Gone Fishing... in Orange County. Really!

all photos by Jay or from Lake

They caught this trout at the lake last week!

One of my best childhood memories is of the times when my father took me fishin
g. We lived in Brooklyn, New York in the '30s, and once every few months my father would awaken me at 4 am, dress me warmly and bundle me in his car to drive from Flatbush to Sheepshead Bay, which was the 'marina' of choice for that time. We would join hordes of people who paid for a half-day's ride on a sturdy fishing boat out into the ocean to fish for....whatever was biting that day. Having rented fishing poles and bought bait (mostly worms), we would wait patiently (stomachs often churning) 'til we hit the captain's favorite fishing spot. Then everyone threw their lines into the sea....and waited for a bite. The thrill of getting a 'bite' and slowly reeling in a wriggling fish....porgy. bass, bluefish....oh, my, such ecstasy. Bondng with my father was not the least of the joys, and when we drove home with a basketful of fish, displaying them to my mother was usually met with her comment, "You caught them, you clean them." Dinner that night, eating our catch, was a proud moment in a boy's life.

Overview of the 44-acre lake.

I was reminded of this when visiting one of the most unique venues in this part of California...LAGUNA NIGUEL LAKE, a 44-acre lake located in Orange County's beautiful Laguna Niguel Regional Park. The lake is stocked with largemouth bass, black crappies, bluegill and catfish during the summer months. Now, in the winter months, the lake becomes the destination trout fishery of the area. The lake has a huge population of trophy bass, crappie, bluegills and trout. I am told that it also sustains many channel catfish that range from 2 lb. to 50 lbs. in size. Laguna Niguel Lake has a long-term contract with Chalk Mountain Trout Ranch owner Ron Bright, located in Bridgeport, Nebraska, to provide these incredible fighting 'tailwalkers' rainbow trout, which are exclusively stocked at the lake during winter months (November through March) .

She caught this trophy trout from the dock on Thursday!

Owner Rick Mendoza filled me in on the rules of fishing here. You must first purchase a permit, available on the premises. You can use 2 poles per person. NO catch-& -release using bait of any kind. Catch & Release is permitted using artificial lures and jigs with barbless hooks only. Once you catch your limit of fish, you must purchase another permit to continue fishing (2 limits per day max). Permits must be displayed in full sight on your person or on the back of your chair. Permits will be marked by staff employees after every fish is caught. Feeding bread to ducks or geese is prohibited.

This family is about to embark into the lake from the dock.

He told me that each permit allows you to keep 5 trout, and you can't give any fish away. Due to algae bloom last August, ALL bass, bluegill, crappie and catfish are strictly CATCH & RELEASE. Catch and Release on trout is allowed only on boats and float tubes using barbless artificial flies and jigs. There is NO catch-and-release when fishing from the shore. Oh, by the way, there is no limit on carp, which they call 'trash fish.'

Rick and Tayna. She is the General Manager of The Palm Restaurant in Beverly Hills.

I told Rick how I had come to learn about this unique enterprise. His wife, Tayna Hodge, is the lovely general manager of the hottest new restaurant in Los Angeles, a revitalized THE PALM, in Beverly Hills. In the course of my interview with her for last month's front page story in Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter, I asked her what her hushand did....and when I heard about this 'fishing lake,' I was hooked. Rick told me that many years ago he had owned and operated an underwater construction company based on the Colorado River. Passionate about fishing, he had bid on a fishing concession lease for a beautiful 44-acre lake nestled in the hills of Laguna Niguel. In 1994 he was awarded a10-year lease. After the initial 10 years were up, the Country of Orange awarded him a 20-year lease to continue the operations. For various reasons, the lease changed hands a few months later...and Rick began a successful seven-year operation of West Coast Aquatic, which owns equipment specializing in the removal of aquatic weeds and vegetation from lakes and waterways. In summer of 2010, Rick was offered taking back the remaining 12 years on the lease. He accepted the offer and RipnLips was formed with the help of his great staff and support from wife Tayna.

Proudly exhibiting three trout caught from his boat.

I walked 'round the premises and saw that they were fully-stocked with bait and tackle, as well as food and beverages. You can buy trout/fly rods and reels or rent Diawa rods. There were air compressors on hand to fill float tubes, a lot of fish-cleaning stations (yes, mom), and picnic tables abounded around the shoreline. During the trout season (now), the Fishing Fees are: PERMITS (Limit 2 a day, with 5 fish per permit), $28 for Adults; $25 for Seniors (on Mondays only), and $25 for Military. Youths 4 to 11 years old are $18. If you want to rent a floating tube, it's $5. BOAT RENTALS are $15 per hour, $30 for a half-day rental of 5 hours, and $50 for a full-day rental (6 am to 4 pm). They charge $10 to rent a fishing rod and another $10 for a net, with deposits required for many of these. The County charges $3 weekdays for park entry and $5 for weekend entry.

She is about to weigh her trout.

I learned the Trout Stocking Schedule, which is usually on Wednesdays at 4 am, when 2,000 pounds of trout (Nebraska Tail-Walkers) are released into the lake. Rick told me that trophy trout to 15 pounds are included in the stocking. Recently two women caught trout over 9 lbs. one that hit on a 'Sierra Slammer' orange mouse-tail in zone 3 off the shoreline; the other landed a nine-pounder with a 'Mijo' jig on the boat ramp. Another got a 9-pounder with a green trout worm in zone 1. Dozens of fish in the 5 lb to 6 lb class were also weighed on the scales last week. He told me that most people get their five fish limit, with trout averaging 2 to 3 lbs in size, with good numbers in the 4 lb to 6lb class. They have a fly-fishing class taught by Diawa Pro staffer Frank Murata, a fellow with 20 years experience. He will teach the still-water nymphing technique, with a two-hour class limited to 10 people per class. You can learn more at FishingwithFrank@aol.com.

Honest, here's the proof!

To reach Laguna Niguel Lake, take the Santa Ana Freeway (5) to the La Paz offramp, head west four miles to the park and lake entrance. Fishing begins at 6 am and you can use a boat 'til 4 pm and fish 'til 5 pm seven days a week. You can learn more about the Laguna Niguel Lake at 949-362-9227 or at their email, www.Lagunaniguellake.com.

I must warn you....this is an obsessive hobby. Once you have cast a line into the lake and had the experience of hauling in a nice-sized trout, you will be hooked forever, dreaming of when you can return. See you there!

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