San Diego’s Carp Throw Down gets a new champ


NEXT! Two-time Carp Throw Down champ David Wratchford congratulates this year's winner in the wading division, Amy Barder McMahon.

NEXT! Two-time Carp Throw Down champ David Wratchford congratulates this year’s winner in the wading division, Amy Barder McMahon.

San Diego’s third annual Carp Throw Down is in the books with the team of John Hendrickson and Dustin Sergent snagging both first place in the boat division, as well as most fish caught, with three carp and two catfish.

“Like always, it’s fishing—you never know what the insect, weather, and water conditions are going to be until you get out there,” organizer The Fly Shop’s Matthew Austin said. “The competitors who succeeded all came in with a plan of attack, adapted, and persevered.”

Difficult fishing conditions made for little top-water action, but Amy McMahon made the best of it, to take first place in the wading division with a 23-inch carp, dethroning two-time wading division champ David Wratchford.

“Little did I know when I set out to start the hunting expedition that I would be one of only two waders to bring one in,” McMahon said. “I was fishing with some very skilled fishermen with amazing long distance casting skills so I felt very humbled to have won. ‘Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then’ is an expression that comes to mind as I think about my success in bringing one in.”

Other winners included:

Biggest trash fish, a 19-inch Channel Cat, Jason Tinling
Biggest carp, 27 5/6 inches, Jake Ness
Second Place Boat, 24 1/3 inches and and 27 5/6 inches, Jake Ness and Chuck Griffin
Second Place Wade, 18 inches, Dylan Moore

Prizes are listed at: http://www.theflystop.com/blog, and you can check out other happenings at The Fly Shop, http://www.theflystop.com/san-diego-fly-fishing-guide-shop-charter.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

LARFF passes 50,000 mark


imageFour years ago, this blog started out as an experiment, really, and it’s hit this landmark today. Through it, I’ve learned a lot about the politics of the city I love, made lots of new friends, been skunked and humbled more times than I can count, and occasionally watched as my fly line exploded down the river.

And, today’s my birthday!

So, thank you all. I really appreciate your contributions and readership. Best birthday present a guy could have.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

New So.Cal. Steelhead book hits the heart of the matter


The first book published by Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach details the struggles of the endangered Southern California Steelhead. (With permission, Aquarium of the Pacific)

The first book published by Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach details the struggles of the endangered Southern California Steelhead. (With permission, Aquarium of the Pacific)

If you think you’ve finished your summer reading list, stop! Consider one more book, please.

“Against the Current, The Unlikely Story of the Southern California Steelhead” could not, in truth, be a more unlikely tale. Author John G. Tomlinson Jr. takes the reader on an environmental roller coaster ride that matches our region’s boom-or-bust water supply, and throws in plenty of human Greek drama.

What just over a 100 years ago was a region so pristine that Easterners came here to mend their health, through hunting, fishing and soaking up the sunshine, quickly turned into what we have today. As someone who has lived here for over 30 years with no plans of leaving, I’m not complaining, but when you read this book and realize what it once was — especially if you enjoy fly fishing the San Gabes — well, get our your handkerchief.

Sob.

One fact to prime the tears: In the early 1900s, the then-equivalent of the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife set the limit of fish taken at … 100. If you’ve ever put boots to dirt and fly to water in our mountains, this should give you a chill. Guests at the local fishing camps regularly hauled in lots of rainbows, and, yes, steelhead. And they hauled, and they hauled and they hauled. Think buffalo in the plains states.

How we got from those abundant fishy beginnings to where we are today is a story of good intentions gone to greed, it’s about that simple.

As for the steelhead once again taking center stage as we enter the Great Los Angeles River Rebuilding, well, this magnificent creature needs our help to get off the endangered species list.

This chart of the comparative rainfall might not look great during our record-breaking drought, but in earlier times, it was a draw for those looking to escape bad weather and regain their health. (With permission, Aquarium of the Pacific)

This chart of the comparative rainfall might not look great during our record-breaking drought, but in earlier times, it was a draw for those looking to escape bad weather and regain their health. (With permission, Aquarium of the Pacific)

When Congress approves the billion bucks for a river makeover early next year, I hope every politician, every engineer and every investor gets a copy of this book. They should look up the section on one Henry O’Melveny, lawyer, fishing advocate, Creel Club founder, ice plant owner and, sadly, leader of the pack that done the natural inhabitants of our erratic rivers and streams in. Indeed, he is a figure as defining of Greek tragedy as Oedipus or Agamemnon.

Fast forward to today, and a mayor who is bringing in major bucks from Washington for the river as well as public transportation. I hope that Eric Garcetti reads this slim volume. It is the most compelling work to date on why the natural habitat can’t take a backseat to our own urban comfort zone. That story already happened.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Record drought conditions make trouting tough in the San Gabes


CRAFTY CATCH: Under these drought conditions, it takes skill as well as stealth to land one of these jewels. (Jim Burns)

CRAFTY CATCH: Under these drought conditions, it takes skill as well as stealth to land one of these jewels. (Jim Burns)

One of the great things about fishing an area over a long period of time is that you can really get to know the water. You know that 50 paces up, there’s a great little hole, or you remember the one waterfall that always seems to have a trout underneath it. When my son and I hit a new river or stream, we always expect the worst, then, if it’s a good day, we get super-stoked about the results. That’s one reason a guide can charge you $400 for a day out in his neck of the woods … it is, after all, his neck of the woods, and so the thinking goes, you can slap water for the cost of a few flies, or get into the fish with expert advice.

There are sections of the San Gabriel Mountains where I feel at least close to being an expert, simply because I’ve spent so much time tramping and casting. But, that said, I hadn’t returned to one of my favorite loops in about a year because fishermen had busied themselves strip-mining out all of the fish. Remember, the fish you find on the West Fork, the East Fork, Chantry Flats and behind JPL are natives, not plants, as stocking stopped many years ago. Why we don’t have signs in multiple languages to leave the fish where they are — catch and release — is not only important, but key to their survival.

That much time certainly had passed between my last adventure and Sunday. Swarms of people exiting the parking lot really turn me off, but I was pleasantly surprised by how many of them stayed on the beaten path, while Will and I were able to disappear into some of the lesser-known canyon folds. Our canyons, folks, are a beautiful gift to behold.

Will was testing a new rod, a 3 weight, 4 section, with a sweet fast action.

We didn’t know what to expect from news reports, but also from a phone call to a ranger who said, “Well, you do know there’s a drought on.” Would there be any fish at all? After all, we’d canvassed parts of California’s Golden Trout Wilderness in which healthy streams disappear during summer trout conditions.

Alas, we did see an old favorite pool now choked with algae, water looking barely breathable for the trout who had come back from that strip-mining last year. There were small and wary.

We moved on to another pool, one in which two aggressive males spared with each other. The first time I saw that kind of movement, I mistook it for spawning; it’s more like Irish brawling. Needless to say, when this kind of action is happening, the fish are much more interested in kicking some ass than taking your fly.

Next pool: looked pretty dead, but with a decent amount of water still there, but the color was dark and off-putting, and tree branch sat ready to snag any carelessly thrown fly.

But, as I answered the inevitable question — “Are there fish in there?” — for the sixth time, I heard, “Dad,” with an intonation I’ve learned over these many years. Fish on.

Will had mined a pool in one of those beautiful creases, the kind that makes you forget you are so close to city lights. That trout was a beaut, snagged on a Parachute Adams, very dry.

“Good fish,” we both remarked and did a little laughing and whooping as well, enough so I’m sure the hikers thought there must be a constant stream of gorgeous trout just waiting behind every rock.

“Good luck rod,” we both agreed, and I’m sure it will be, just as soon as Mother Nature blesses us with the water we so badly need.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Two L.A. River rec. zones open for summer splashing


PADDLE UP: The L.A. Conservation Corps guides a group through still waters and overhanging willows. (Jim Burns)

PADDLE UP: The L.A. Conservation Corps guides a group through still waters and overhanging willows. (Jim Burns)

Fly-fishers, grab your egg patterns.
Kayakers, adjust your life vests.
Birders, shine your binocular lenses.

because …

once again water recreation is going live in the Glendale Narrows in Elysian Valley and in a portion of the Sepulveda Basin. Hats off to councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority and the U.S. Army Corps for keeping it afloat (haha) this year.

The dets for May 26 through Sept. 1, sunrise to sunset:

GA-RUMP: So is this a Western Toad or a Western Spadefoot Toad? (Jim Burns)

GA-RUMP: So is this a Western Toad or a Western Spadefoot Toad? (Jim Burns)

– Flyfishing/traditional fishing are both super-fun, and don’t forget to bring your kids along. You will need a fishing license for each rod, but it’s well worth the money. Remember this is the only time of the year that you can legally fish the river. Check out this story I wrote for KCET for details.
Tickets to explore one and a half miles of the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area with LA River Expeditions go on sale tomorrow at noon. I donned a life vest a couple of years back and had a blast.
– In Glendale Narrow, rent a kayak at Marsh Park through L.A. River Kayaks. Or paddle through our very own rapids with L.A. River Kayak Safari by booking here.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

No steelhead in L.A. River’s mouth not the whole story


Twenty-five-inch steelhead trout caught in the Los Angeles River near Glendale, in January, 1940. (Courtesy family of Dr. Charles L. Hogue)

Twenty-five-inch steelhead trout caught in the Los Angeles River near Glendale, in January, 1940. (Courtesy family of Dr. Charles L. Hogue)

Every so often, news stories come along that seem to tell the story, but, when enveloped in a larger context, turn out to be a shadow of the actual truth. Reading yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, old school (in paper!), I found environmental writer Louis Sahagun’s “Searching for the elusive steelhead trout,” to be in need of context and rebuttal.

Those newshounds among you know that Vox, formed by some former Washington Post staffers, thrives on its policy of “understanding the news.” Context in this digital age is king.

If I’d never fly-fished or reported on the L.A. River, I would have read Sahagun’s piece and asked “Why would anyone attempt a fish study in this toxic waste water?” and probably had a very good laugh at the photograph of the fool from Trout Unlimited with a sock attached to his line, and snickered at the abandoned shopping cart shot.

But, as it stands, I have a platform to cry foul on this piece. I started lariverflyfishing some four years ago with the tagline “fishing for carp, waiting for steelhead,” and have amassed over 1,000 followers and 46,000-plus hits as of this writing.

For those of you who actually do enjoy recreational fishing in Glendale Narrows, you know this story doesn’t begin to tell the broader context of our river.

And for those of you who participated in the latest clean-up efforts, you know that if Friends of the Los Angeles River, the organization that has organized clean-ups for the past 25 years, had gotten a piece of this area, the junk would have been removed.

FOLAR released “State of the River: The Fish Study” six years ago. This singular Los Angeles River study combed four areas for fish, a Glendale site, Newell site, Figueroa site and a Riverside site. The seine nets captured carp, tilapia and sunfish in significant numbers. Because of this study I realized an LARFF contributor had really caught a legend when he recently captured a largemouth bass, because only one appeared in the study, as compared to nearly 250 tilapia.

The most telling lack of context in the Times piece is not mentioning that this study was funded to complete the work begun in 2008. As the study says:

“These coastal and estuarine species will not be

A steelhead rendered on the Guardians of the River gate. Once these oceangoing trout ran up the river. Time for them to return.

A steelhead rendered on the Guardians of the River gate. Once these oceangoing trout ran up the river. Time for them to return.


discussed further here, but will be present and of
concern when work extends to the lower Los Angeles
River. It is becoming increasingly apparent also that
coastal lagoons in and near the mouths of central
and Southern California rivers are very important to
at least one of the two anadramous species known
to have occurred in the Los Angeles River system,
steelhead trout. Thus, they are also important to their
ability to return, spawn, and establish a population.”

A piece that continues to get hits on LARFF is one I originally wrote for California Fly Fisherman magazine. Although events have moved forward significantly since I penned “Will steelhead ever return to the L.A. River” in 2012, most of it remains sound, including this quote from the river’s noted poet:

“Maybe next time they rechannelize it, they do it to the specifications of the steelhead,” mused Lewis MacAdams. “Have a panel of steelhead, fins up, fins down. Let the steelhead decide the shape of the channel. I’ve always felt that what we were doing was calling things home. You know, ‘it’s OK to come back’. There is something to that.”

See you on the river, Jim Burns