Letter to the Editor: When river etiquette falls apart

This sign should stand for a peaceful experience in the heart of 4 million people.(Jim Burns)

This sign should stand for a peaceful experience in the heart of 4 million people.(Jim Burns)

I ran across your great site a few months ago — I just started fly fishing this summer on the river and really love it.  Some very “trouty” spots make for great practice too.

Today I ran into a guy while fishing the area between Los Feliz bridge and Glendale Ave on the Atwater side that completely spoiled my peaceful and otherwise very enjoyable outing.  I always see him feeding the birds from a large black bucket.   Maybe you’ve seen or met him.

As I passed him in the evening on my way out and gave him a friendly “hello” he decided to start to yell at me for fishing on the river, using all sorts of obscenities, telling me to stick my poles you know where, calling me everything he could think of — in short, a very nasty and bitter person who does NOT like people fishing.

I think his issue is that he finds lots of line and sinkers polluting the river, and I can understand his frustration.  But he doesn’t even know me so to speak so rudely to me is way out of line.  I had to restrain myself from stooping to his level, but this guy was literally yelling at the top of his lungs — so angry it was crazy. I tried to be reasonable but he wasn’t having it. I’m mentioning this in case others run into him or have encountered him.

But also, he began by telling me I was going to get a citation and that it is illegal to fish the river except between Fletcher and Figueroa and then only between certain dates. I’m not aware of that law.  Do you know if that’s true?  He seemed very upset when I told him it wasn’t true, and that furthermore I have a California state license.  If you have any official information or person I can check with I would appreciate your input. I couldn’t find anything online — but also I assume there would be very conspicuous “no fishing” signs if that were the case.

PS – I think feeding the wildlife may be what’s illegal…

Rod Cervera

Dear Rod,

Thanks for your letter. The gentleman — or not — sounds very much like Tony Taylor, a.k.a. “the birdman.” I have never had such a terrible encounter, and count myself lucky from your description above.

For years, it was illegal to be in the bottom of the river (and still is), whether for fly fishing, kayaking, walking your dog, whatever. And Taylor was known to have had the Griffith Park rangers on speed dial. Now, it is legal to fish and kayak from Fletcher down below Marsh Park through the summer. But the truth is, nobody is going to be giving out any citations because of the change in the political environment. With the 2012 passage of SB1201, the river became a different place:

     Existing law, the Los Angeles County Flood Control Act, establishes the Los Angeles County Flood Control District
     and authorizes the district to control and conserve the flood, storm, and other wastewater of the district.
     The bill would amend the act to include in the objects and purposes of the district to provide for public use
     of navigable waterways under the district’s control that are suitable for recreational and educational purposes,
     when these purposes are not inconsistent with the use thereof by the district for flood control and water conservation.
And, while being on the river bottom is now in a nebulous area legally, feeding the birds is not. Take a look at this statute:


  • 251.1. Harassment of Animals.

Except as otherwise authorized in these regulations or in the Fish & Game Code, no person shall harass, herd or drive any game or nongame bird or mammal or furbearing mammal. For the purposes of this section, harass is defined as an intentional act which disrupts an animal’s normal behavior patterns, which includes, but is not limited to, breeding, feeding or sheltering. This section does not apply to a landowner or tenant who drives or herds birds or mammals for the purpose of preventing damage to private or public property, including aquaculture and agriculture crops.

Perhaps, reminding Taylor of the above would get him to calm down.

Meanwhile, FOLAR is very keen on creating an education policy about fishing trash — addressing discarded weights and lines, which I completely support. Watch for more news on this front very soon.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Kids’ Post: from driveway casting to catching craziness, 34 fish in one day

Fishing in the real thing sure beats casting practice on the driveway, especially when you hook up 34 times! (B. Roderick Spilman)

Fishing in the real thing sure beats casting practice on the driveway, especially when you hook up 34 times! (Roland Trevino)

By Julia Spilman
Guest Contributor
Age 11

Ever fished on a driveway?

Neither have I, but on Saturday morning, my dad, Roderick Spilman, an amazing fly fisher, taught me how to fly fish. He helped me with my wrist movements and showed me how to arrange my rod in just the right position to catch a fish. When I was basically perfect at casting, we took off to the LA River.

When we arrived, we got started immediately. We caught a few fish (Tilapia and Bass) at the first spot but not enough for us to be satisfied. We decided to move downriver where my dad’s friend, Roland Trevino, was. I wasn’t exactly eager to go into the rapids, but I did anyway. It felt good to get my feet wet and cool in the refreshing water.

My dad cast a few times in the pool of water directly in front of us. Almost instantly a fish tugged on his line. My dad brought it in telling me to always maintain pressure on the line. I was as startled as he was when he brought in a bluegill. We had never seen a bluegill at the LA River before.

I used my Practicaster and cast in the same direction as my dad. I stripped the line with short yanks. I felt a tug and I felt the fish pulling on the line. I was surprised to get a tug so soon, and I pulled in the line like crazy. When it was finally in, we noticed that it was a bass. It was smooth and not as wide as a bluegill. It was shaped like a long bullet. My dad was happy that I had finally caught a bass. After all, I had never caught one before.

After that, we took turns. Every time someone caught one, we would switch the two weight and Practicaster back and forth. After passing the rod back and forth multiple times, we decided we would try another part of the water. We moved up into the calmer water where Roland Trevino was. He moved aside and we slid into his spot. We didn’t have too much luck there, and we only a caught a few tilapias and another bluegill, so we moved back into our old spot. It was already evening, and we decided we would leave after a few more casts. A few turned out to be quite a bit.

We kept fishing and passing the rods. It felt as if the water was not as strong, but I knew that I was just getting used to the current. The activity seemed to die down, until I felt a strong yank on the line. I was a little bit anxious that I would lose this next fish, so I made sure I was calm while I brought it in.

What a splendid way to end the day. Can you say "ti-la-pia?" (B. Roderick Spilman)

What a splendid way to end the day. Can you say “ti-la-pia?” (Roland Trevino)

My dad grabbed the line when the fish was close enough and grinned. I turned to look at the fish, and, in his hands, I saw the biggest tilapia I had caught. He handed it to me and I unhooked it and felt its long smooth scales. It was so beautiful I felt like I was dreaming. I loved its red tipped fins. It looked as if its fins had been dipped in a vibrant vermillion color. I held it out for a picture, full of pride.

I released it and looked at my dad, thankful that he had taught me how to fly fish. While we drove home, I counted all of the fish we had caught which added up to be a whopping 34 fish. I don’t think I will ever forget that day when my dad and I pulled in so many fish.

Editor’s note: The following weekend, Roland Trevino, who took the accompanying photos, and his son, Ansel, caught 32. This is a great fall for fly fishing.

Drum roll, please … yes, we have a winner!

imageThe challenge: Hook up on two L.A. River species, same fly, same day. Take a pic, write a story, submit.

The prize: One fabulous LARFF T-shirt.

The winner:  B. Roderick Spilman

The Quote: “Within three casts, I had a small bass.  A couple more casts and I had a green sunfish.  Then, the fun really started.  A nice-size tilapia struck the fly hard.  Several more of varying sizes hit the same fly.  Each time, they were hooked perfectly on the lip, so that I had to barely touch the fly to remove it.”

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Osprey shows the way for father-daughter fly-fishing team

By B. Roderick Spilman

Guest Contributor
My friend, Roland Trevino, is an avid fly fisher, and he had been bugging me to try this new spot on the river.
I’m a creature of habit, and had, thus, stayed mostly on my stretch of the river till then.  Last Sunday morning, he called me and said that he and his son, Ansel, were going fishing for bass at the aforementioned spot.  I had not yet caught a bass on the river, so I decided to join him with my daughter, Julia.
I had my 2 wt. and she had her spin rod.  I put on a fly that I don’t even know the name of.  Within three casts, I had a small bass.  A couple more casts and I had a green sunfish.  Then, the fun really started.  A nice-size tilapia struck the fly hard.  Several more of varying sizes hit the same fly.  Each time, they were hooked perfectly on the lip, so that I had to barely touch the fly to remove it.

Julia Spilman put her dad's 2 wt. to good use, enticing her first tilapia. (B. Roderick Spilman)

Julia Spilman put her dad’s 2 wt. to good use, enticing her first tilapia. (B. Roderick Spilman)

Meanwhile, my poor daughter had had a few sad tugs.  The worms were not working, so I actually put a small beadhead with a split shot and a strike indicator.  That had worked before for her to catch sunfish downriver.  But no luck!  We waded up the river where Jim Burns and his son had been fishing earlier and had caught some tilapias.
As we were walking in the shallow, warm water, I shared with my girl the craziness of what we were doing, wading through the Los Angeles river, a place that most Angelenos think is devoid of life.  It was far from devoid of life. Flocks of sand pipers scurried along, as if skating on the water.  Egrets eyed us suspiciously.  Seagulls stood as statues. Black-necked stilts glided nervously from one spot to another. Two ospreys patrolled the channel.
We got to the spot, and, indeed, there were significant schools of tilapias.  We were not having much luck, but then, we saw something that will be indelibly stamped in our memories.  Not more than 20 feet away from us, an osprey smashed into the river and struggled to take flight again.  Clutched in its talons, a tilapia was wriggling.
I decided to be a good dad and gave up my fly rod. We went back to our first spot, and, after a few casts, Julia was proudly holding her first tilapia.  Soon after, I saw Roland and his son wading back from their expedition.  Apparently, they had caught a good number of bass.
The river never ceases to amaze me.  In one day, I had caught a green sunfish, a bass, and many tilapias.  More importantly, I had spent an unforgettable day with my daughter.
Editor’s note: And Roderick is now the proud owner of a LARFF T-shirt for winning the twofer challenge. Great job!

At long last … L.A. River tilapia

Yes, Ernest, the tilapia also rises. (Jim Burns)

Yes, Ernest, the tilapia also rises. (Jim Burns)

Who knows if it’s true, that the city planted tilapia in the river in the 1970s to combat mosquitoes. Whatever, great story. All I know is that I’ve been waiting for what seems like forever for a LARFF commenter to send in pics of the critters — basically the same ones that grace Trader Joe’s frozen foods section.

Well, today, after Will and I watched three red-tail hawks, who in turned watched us from the high sycamores. And after they awed us with their fishing ability, in which they literally descend and pluck their prey from the moving water, without missing a wing beat, Will hooked up. Result: tilapia.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

News Flash! Rare Leather Carp needs a name

Mirror, mirror on the wall What name should this carp we call? (Ryan Anglin)

Mirror, mirror on the wall
What name should this carp we call? (Ryan Anglin)

Last week, a local fly fisher sent me a crazy hero shot, saying “One of the fish I caught today looks like a Mirror Carp. Your thoughts?”

Anxiously, I paged down to view the snap and promptly dropped my coffee cup. Ryan Anglin not only had a beautiful 5-pounder, but also a type I’d never seen on the river. I enlisted the help of our resident biologists, Rosi Dagit, Sabrina Drill and Camm Swift. Here are their comments:

– Pretty clearly a Mirror or perhaps more precisely, Leather Carp, mostly lacking scales.  Mirror Carp refers to those with more enlarged, irregular scales that have a shiny appearance, and this fish is more of what is often called Leather Carp with a thick leathery skin.  — Camm

– In several fishing trips on the L.A. with either Camm, Jonathan Baskin, or both,  I have observed a wide variety of scale patterns on carp — both what I would call “leather” and “mirror”  — though I actually had not heard this terminology! I believe they are all C. carpio,but am interested in Camm’s answer. Can goldfish also vary this much in scale pattern? — Sabrina

– Wow, it is hard to tell exactly, but definitely has that kind of look …  Did he keep it? I wonder if there is a photo with the dorsal fin extended? — Rosi

She goes on to ask that when folks catch something really unusual they keep and freeze, and let her know (via LARFF) so the experts can actually figure all this out. Also, don’t forget you can join the iNaturalist project and post.

Now, there’s a side benefit to catching these kinds of crazy fish: you can name them just like the Brits. Consider this headline: “Anglers mourn Benson, lord of the lakes.” Benson was a 25-year-old Common Carp who weighed a mere 64 pounds and was worth around $40,000. Her companion, Hedges, died in 1998. Meanwhile, the largest Mirror Carp, who as far as I know is still living, outweighs Benson by 3 pounds and goes by the handle, Two Tone.

So, let’s vote on a name for Ryan’s catch!


See you on the river, Jim Burns

Contest: bag an L.A. River deuce, win a fab LARFF tee shirt

So here’s how my day went:

Actually, I got a rolling start last night by donating a couple of old reels to the Southwestern Council FFF charity effort at Orvis in Pasadena. That got me 20 percent off a new Battenkill III, which is a reel about as minimalist as they come. In other words, the palm of your hand and fingers supply most of the drag to slow a running fish down.

In other words, it burns so good.

A.M. off to the L.A River with my 5 wt., armed with a fine new line, new leader and, of course, the new reel. Throw in, hook up within five minutes (rare) and — bam — knot fails after three sharp tugs. Blame the new 5x leader, curse the gods, curse the river weeds, curse anything but the fish. From the size of the pull, think the better of a 5x leader and get on down to a 2x. Toss in, wait a bit — bam — same result, including failed knot.

Burn! Slowing down this carp old school gave me a hot palm. (Jim Burns)

Burn! Slowing down this carp old school gave me a hot palm. (Jim Burns)

And then this largemouth bass grabbed the same fly, a work-a-day glo-bug. (Jim Burns)

And then this largemouth bass grabbed the same fly, a work-a-day glo-bug. (Jim Burns)

Curse Orvis, maker of the slippery leader, curse limited knot skills, curse Lou Ferrigno, for no reason. Look up at monochrome sky and ask “why?”

Sit on rip rap. Retie. Walk upstream, toss in, hook up — bam — fish on. Big fish on. Mental notes intrude on sweaty, running experience … Play him on the reel. Slow down the narrow spool with palm, getting hot, ouch. Turn head, tire him out, another run, fingers, ya oh, man that smarts, more mental notes. What’s with the mental notes? Blame golf psychology book, “Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect” that is current read.

Walk back, walk back slowly. Runs again, remember that knot fail! Ease it up, running, slow him down.

In close now. Gold shine, liquid undulating gold. We see eye to eye. Back up, back up, and … he’s ashore.

Heart pumping, mental note, take the IPic. Fumble in pocket. Curse the white-hot September light, so bright I can’t really image the picture. A Mexican guy on a bike on the bike path, says “Take a picture,” as both a question and a statement. I think to myself, “but I am taking a picture,” and then realize maybe he wants to scale down the rip rap and take a snap of me and this California gold rush.

Elation. Snap. Fish back in water. Heart beats hard; left hand hurts; praise Orvis, praise my limited knot-tying ability, praise the very moment, alive, so very alive.

I right myself, put back in, same fly, and quickly get a different kind of tug, bass tug. Oh, yes, this is so easy, haha, nothing two-to it, and will it ever happen to me again? Snag an L.A. river deuce, same day, same fly.


Let 'em know you fly fish the L.A. River.

Let ‘em know you fly fish the L.A. River.

In honor of this twofer, I propose an unofficial contest: if you hook up, two different species, same day, same fly, send me the story and pics, I’ll send you an lariverflyfishing tee shirt. Only got three left from the derby, all extra large.

See you on the river, Jim Burns