Lake Casitas Fishing: Famous for Bass, Lots More

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Lake Casitas has an almost mystical aura in the world of big bass fishing. The way anglers talk about it, you’d think some kind of magic happened here. 

And maybe it does. There aren’t many lakes—in California or anywhere—where 10-pound bass are considered routine and multiple fish have come within casting distance of the world record.

Lake Casitas is a 2,500-acre man-made lake in Southern California’s Ventura County.

Accessible through Lake Casitas Recreation Area and surrounded by the Santa Ynez Mountains, it’s a beautiful fishing destination as well as a prolific one. 

The lake made national headlines for the first time in March of 1980, when Ray Easley caught a 21.9-pound largemouth that became California’s new state record.

At the time, it was the closest anyone had ever come to unseating George Perry’s iconic 22.25-pound world record largemouth bass from all the way back in 1932. 

That fish, though no longer California’s state record, remains one of the top 10 biggest bass ever landed.

Another behemoth, this time weighing 19.5 pounds, was caught in 2002, showing that Casitas was still very much in the game when it comes to giant bass.

The lake suffered a setback in the mid-2000s when trout stocking—a crucial big bass food source—was halted.

Fortunately, efforts have been made to right the ship and the fishing has rebounded beautifully in recent years. It once more has world class bass fishing.

Another thing to remember about Lake Casitas is that it’s not all about trophy bass fishing. Anyone can come here and enjoy a day of catching smaller largemouths until their arms or sore, and the lake also supports healthy populations of catfish and panfish.

Trout also provide exciting opportunities for anglers, in addition to keeping the bass fat and happy.

Freshly-stocked rainbow trout are a favorite meal for giant largemouths, but they also give local fishermen a fun quarry to chase during the colder months.

Largemouth Bass

Lake Casitas can be one of the best bass lakes in Southern California, but it’s also a lake that can seem to have two distinct personalities.

Some days, you can’t seem to keep the bass out of your boat. Other days, you leave the lake wondering if there were any fish in it at all. 

Bass fishing success at Lake Casitas comes down to throwing the right lure, in the right place—and perhaps most importantly of all—at the right time.

Where and When

Even though Lake Casitas never gets truly cold, bass tend to spend their winters in fairly deep water, usually clinging tight to cover along the first major drop-off.

Depending on the weather, they usually start transitioning to pre-spawn patterns in February. 

This marks the beginning of the best season to find big bass in shallow water. It’s also a season when it seems like bass may not even exist, until the first few warm days flip the switch and the feeding frenzy begins.

You may catch your largest bass of the year (or of your life) early in the season, but you also may get skunked completely.

When bass are in shallow water, it pays to focus on woody cover. Fallen trees and standing timber—locals call them “stick-ups”—are favorite big bass haunts.

If you’re at Lake Casitas between February and April, you should spend at least some of your time tossing Senkos and Baby Brush Hogs around wood. Any of the lake’s shallow coves can be productive, especially along the western shore.

One thing to be aware of is that Lake Casitas is managed to protect spawning bass, so some of the best spawning coves, including Grindstone Canyon Cove and Indian Mesa Cove, are closed to fishing until June.

Once the spawn starts winding down, most bass transition back towards points and drop-offs. The areas around the Main Island and points near Coyote Creek are good places to try.

Look for steep drop-offs to 30 feet or more with a weed line nearby.

Big Bass Tactics

A few tried and true tactics reign supreme in Lake Casitas.

For bass over 10 pounds, trout is a staple of their diet. Chucking hefty trout-imitating swimbaits right after trout have been stocked in late winter or early spring can yield some massive strikes.

But more often than not, it pays to tone your presentation way down.

Lake Casitas gets a lot of fishing pressure, and bass who have seen it all and been caught multiple times are much more likely to be tempted by the subtlest of presentations.

Lake Casitas, along with a few other SoCal bass lakes like Castaic Lake and Pyramid Lake, was one of the places where fishing with straight-tailed finesse worms on drop-shot rigs really took off back in the early ‘aughts. 

It’s still a great tactic, and slowly working a RoboWorm or similar straight-tailed worm along the bottom of a significant point or drop-off is one of the surest ways to connect with bass post-spawn.

Another reason why finesse often wins out is that Lake Casitas has crystal-clear water throughout much of the year. When visibility is 20 feet or more, bass can see you coming a mile away.

Small lures, low-visibility line and a quiet approach are usually smart moves.

Bait anglers will deploy fresh nightcrawlers and live shad and crawdads, following regulations for live baits.

Pick up more bass fishing techniques and tips in this simple guide.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout have been surprisingly controversial fish in Casitas Lake.

After being stocked in the lake for decades, trout stocking by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife was halted in 2010 while investigations were made regarding the impact of non-native rainbow trout on the environment. 

The move had some unforeseen consequences.

The absence of trout sent bass sizes spiraling, as the biggest fish in the lake no longer had access to their favorite meal.

Not only that, other fish populations dropped off sharply as bass started eating more shad, bluegills and anything else they could get their mouths around. 

Fortunately, trout stocking has resumed, and the effects on the lake have been almost immediate. Bass weights are back up, smaller fish are re-populating, and anglers can catch trout again.

Seems like a win-win.

Trout stocking takes place throughout the winter months at Casitas lake, and anglers flock to the lake to take advantage of the cool-weather bonanza. 

The Mallard and Grebe Campgrounds are popular places to fish for rainbow trout from shore, and a lot of folks also troll for trout in the areas between Main Island and the western shore, and in deep waters near Casitas Dam.

Live nightcrawlers, marshmallows, Kastmaster lures and a wide variety of spinners and spoons are popular for trout fishing.

Catches of 12- to 14-inch rainbows are most common in winter and early spring soon after stocking. 

Larger holdover fish weighing several pounds are occasionally caught, but they’re rare (10-pounders used to turn up sporadically, before stocking was put on hold).

These days, most trout that get stocked in Lake Casitas are either taken home by anglers or gobbled up by big bass before they attain any real size.

Learn more: Trout Fishing: How-To Techniques and Tips

Catfish

Lake Casitas harbors an abundance of channel catfish, including lots of fish in the 5- to 10-pound range.

A 20-pounder will turn up in anglers’ catches every now and again, so there’s definitely the possibility of tangling with some monster cats here. The lake record, weighing 42 pounds, has stood since 1991.

Spring and summer offer consistently good catfish opportunities, with some of the best fishing taking place after dark.

Night fishing is permitted from shore only on select weekend nights until 11 p.m. (the lake is closed after 6 p.m. most days). A calendar of upcoming night fishing days can be found here

Night fishing aside, the best times to go after catfish in Lake Casitas is during summer mornings and evenings.

Some of the best fishing for channel cats takes place right after a rainstorm, when the influx of water stirs up the silt in the notoriously clear lake, prompting cats to start feeding. 

Fish close to the bottom with smelly, natural baits like mackerel, chicken livers or anchovies.

The areas around Mallard and Grebe Campgrounds are popular among catfish anglers.

Lake Casitas has such good catfishing it made our list of Best Catfish Fishing Lakes and Rivers in California.

We also suggest you learn the best catfish techniques and baits in our informative fishing guide.

Crappie

You’ll find solid populations of black and white crappies in Lake Casitas.

These fish can be unpredictable, and populations are prone to drastic rises and falls depending on whether water levels allow them to spawn. You can usually count on a boom in good-sized crappies a couple years after a spring with high water. 

Spring also happens to be the best time to catch these fish.

They head into shallow coves to spawn as early as January, and during years when the fishing is good, crappies are caught consistently through April.

An abundance of 10- to 12-inch fish is the norm, but crappies weighing 3-plus pounds are not out of the question. Small jigs and live minnows are tried-and-true crappie baits that seldom fail to get a bite when crappie numbers are good.

Lake Casitas doesn’t have a lot of boat docks—a favorite crappie hangout in most lakes—but they are sometimes caught around the marina and boat launch, as well as any areas with shallow brush and vegetation.

Check out our simple fishing tips and techniques to catch more crappie.

Bluegill and Redear Sunfish

Lake Casitas produces huge numbers of bluegill and redear sunfish.

These panfish provide great angling opportunities for families with kids, but there are also plenty of fishermen who specifically target trophy sunfish. 

Lake Casitas is a particularly good place to do that. Redears over 3 pounds have been caught here, and schools of chunky, hand-sized bluegill are not hard to come by.

Any shallow area with weeds can be productive, and sunfish bite readily all spring and summer.

By the time the water warms up in summer, the biggest bluegill and sunfish tend to move a little deeper, so look for them around the first major drop-off near a shallow cove.

Live nightcrawlers are always effective.

Bluegills often strike worms under a bobber, but redear sunfish are more prone to pick baits up off the bottom.

Given their “shell cracker” name, it’s not surprising that big redears also have a taste for live crawfish, especially the soft-shelled variety.

Ultralight jigs can also be effective, and there are even those who target sunfish by fly-fishing.

Learn more ways to catch bluegill and other sunfish.

Carp

There are those who would call carp “trash fish,” but one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Lake Casitas harbors an abundant population of these large, non-native fish, which often surpass 20 pounds and put on a muscular fight. 

Carp are easy to spot close to shore throughout much of the year, and some anglers go after them from shore with corn and dough baits using heavy tackle.

Bow-fishing for carp is also a sport all its own, and Lake Casitas is one of the best places in California for bow fishermen.

In order to bow fish for carp in Lake Casitas, you must fill out an application for a permit when you arrive at Lake Casitas Recreation Area. 

Permits are issued daily after 8 a.m., and allow the carrier to bow-fish for carp for one day. Bow fishing is allowed for carp only; no other species. 

Planning Your Trip

One of the great things about Lake Casitas, at least from an angler’s standpoint, is that it’s regulated as a “no body contact” lake.

Because Lake Casitas is used as a drinking water supply, activities that would result in bodily contact with the water—swimming, water skiing, jet skis—are prohibited. 

That does a lot to keep the crowds and noise to a minimum. When you’re fishing on Lake Casitas, the only people you usually have to compete with for space are other fishermen. 

The lake does not have any major restrictions on fishing boats, such as horsepower limits. All boats up to 35 feet in length are permitted. Lake Casitas is also open to kayaks and canoes, but not float tubes.

Getting to Lake Casitas

Lake Casitas is about two hours northwest of Los Angeles via US-101 N. You can also get there in less than an hour from Santa Barbara by taking US-101 S to CA-150. 

Amenities like shopping, dining and accommodations are available in several nearby communities, including Oak View and Casitas Springs.

The main entrance to Lake Casitas Recreation Area, which provides access to the lake, is located on the north shore of Lake Casitas just off CA-150.

Boat and Bank Access

Lake Casitas Recreation Area provides ample opportunity to launch a boat or fish from shore.

Encompassing most of the lake’s northern shoreline, the recreation area includes two boat launch sites and several locations for bank fishing access. 

Both boat ramps are fully open to the public, but there is a modest fee ($5 per vehicle, at the time of publication) to enter the recreation area. 

  • Lake Casitas Marina is generally considered to be the main boat launch site on Lake Casitas. In addition to boat ramps, the marina offers docking, boat rentals (including fishing boats, pontoon boats and kayaks), boat fuel, and a fully stocked bait and tackle shop that also sells snacks, drinks, ice and fishing licenses. 
  • Lake Casitas West Ramp, also known as the Coyote Boat Ramp for its location near the mouth of Coyote Creek, is a bit less developed and off the beaten path, but it’s an excellent alternative for anglers when the main ramp is crowded or the parking lot is full.

Shore fishing is allowed throughout most of the recreation area, and there are several lakeside picnic areas with open shoreline.

The areas near the Mallard and Grebe Campgrounds are especially popular for bank fishing. The Wadleigh Arm and Santa Ana Creek can also be productive.

At last check, Lake Casitas Recreation Area opens daily at 6 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. The only exception is on select nights when night fishing is permitted until 11 p.m.

That means that day use of the lake, which includes boat launching and shore fishing, is restricted to the day-use hours (overnight docking is available at the marina for a fee).

The only exception is for those who are camping at the recreation area.

As mentioned, rental boats are available but do sell out, so plan ahead. You’ll also find a tackle shop, grocery store and snack bar on the lake.

Camping at Lake Casitas

Lake Casitas Recreation Area, in Los Padres National Forest, has over 400 campsites divided up among 13 separate camping areas, plus two large group camps.

A wide range of camping sites are available, including spacious RV sites with hookups as well as rustic tent sites. 

The Angler Campground and Bass Campground are popular for their proximity to the marina and boat ramp. Both are ideal for RVs, and the Angler Campground includes full hookup (water, sewer and electric) sites with 40-foot parking pads.

The Grebe, Mallard and Osprey campgrounds are ideal if you prefer more rustic camping and a site close to the water. They’re great for tent camping.

Camping reservations are available online. Fees vary.