Steelhead restoration takes center stage at Frog Spot event

It was a thrill to get to present my favorite subject at the festive Frog Spot on Sunday. (William Preston Bowling)

It was a thrill to be one of the presenters at the festive Frog Spot on Sunday. (William Preston Bowling)

Oh, the tall tales fisherfolk tell. As a matter of fact, they say that if you weren’t born with the ability to stretch the truth just a wee bit, spending time on the water will surely school you in that all-too-human trait.

But, at the Frog Spot, sharing and learning more about fishing the L.A. River Sunday, not a tall tale emerged from the gathered fishing fanatics, just a bounty of hard-won knowledge about our river. The weather was perfect; the setting, urban-divine, as bicyclists zoomed along the bike lane, possibly fired up by CicLAvia, while AMTRAK whistled its station arrival not far away.

– William Preston Bowling, who organized the first Off Tha’ Hook fishing derby in September, served as MC, but he also filled in the crowd of a dozen or so participants on Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) line recovery efforts. Your line has a life of around 5,000 years, so please think twice before tossing that next bird’s nest into the water. Grove Pashley, of LA River Kayak Safari, reminded us of two blue herons separately caught up in bird’s nests of line in the last couple of years. I know one died, but I’m not sure of the other’s fate.

Bowling said that soon there will be line disposal tubes at high-traffic areas along the river. FoLAR will recycle the line by sending it to Berkley, a company that actually re-purposes used line, turning it into new.

– Robert Blankenship from Trout Unlimited turned his darkroom PowerPoint into a daytime handout, and regaled us with tales of Southern California Steelhead recovery efforts. His presentation was made all the more sweet by a guest appearance from Tom Tomlinson, who wrote “Against the Currents: The Unlikely Story of the Southern California Steelhead” this year, published by the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. If you haven’t read this important book yet, pick it up.

Blankenship showed us how Santa Barbara has re-designed its flood control channels to include holding water for steelhead returning from the ocean. The story of the steelhead here in our truly unwelcoming climes is one of courage, fortitude and grit. There’s actually a self-guided tour that links steelhead art and brew pubs, which sounded like the best of both worlds to many of us. Look for more from TU under the local leadership of Blankenship, a strong advocate for our river.

– Next, Lizzy Montgomery from the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains told us about the INaturalist app, and how to use it. Take a look here for more info. I’m not sure that as a fishing community we’re using this as much as we could/should. The research that comes from fishers out there on the water can greatly aid biologists who can’t use their standard procedures for species and fish counts. As she said, ” I can’t imagine we would use SCUBA gear on this river.” Agreed.

– Ban Luu, who has plied the river since 2007 using traditional tackle, told us he had no idea there were fish in it when he first cast out: He was testing a new rod and reel to get ready for an ocean trip! With each cast, he heard splashing, thudding, all the auditory telltale signs of big fish. “I was hooked,” he said, no pun intended. And Luu is the right guy to get hooked, taking time to keep a detailed fishing journal, perfecting his light tackle gear after much research and trial and error. Also, he has perfected his own masa blend with garlic, after rejecting both bread and tortilla baits, both well regarded by locals.

And … ready for this, Luu said he’s caught over 2,000 fish since 2007! After listening to his presentation, I am sure this isn’t a fish tale.

As for yours truly, I discussed the usual suspects we catch on our river, as well as fly rods and flies that give you the best chance of hooking up. I, too, used old-school photographs from this blog that included fish and the commentators who sent them in to illustrate my talk.Simply put, without the LARFF community, I would have had much less to discuss. Thank you for your support and friendship over the last four years!

Finally, Bowling reminded us that we are all invited to participate in the return to the lower section of the river, Saturday, Jan. 3, from 2 p.m. until dusk. Get in touch with him ( to reserve your spot (free), and help to document what fish are in that lower section on WIllow Street.

Who knows, steelhead may yet be waiting for discovery, akin to those spotted on the San Gabriel River. Blankenship shared a wonderful picture from a few years back of a large steelhead hanging out by a discarded TV in a West L.A. flood control channel. It was a renewed call to “bring ‘em home,” as FoLAR co-founder Lewis MacAdams would say.

See you on the river. — Jim Burns

Free fly-fishing tips from LARFF, Trout Unlimited on Sunday

output_4O66c4Free lecture: Fishing on the Los Angeles River
Sunday, Dec. 7, noon-2 p.m.

Yes, there are fish in the Los Angeles River!

Enjoy a free talk at The Frog Spot with three fishing experts. Jim Burns of LA River Fly Fishing will describe the fish swimming in the river today, where they are and how to catch them. Robert Blankenship of Trout Unlimited will discuss efforts to bring back the native Southern California Steelhead. Elysian Valley fisherman and FOLAR docent Ban Luu will offer tips and techniques for fishing in the Glendale Narrows. FOLAR’s own William Preston Bowling will also share information about its scientific fish studies as well as a new citizen science opportunity.

The Frog Spot
2825 Benedict Street LA 90039
Sent from my iPad

What the heck is a pacu and what was it doing in the LA River?

EXOTIC: This pacu, usually hanging out in the Amazon, got hooked on the L.A. River. (James Czasonis)

EXOTIC: This pacu, usually hanging out in the Amazon, got hooked on the L.A. River. (James Czasonis)

LARFF gets a fair number of fish and beauty shots coming across the electronic transom, but this one definitely takes the cake. Know what it is?

A pacu.

What’s a pacu?

As the fly fisher who hooked it said via email, “I caught that exotic fish and posted it on my Facebook, and a lot of friends told me it was a pacu, not native to here, and it matched photos from the Internet.”

James Czasonis went on to write that it looked like a big pirahna, but the teeth were more flat. Although the teeth aren’t visible in these shots, the host of “River Monsters,” Jeremy Wade, explains here that the flat teeth are used for crushing seeds, unlike a pirahna’s that are sharper and used for tearing apart flesh. Both are native to the Amazon River in South America.

Pacus have been found in Papua New Guinea, and much closer to home in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and now in Los Angeles.

How’d that happen?

A relative of the well-known -- and feared -- pirahna, the pacu has flatter teeth. (James Czasonis)

A relative of the well-known — and feared — pirahna, the pacu has flatter teeth. (James Czasonis)

Apparently, some unaware aquarium owners believe these fish will only grow “so big” because of the glass confines of their watery cages. But, that logic turns out to be a myth and when the pacu overstays its welcome, it gets dumped into local waterways.

And, yes, it is illegal to dump nonnative exotic fish.

Authorities in Ohio aren’t overly concerned about a pacu takeover because the fish dies out once the weather gets cold.

As for the potential threat here in warmer climes, Czasonis said this was the only one he’d seen or caught, and “I still didn’t want to hold it up and let it back into the river.”

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick mends: Devil’s Gate Dam final Environmental Impact Report hits L.A. supes Wednesday

Wild trout, such as this one, still swim the waters of the San Gabriel Mountains. (Jim Burns)

Wild trout, such as this one, still swim the waters of the San Gabriel Mountains. (Jim Burns)

UPDATE: Despite strong opposition from neighbors and recreational enthusiasts, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a five-year project Wednesday to remove debris from a basin above Devil’s Gate Dam in Pasadena. — Los Angeles Times

Generations of fly fishers have relished the area above the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, which before the massive 2009 Station Fire and subsequent flood the following year, enjoyed a reputation as an enjoyable fishery. This reputation, for now at least, has certainly faded. On top of back-to-back environmental disasters, we’re in this ongoing drought. But remember, these skinny waters still contain native trout, and this region was once one of the coveted destinations for returning spawning Southern California Steelhead.

The area is important to protect, even though, for some mysterious reason, it was left out of the final draft of the San Gabriel Mountains national monument. That will be the topic of another blog post.

So today’s question: Do we need a human-made disaster on top of all of this?

Take a look at this PDF from the Arroyo Seco Foundation, the environmental voice of our conscience for this area. Anyone with a brain would want the “Pasadena Alternative” — unanimously approved by the Pasadena City Council — instead of the much more invasive one proposed by the Los Angeles County Flood Control District. As the Pasadena Star-News put it:

The City Council this week unanimously approved a set of recommendations for the county’s sediment removal plan in Devil’s Gate Dam, in its ongoing fight to prevent the treasured Hahamongna recreation area from turning into a giant ditch.

For example, the original county plan counted 400-plus trucks per work day, for five years, to haul away sediment, while the Pasadena plan calls for a quarter of that amount, an estimated 120. The county’s plan for habitat impact — a euphemism for “no more fishing” — measures more than 120 acres, while the Pasadena plan calls for 40 acres, including a 10-acre “conservation pool.”  From what I read here, the county has somewhat backed off on its original proposal, but not nearly to the degree concerned homeowners want.

The final Environmental Impact Report comes before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, as the flood control district seeks approval for its chosen alternative. According to this story La Canada city officials are scrambling to get their objections heard before it’s too late.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Rain leaves LA River blown out

A mere three-quarters of an inch of rain left the river blown out today. (Jim Burns)

A mere three-quarters of an inch of rain left the river blown out today. (Jim Burns)

UPDATE Roderick Spilman says:
November 9, 2014 at 6:30 pm Edit
Well, we went to test things out … not great. I hooked three small bass. One was 10-to-11 inches. Julia caught one tilapia, and my wife got skunked. There were a few fish jumping here and there. We also saw a dead largemouth that was around 3-to-4 pounds. There are fish around, but they’re not feeding actively.

If you were like many Angelinos, the whooping and hollerin’ erupted Halloween eve, as the area got three-quarters of an inch of rain. Didn’t seem like much, but after our dreadful drought, it was like gold falling from heaven. But for river fly fishers, the blow out was real today.

Will and I walked four of our favorites spots, all around Atwater, and didn’t get a strike. If you follow this blog, you know that as recently as last week, 50-plus takes were reported. And I received an email over the weekend saying that Friday a guest contributor caught four largemouth bass.

Aside from the dearth of fish remember that our river changes so much from rain, it’s pretty incredible. Where once there was a smooth eddy, now there is sand; where that sweet carp holding water was last week, this week just a wrecked tricycle appears in the water.

Of course, the river and its creatures will return, but I do wonder about all the tilapia, bass, green sunfish — in other words, all the fun game fish we’ve been catching. Will they be able to withstand what most surely is coming, the rain of a mild El Nino? The carp can withstand just about anything. They come back for the spring spawn in large numbers, year after year.

So, if you are a river planner, what does this pattern tell you? Pretty much, recreational fly fishers want safe havens for the fish so that their habitats aren’t ruined and they are still where fish stalkers expect them to be.

And just as a reminder: stay out of the river when it rains. Don’t get caught in sudden water that could cost you a real lickin’ or worse.

See you on the river, Jim Burns