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

Quick-thinking fisherman performs emergency rescue, lands mirror carp

John Tegmeyer and his daughter got more than they bargained for when they caught this beautiful mirror carp. (John Tegmeyer)

John Tegmeyer and his daughter got more than they bargained for when they caught this beautiful mirror carp. (John Tegmeyer)

By John Tegmeyer
Guest Contributor

It wasn’t until recently that I once more began fishing in earnest. My uncle taught me and my sister to fish when I was 11. From then through high school graduation I was on the water as often as possible.

Once I began college though, I didn’t have time for it and that trend continued when I moved to LA. After researching various fishing holes around the city my curiosity piqued in regards to the LA River.

I grabbed my pole and some corn and have been enjoying fighting the carp ever since. The day this picture was taken started as most of my other fishing days. I packed a bag with corn, drinking water and of course mine and my daughter’s fishing poles. After getting our hair rigs set up and cast out I explained to her about knowing when a fish was biting.

It wasn’t long after that when her rod started twitching. I set the hook for her (she’s 3) and immediately something felt wrong. After a few confusing moments the problem was obvious–a coot had become tangled in her line.

Without anything to cover the poor bird with I had to improvise by using my t-shirt. Once I could see properly, the coot had only tangled her foot in the leader and wasn’t hooked at all. Her safe release was met by applause from onlookers who had gathered.

No sooner had I released the coot than the unmistakable scream of a reel filled the air. This was a good fish and with an audience there, I felt the pressure to land it. After seven-eight minutes, I pulled out this beautiful mirror carp. I had never caught one prior to this and I was quite excited. After taking a few photos I let the fish go. I hope to catch more just like this one.

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.