STAYING FOCUSED on the fish study at hand, volunteers get some company in the background. (Credit RCDSMM Stream Team)
By Rosi Dagit
On our return to Sepulveda Basin, to continue the upper river fish survey, we captured 203 fish, a far cry from the more than 3,600 tilapia fry caught this time last year.
There had been the first major rain of the season the day before, on Monday, Nov. 21, with between 0.75-1.25 inches over the LA River basin. Sediment and the remains of several homeless encampments were in our car park site. Muck was unconsolidated and varied from 1-6 inches deep. We couldn’t walk far upstream, starting 30 yards to the underpass at Burbank Blvd. because the water was too deep but flow in the main stem concrete area where the sample sites are located was shallow. Most of the vegetation along the banks was gone with just a few patches of water primrose (Ludwigia hexapetala), a few cattails and some willows closer to the bridge were all that remained.
The majority of fish were non-native juvenile Tilapia sp. and Gambusia affinis. Both of these species are common and abundant throughout the LA River, where they were initially released to control mosquito larvae. Samples of both species, as well as fathead minnow, juvenile red swamp crayfish and Asiatic clams were also collected and frozen for toxicology testing.
A single adult Plecostomus (Hypostomus plecostomus), which is a common aquarium fish, was also found washed up on the concrete bank at site 2. It recovered when placed into cool water, but was collected for toxicology testing.
An Army Corps ‘dozer and dump truck moved sediment and debris out of the concrete channel, according to their management permit. The site supervisor kindly allowed us to complete our site 1 and 2 sampling before they moved heavy equipment into that area. The rest of our six sites were upstream of their work area.
YOU NEVER KNOW when an aquarium dweller will show up in the LA River, in this case the gnarly Plecostomus. (Credit RCDSMM Stream Team)
Following collection of what looked like an arroyo chub (but was later confirmed to be a fathead minnow) at site 1, just downstream of the disturbance in the channel, we contacted the California Department of Fish and Game about this potential threat to any other arroyo chub that might have washed down.
Dagit is the Senior Conservation Biologist, Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains.
8 a.m., arrive at meeting site – The park gate on Burbank Boulevard, just west of Woodley Avenue. This is the kayak loading site and it’s roughly a quarter-mile upstream from Sepulveda Dam.
8:30 a.m., William Preston Bowling will greet everyone with liability waivers. Volunteers signed in, put on waders/sunscreen, and took the fishing gear and buckets down to the river at site 1 and Anglers bring their own gear and valid fishing license.
We are collecting fish to observe and throw back, showing all your catch to biologists once caught, they will decide what species to keep for toxicity study.
This will be the second outing of the third “Los Angeles River Fish Studies” created by FoLAR. This study is in Partnership with Stillwater Sciences and the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains.
HOT CREEK always sets me back on my haunches. What a beautiful spot. (Jim Burns)
Fall fishing, for me, is the best fishing. Maybe I love it simply because I love the fall — the blistering So.Cal. sun takes an occasional break; football is back; and, I don’t know, turning leaves, colder nights, a moon that seems clearer, nearer.
So last weekend my wife and I escaped to Mammoth Lakes for the first time in a couple of years. I’d been alerted to the stocking of Hot Creek — the So. Cal. holy of holies — by John Tobin, Pasadena Casting Club’s conservation editor. When he told me the California Department of Fish and Game planned to release more than 6,000 fish. I wasn’t sure what to think. My impression over all these years was that Hot Creek contained only natives.(We can talk about natives, browns, rainbows in another post.)
PILLOW TROUT: Or, maybe, somewhere over the rainbow? (Jim Burns)
When I asked my buddy, who would also be in Mammoth, if he wanted to fish Hot Creek, he declined because they were stockers. I mulled, I brooded, I went to the local fly shop for guidance, where a guide told me that Hot Creek Ranch had laid down the law — either stock, or the property would go up for sale. I haven’t confirmed that statement with the owners, but it made sense. A business owner has to have a profit base. Without the base, what’s the point?
A recent CDFG press release confirms this woeful condition: “For unknown reasons, the Hot Creek fishery appears to have declined substantially in recent years, with markedly lower catch rates and few trophy (>18”) fish coming to the creel. Drought-related impacts are the suspected cause, including low flows, lack of flushing flows in late spring/early summer to mobilize fine sediments and expose spawning gravels, potential changes in water quality/chemistry and increased aquatic vegetation.”
Then there is the fact that Hot Creek is a designated “wild trout water.” Why would you stock it and allow it to retain that designation?
The press release goes on to say, “While it may appear counter-intuitive to stock a designated Wild Trout Water, California Fish and Game Commission Policy allows for such stocking under specified terms and conditions. The Commission Designated Wild Trout Waters Policy, under subsection I.B. states that designated waters should be: “Able to support, with appropriate angling regulations, wild trout populations of sufficient magnitude to provide satisfactory trout catches in terms of number or size of fish.” Subsection II.A. states: “Domestic strains of catchable-sized trout shall not be planted in designated wild trout waters.” And Subsection II.B. states: “Hatchery-produced trout of suitable wild and semi-wild strains may be planted in designated waters, but only if necessary to supplement natural trout reproduction.”
TROUT SANS ADIPOSE: And it’s time for a quick selfie before he’s back in the water. (Jim Burns)
Anyway, after cuddling the condo’s trout pillow that night, I decided to try my luck. All I can say is within 15 minutes of trudging down the dirt pathway and moving past a guide untangling a client’s bird’s nest, I was into a fish. He was sure he owned the run, and I was sure I would soon own him. A longer cast with my old Sage SP 3 wt., rigged with 5x, and a sparsely tied elkhair caddis and the fish was on, fighting, running — then hiding in the red flowing weeds.
One in the weeds can ruin your whole day. If you can’t see him and can barely feel him on your line, then disaster may be tapping you on the shoulder. It was only through hard-won weed experience on our own LA River that I brought him to net, snapped a selfie, and let out a good, old-fashioned “whoop, whoop.”
It was a very good day, but I wonder, do you support stocking a Wild Trout Water?
Please take this very quick survey.
David Kestenbaum – 6 days ago
I have been fishing Hot Creek for 30 years. The stream has been devastated by the drought. Very few anglers even bothered to fish Hot Creek over the last year or two because of the lack of fish. The trout that were stocked are diploid fish and will reproduce in the stream and hopefully restore the stream to its past glory.
A little known fact is that the stream had previously been stocked, both on the ranch and in the public water until about seven years ago. At the end of the season the hatchery would dump its excess fish into the creek and a former ranch manager many years ago, before Kevin and Bill, stocked on the ranch. So, the creek has never been a pure wild trout fishery. After a year in the stream a native strain stocked fish will behave wild and except for the clipped fin is almost impossible to tell apart from the native ones. The stocked fish off-spring will truly be wild. I for one am very grateful the the DFW for stroking my beloved stream.
In its new issue, The Flyfish Journal features carping the LA River, putting our water in the august company of tournament trout in Wyoming, springtime in Patagonia and fly-in fishing the Northwest Territories.
Not bad for a piker, as I tease my wife whenever really good things happen.
LA’s own Daniel Lopez penned the piece with able assists from his posse, which included LARFF guest contributor Greg Madrigal, and a nice photograph from FoLAR’s William Preston Bowling.
In the same issue, writer Andrew Steketee in Confluence: Los Angeles Steelhead Theory tells us:
“Historically, Oncorhynchus mykiss were present in Zuma Creek, and fish migrated upstream to spawn in the headwaters before heading downstream as smolts. Dams and diversions have disrupted passage throughout the drainage. Predation from fish, birds, raccoons, river otters, lampreys, pinnipeds and humans. Natural propagation in abeyance. This may be the part where Jesus returns to tell us what to do.”
I guess that’s supposed to be funny. If anyone has a picture of a river otter in Southern California, please let me know.
Local bird watcher and photographer Roger Cook snagged some excellent shots of wildlife along the LA River in Long Beach. In modern life, we are so separated from the cycles of nature. Walk into a Trader Joe’s and you’d think all food — organic spinach, frozen peas, bone-in pork chops — is spawned by little plastic-wrapped containers. These shots tell a truer tale.
Dr. Mark Drew, eastern Sierra CalTrout Headwaters project director, told us at our September meeting that a perfect storm of factors is probably responsible. He listed the opening of Hot Creek to winter fishing without the promised Department of Fish and Wildlife annual health monitoring, the prolonged drought and the concomitant 50 percent decreased in the flow of the spring that feeds the stream as probable causes.
This year for the first time in memory, Mammoth Creek dried up briefly.
DFW has done a quick study and finds no issues with water quality or food availability. Under pressure from the community that would suffer economic loss if the fishery does not recover, they have decided to stock HC with diploid rainbow trout, which can mature and reproduce. CalTrout and DFW are asking for our help. Here are the details.
Monday, Sept. 26 through Friday, Sept. 30: help electroshock Mammoth Creek.
Thursday, Oct. 6: help with the placement of 6,000 fish in Hot Creek. (They plan to place 12,000 per year for several years, and do electroshock surveys to see how the spawn is doing.)
If you can participate in either or part of these scheduled tasks, please contact Dr. Mark Drew at firstname.lastname@example.org
or call him at (760) 709-1492. He will provide snacks and lunch.