Expect good trout as Cachuma runoff settles

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    SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Some would call it a miracle. Others say it's a natural cycle. A few just don't know what to think.

    In a land where rain has been scarce since the El Niño that swept through the Southland in 1998, there's been too much rain falling in the mountains above Santa Barbara, where Lake Cachuma rests.

    In fact, since the barrage of storms began trickling into the region in October, reports say more than 50 inches of rain has fallen in the drainage that feeds the lake.

    The first round of storms in October and November didn't raise the lake more than a foot or 2. The ground was so dry that the water was soaked up and runoff was minimal. What took place next, though, was much different. In what many consider a phenomenon, on Jan. 10 Cachuma was at full pool and spilling.

    Traditionally it could take several rainy years for this to occur, but miraculously the lake rose more than 57 vertical feet in fewer than two weeks.

    It went from 25 to 102 percent of capacity in that time.

    "This is probably the quickest it's come up ever," said Craig Lingham of Lake Cachuma Boat Rentals (805-688-4040).

    "We're talking 55 feet in two weeks, and we're overflowing 2 feet over the spillway and water is still rising."

    "They're going to have to open the gates more They're spilling the dam now. It's going to be phenomenal fishing when all this runoff settles down a little. We always have good trout fishing, but it's going to be great now."

    Heavily stocked

    Cachuma doesn't receive an enormous amount of pressure. However, it's one of Southern California's better-stocked trout fisheries.

    The lake is planted with tiny trout by the California Department of Fish and Game twice a month, and larger trout paid for by Santa Barbara County twice a month.

    "We have one of the most heavily stocked waters in the state for a lake this size," Lingham said.

    Unfortunately, Lake Cachuma doesn't plant the huge trout they did during the late 1990s.

    However, they do plant a mix of decent-size farm-raised trout in the 1 to 3-pound range.

    By not planting trout in the 5 to 10-pound class like they used to, they're able to stock more fish per load.

    Roughly 8,000 pounds of hatchery-raised trout and 5,000 pounds of DFG fish are planted each month.

    Surprisingly, even with heavy stocking, Cachuma doesn't receive a ton of fishing pressure from the trout community.

    Mostly Santa Barbara County residents fish here, yet the lake is big enough and harbors enough trout to cater to anglers from the Los Angeles Basin and Ventura County area.

    "There haven't been that many people out the last few years. There should be some nice holdovers in the lake," said Lingham.

    The great thing about Cachuma is that there's always enough cold water to carry trout through the summer.

    The trout don't die off, which allows some of the ½-pound DFG fish to grow to desirable sizes.

    New fishing areas

    The rising water has opened up fishing areas that have been on dry land for several years.

    "It's going to be exciting for the fishermen" Lingham said.

    "They're going to be able to access the backs of the coves and other spots they haven't been able to in a long time."

    "In a drought year you basically have to troll in open water. This year, anglers can fish the backs of coves where running water brings trout in."

    Running water won't be a problem for several months. The lake should remain at or near full pool through spring.

    Shore fishing

    There are also opportunities available to shore anglers. You can fish from one of the provided fishing piers, now that there is water in the area.

    Run sliding sinker rigs with worms or bait and casting glow Cripplures, frog Thomas Buoyants or silver Krocodiles.


    Choosing what bay or cove to fish isn't tough.

    All coves with incoming water will harbor trout, but the best two destinations are Cachuma Bay and Santa Cruz Bay.

    Both have springs and moving water, which attract trout. To fish these areas, you're going to need a boat.

    There's no available walk-in access. Private boats are allowed, and rentals are available.

    There's no need to anchor in the middle of the bay.

    Most trout will be in 20 feet of water or less. Soaking dough baits, nightcrawlers or salmon eggs is best here.

    Try a Balls O' Fire salmon egg with a Atlas Glitter Super Scented Marshmallows. This combo seems to put the fish into a feeding mode.

    There are two other spots where bottom fishing with a boat is excellent.

    Anchor up on the backside of Arrowhead Island near Highway 154 and in The Narrows, and fish Power Bait or nightcrawlers in 10 feet of water.

    "This time of year you're fishing 20 feet of water or less," Lingham said. "And you're fishing on the bottom, but floating it off the bottom."


    Cachuma is an easy lake to troll. From now through May, you won't need downriggers or leadcore line.

    Most of the fish will be in the top 10 feet of water. Don't bother trolling the west end of the lake.

    During the summer, the west end is best, but trout migrate to the east end during the winter and spring because of moving water.

    The best section to run is from Bobcat Canyon to The Narrows, but don't discount the backside of Arrowhead Island and the steep cliffs across from the marina.

    "You don't want to go any deeper than 15 feet," Lingham said. "Oftentimes you're right on the surface with no weight at all."

    Trolling at Cachuma doesn't take much skill. It's a great place for hardcore anglers to try new techniques and newcomers to learn how to troll.

    In fact, as long as you're near the Narrows, there's really no wrong place to troll.

    Some anglers choose to work 20 feet off the shoreline. Others run their lines towards the middle of the lake.

    Regardless of where you fish, there'll be trout close by ‹ there are just that many trout in the lake.

    The closer you troll to shore, though, the better chance you have of inadvertently catching a bass.

    Oftentimes, anglers trolling for trout will hook smallmouth in this area.

    Lure choice can make a difference. Because there are a ton of shad and redear in the lake, fish with something that imitates these fish. Try a Luhr Jensen Mini Speed Trap, Cotton Cordell Big O or a Timber Tiger by Yakima Bait.

    Smearing Gel Krill on these lures will also increase catch rates.

    Cachuma has always been a great Needlefish lake.

    A bikini, silver-and-red or gold-and-red Needlefish should bring easy limits, but any stickbait, such as a rainbow trout broken-back Rebel, will do the trick.

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