Legend has it, in the depths of Castaic Lake lies a world-record bass, and while record-breaking catches might be few and far between, the lake remains a hidden gem for anglers of all ages.
While fishing is a hobby for some, for others, like 17-year-old Hunter Cannon, it’s a pastime he’d love to be able to turn into a career.
“Every single day is different — some days you come out here and you don’t catch any, and then some days you come out and you smack them and catch like 30,” the West Ranch High School senior said, as he cast his line from the shores of Castaic’s lower lake. “You always learn new things from different people, you can share techniques, different stories. I love it all. I think it’s amazing.”
The tradition continues locally with anglers like fisherman Bill Siemantel willing to share his knowledge and experience with fishers like Cannon, who represent the next generation.
Increasing access for anglers
After being the youngest to be inducted in the Fishing Hall of Fame and delving into the fishing industry in every which way, whether it was by designing lures or writing books, Siemantel wanted to find a way to give youth the opportunity to find their passion in the sport.
“There’s a lot of kids out there that love bass fishing, but they never have the opportunity because their parents financially can’t afford a boat,” Siemantel said. “They can’t fish competitively … because they just unfortunately don’t have the means.”
That’s why Siemantel created the Big Bass Zone Junior Championship fishing tournament in 2019, which lets teens fish whenever — and wherever, including from the lakeshore.
The online tournament allows ages 13-19 to join from any state, with teens able to fish from Jan. 1 to Aug. 15, submitting a length and girth photo when they catch a fish.
“For largemouth bass, it gives it a guesstimate,” Siemantel said. “It’s not exact for weight, but what it does is it keeps a level playing field for all contestants because the length and girth is not going to change.”
Teens can enter in as many catches as they want, with their five largest counting toward the leaderboard. After Aug. 15, the winning anglers in each state is invited to the championship.
When it comes time for the tournament, teens are provided with boats, only having to show up with their equipment to catch the largest fish.
Persistence starts to pay off
For Cannon, who began fishing off the back of his family’s boat when he was 5, it didn’t take long for him to realize he wanted to pursue the sport.
“He would sit up there and fish all day long – he loved it,” Cannon’s father, Korry, said. “And then when he got a little bit older, we’d take him down to the dock and just drop him off and he’d hang out there all day.”
At 14, Cannon insisted he was ready to join the Castaic Bass Club, writing the club’s president a letter and calling him each week until he agreed, and after entering his first tournament, Cannon recalled thinking he’d go pro immediately.
“I think I came last place in that tournament, and the first season I fished I did very bad, but the second season, I was the youngest person in there … I got first place for Angler of the Year,” Cannon said. “And I got first through third every single tournament I fished that season, so it was awesome.”
Now, Cannon has found a way to combine his two passions — fishing and video production — filming and editing his own fishing videos, as well as making videos for sponsors and tournaments.
“Watching that exciting moment over when I hooked that fish — it’s crazy and I love doing that,” Cannon added. “I just love filming and editing, and if I can incorporate both those into my fishing, for my sponsors, new baits and all that, I will.”
Making it a family affair
While Korry didn’t know much about fishing before, his son’s passion has become a family activity.
The father-son duo have taken fishing road trips together and even fixed up a 1979 bass boat together.
“It’s really cool just to see any kid have a passion to do something, especially outdoors,” Korry said. “A lot of kids go through their teens, they don’t have any passion, they don’t know what they want to do, where he’s always known he’s wanted to do this, which is really cool.”
With his tournament, Siemantel isn’t hoping to just excite the kids, but the whole family, giving them the motivation to explore the outdoors together, with a chance to win.
Many families have done just that, traveling to different states to compete in the tournament.
“All I’m trying to do is get that excitement for the families to get out and fish,” Siemantel said. “I figured it’s a good thing to give back, and this is not just impacting the youth, but it’s the whole family.”
Castaic Lake’s fishing appeal
In addition to the seasonal stock of trout from autumn to spring, both small and largemouth bass, as well as striped bass, call Castaic Lake home, according to Dan Trippeda, vice president of the Friends of Castaic Lake.
Whether from the shore or a boat, or from the upper or lower lake, Castaic gives anglers the opportunity to fish locally.
“Castaic Lake is very well known, and a great fishery from March all the way to November, and all you have to do is learn the little techniques to catch them, and boy, can you load up the boat with them,” Trippeda said. “It really is a hidden gem, but the secret’s out.”
This year’s Fishin’ & Fun for Kids Day is scheduled for May 1. For more information, visit facebook.com/FriendsofCastaicLake.
The recreation area can be reached by exiting Interstate 5 at Hughes Lake Road. For more information, visit castaiclake.com.