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FAIR GAME PETE THOMAS

October 21, 2003|PETE THOMAS

Trout by the ton

Corona Lake may be just a small pond alongside a big freeway in the Inland Empire, and those who run the concession there certainly jumped the gun in thinking the hot weather's gone. But they've done it anyway: They've trucked in some of the biggest rainbows ever to dream of grabbing worms -- a call to arms that the Southland trout season has started.

"This is the first opportunity for Southern California anglers to catch trout close to home," concessionaire Craig Elliott proclaimed.

That's not entirely true, as many local waters contain wild browns and holdover hatchery-raised rainbows.

But the stocking last week of 5 tons of trout from Mt. Lassen Trout Farms in Northern California does enhance the watery landscape.

Many of the Mt. Lassen trout weigh "into the teens," Elliott said, citing cooler nighttime temperatures and a subsequent drop in water temperature as justification for stocking trout so early.

It's a gamble, to be sure, and one that in the past has been a losing proposition -- with unseasonal heat waves sending the fish belly-up before the eyes of those trying to catch them.

But there's something about being first, and the competition has taken notice. Anaheim's Santa Ana River Lakes, run by the same concessionaire, is planting 15 tons of Mt. Lassen rainbows and a small mix of brown and hybridized "Lightning trout" for its Thursday opener.

Not to be outdone, nearby Irvine Lake has also announced Thursday as opening day, featuring 16 tons of several species of Calaveras Trout Farm-raised trout -- with emphasis on the extra ton.

"These [trout] have not been raised in concrete tanks. They have complete fins and a great fighting spirit," the lake's general manager, Dave Noyes, said in a news release, openly criticizing the Mt. Lassen fish.

While taking a reporter on a tour of the Mt. Lassen Trout Farms recently, owner Phil Mackey stood amid thousands of pen-reared fish sporting broad tails and well-defined fins and said he refuses "to play that game." But he reluctantly acknowledged that the game has begun.

Meanwhile, Rick Mendoza, who runs the concession at another popular paid-entry fishery, Laguna Niguel Lake, is lying low, waiting for the water and the hype to cool.

His trout opener, featuring another brand of fish trucked in from Utah, is not until Nov. 21.

Changing tide

Saltwater anglers aboard half- and three-quarter-day boats out of Orange County ports have been enjoying something they haven't had in months: clean water and fresh fish.

A persistent red tide has finally subsided and several species of game fish have come in -- and they're not hook-shy.

"The water is crystal clear and blue, with an uphill current, and all of a sudden we have bonito, which we really haven't seen in years, and yellowtail," said Norris Tapp, general manager at Davey's Locker Sportfishing in Newport Beach. "Fishing has been very consistent."

Some of the boat counts for yellowtail, which are averaging 3 to 6 pounds and being targeted south of Dana Point, have been in the 100s.

Meanwhile, there are signs that the red tide is also clearing off the Long Beach and Los Angeles areas.

Yowch

Those who have been to Barra del Colorado in northwest Costa Rica know there's no better place to fish for tarpon when the "silver kings" are there en masse, as they have been lately.

And only a tarpon fisherman knows how chaotic things get during a wide-open bite.

Jerry Ruhlow, owner of Costa Rica Outdoors travel service, cites the story of Greg Snyder and his son Sean, from West Palm Beach, Fla.:

"Greg had a tarpon hooked and was battling it in when the guide also hooked a fish off the bow. Greg handed his rod to his son to hold and went to [reel in] the guide's fish.

"Another fish hit Sean's floating lure and they suddenly had a triple working. Greg sat back in his chair right on top of a Rapala [lure] and got most of the hooks in his fanny, so I guess you could say they had four hookups on the boat at the same time.

"They finally got all three tarpon in for release, but I'm not sure about Greg."

Short casts

The California Department of Fish and Game has announced that because of budgetary constraints, hunters at state and federal wildlife areas will find smaller staffs and reduced maintenance and could face early closures during the coming waterfowl season.... Tourists en route to or from the Eastern Sierra may have already noticed that the Division Creek rest area on

U.S. 395 near Big Pine in Inyo County is closed. The California Department of Transportation, also citing budget problems, said it will remain closed indefinitely. The Crestview rest area in Mono County will close this winter, a Caltrans spokeswoman said. This is bound to make a long drive seem even longer.

To e-mail Pete Thomas or read his previous Fair Game columns, go to www.latimes.com/petethomas.

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