Lake Casitas is a fishing paradise. That’s all there is to it. The lake is set in peaky chaparral covered hills at the junction of Coyote and Santa Ana Creeks. The dam holds back 2700 surface acres. Unlike most California reservoirs, there is no long canyon for wind to rush up and down across the lake. Instead the lake gets a regular onshore breeze over the dam and even with the worst winds there isn’t enough fetch to generate large waves.
The cover, structure, and general fish habitat at Casitas is outstanding. Long tapering points, submerged islands, saddles, road beds, brush, grass, laydown trees, expansive flats – you name it Casitas has it. There are Florida strain largemouth, crappie, channel catfish, redear, rainbow trout, shad, and carp in the lake. The only fish you don’t hear too much about is crappie, the other species all do very well.
Water clarity at Casitas can range from stunning 20’ visibility in spring and summer to chocolate milk with heavy rains in winter. The dam end tends to be the clearest with the muddier conditions showing in Station Canyon and by the marina. If the lake is muddy it doesn’t stay that way for long. Algae can be an issue in the summer time; it will be the suspended green variety - not the thick Clear Lake stuff.
The water temperature at Casitas stays up throughout the winter months. It is not uncommon to see 60 degree water in February here, and yes the bass do come to spawn some this early. Casitas has a long spawning season with the temperate weather and the bass - like the celebrities in nearby Montecieto - enjoy the weather.
What should you use to catch the bass here in Casitas? It’s a pick your poison situation. Big swimbaits get most of the large bass. Sight fishing gets some as well. The thing about Casitas is that just about any traditional bass technique could have you posing with a 10 pounder on the right day. Drop shotting, jigs, spinnerbaits, spoons, buzzbaits, zara spooks, crankbaits – yes they work here. What you need to do is be finesse about it. Think small brown jigs, natural shad pattern cranks, or 3” drop shot worms on 6lb. Then consider 5lb and if its super tough – a split-shot rig.
Bass at Casitas are big and plentiful but they have been caught before. This is a lake where some days you’ll have 50 bass to follow your swimbait and none will bite it. On a busy spring weekend there might be 100 boats on the lake, and since there is no body contact allowed with the water you can be assured that all 100 of those boats are fishing. It’s a good thing that Casitas has two ramps and plenty of parking at both.
In spite of it all there will be those magical days at this lake where the wolf-packs of giant bass will decide it’s time to eat. People catch 50lb+limits here every year and 10 pounders are weekly occurrence in spring. Just know that this is not a place where you can roll up and start whacking fish like its nothing. The guys who get the fish are the guys who have put in the time to understand all of the nuances.
Bait is popular Casitas - much more so than you will encounter in Northern or Central California. Locals dip shad in the marina or in Station Canyon and use the candy to make big catches. Crawdads are popular too, or should we say were popular. Casitas could be the strictest lake in the state when it comes to quagga mussel inspections. Check the website for the latest procedure. It probably involves a lengthy quarantine for your boat and a banding procedure.
There is a large rental boat fleet here and a nice little marina and a restaurant. Breakfast is good, give it a try. Check the photo board for the big bass parade. The lake record is over 19 pounds. There have been many bass over 15 out of Casitas over the years. You won’t see too many these days (less DFG plants have hindered things) but there’s also been some indication in 2009 that Casitas will get more trout as a result of other lakes that are less than 1000 acres not getting trout as a result of the DFG settlement with the Center for Biological diversity. Things could be looking up for the future at Casitas.
Speaking of trout, the fishing here is legit and more than just “put and immediate take.” In late spring through fall people troll the deeper sections of the lake near the dam and catch full finned holdover type rainbows to three pounds. Even though the surface of Casitas is warm most of the year, the lake is deep enough to give the trout the cool water they need to survive. In winter or spring casting from shore by the campgrounds or launch ramps with powerbait works just fine too.
The channel cats at Casitas are big (10-25+) and people who target them catch them with regularity. The usual report you’ll read is that the fish are caught on mackerel out on the brushy flats or break lines. Casitas is one of the better lakes in the state for good sized channel cats.
Redear spawn here in the late spring – May and June. You’ll see people catching them up to 2+ pounds along the shallow flats drifting or anchoring and using nightcrawlers. Is Casitas as good as Cachuma for redear? Hard to say, but it provides solid fishing for this large panfish specie. Casitas is one of the rare lakes that has the good solid brush lines and cover to support great panfishing year after year.
Casitas provides ample brush because the lake level fluctuates through drought years. The lake can get very low, 30-50 feet below full pool at times. It can also fill and stay nearly full for several years. These cycles keep the brush growing strong along the shoreline. There’s something rich about the dusky brown soil here. Casitas is a special place on the map of California angling.