service and, through an agreement, Vail Vickers will continue to work the ranch until just after the turn of the century, after which the entire island will be under park control.

Santa Cruz, the largest of all the Channel Islands at about 24 miles long and up to six miles wide, is, at 19 miles from Ventura, the closest to the mainland.

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