A fairly short, but deep pool almost under the first bridge. About 3 feet deep under the mini-waterfall, 8 feet wide, and maybe 12 feet long. (Courtesy Patrick Jackson)
By Patrick Jackson
On the weekend of Feb. 11, my dad and I went hiking and fishing up through Santa Anita Canyon up to Sturtevant falls. We arrived at Chantry Flat around 8:30 a.m. and reached our first fishing spot around 8:45. After fishing under the bridge for 15 minutes and seeing and catching no fish, we headed to the first dam. Fished here for about 15 minutes, no fish seen or caught. It was a re-occurring pattern for the rest of the hike.
I started off the day with a Prince Nymph, but being it was my second time throwing a nymph, I decided to switch to more familiar dry fly fishing at the first dam. With a 7.5 ft. 5/6wt rod, 7.5 ft. leader and a tippet, I tried out a Prince Nymph (not sure if it was exactly that but similar to it), Parachute Adams, Adams, and a California Mosquito fly (all flies were on the small end, Im not exactly sure what size). My dad was primarily fishing with a spinning reel and small artificial lures.
Note: I wanted to bring back this post from 2012. With all the rain we’re getting, maybe fly fishing will return to what it was in the San Gabriel Mountains before the drought and the Station Fire. Winter’s always a good time to dream about the next cast.
Brrr, it’s cold out there, and even colder in the many fishable canyons of So. Cal’s San Gabriel mountains. Here’s how to have some fun:
1. Play hooky any Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Skip Friday and forgettabout the weekend. There are always several thousand people who have the same idea at the same time. Crowds = lousy fishing.
2. Dress warmly in layers. Long underwear is a blessing this time of year.
3. Take it easy on the way down. Watch for gravel, sand and rocks that might give way. They will. Count on it.
4. Start with dries and move to nymphs. I know what you’re thinking: no hatch = no surface action. You might be surprised. Of the 10 fish I caught on my recent canyon adventure, two were on dries. Pick the usual suspects. Parachute Adams and his friends.
5. When you do reach into your fly box for a nymph, give that beadhead yellow sallie a try. I know it’s an underused Stone Fly, but the other eight fish I caught were all on this fly. Must be the legs.
6. Smaller is better. Even with all of our rain, flows are down. Size 14-16 or above, please.
7. Pack a lunch and extra water.
8. Bring a friend, someone who will make you laugh at some of those tiny trout you’re bound to hook.
9. Don’t wear hiking boots on slippery rocks. Just because the water’s cold, any rock in the water is still as slippery as it is in summer.
10. Turn your cellphone off. Keep your camera on. I know, you’re saying that there’s no service up there anyway. True, but it’s the principle.
11. Post your pics, so we can all see how good you look grippin’ ‘n’ grinnin’.
12. Keep an extra water and energy snack in the car.
Baker’s dozen: Get down. Get tired. Get silly. Get grateful. Repeat.
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.)
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.”
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.
For months, Jim Burns, Roderick Spilman, and I had talked about going to the Upper Arroyo Seco to cast a fly and see if any rainbow trout had survived the devastation of the Station Fire of 2009. We had spoken with Tim Brick of the Arroyo Seco Foundation and he expressed interest in any rainbow trout sightings within the Arroyo Seco system.
After a couple of significant rain events, our schedules magically aligned, and we scheduled a date certain for our expedition.
On Saturday, we arrived at Switzer in the San Gabriel Mountains at around 10:30 in the morning. A heavy mist hung in the air and the threat of rain was imminent. My son, Ansel (12), joined us for the adventure.
Jim was armed with a nice 3-wt. fiberglass fly rod, Roderick had his trusty 3 wt., and Ansel and I had taken our 4 foot, 2 inch Redington Form game rods — novelty practice rods that actually work great in tight quarters. We also had a small pair of scissors and a container in which to keep any DNA samples we might collect.
As we walked, a thick, wet mist bathed us in dew, and we wondered if we had been unwise to leave the rain ponchos in the Jeep. Sometimes at home or even hiking, my kids and I practice casting for fun and accuracy. I cast for a while as I hiked –- sans fly. As I hiked and cast, I imagined the river as it was –- the Arroyo Seco before the fire.
Ever since I can remember, I have lived near the lower reaches of the Arroyo Seco and hiked its many trails and canyons. Even today I live off of the Millard tributary. I have fond memories of stalking rising trout since the days of my youth. I would pack a lunch, grab my 3 wt. fly rod, my mountain bike, and head out for a day on the river. I always brought a supply of barbless Elk Hair Caddis and Griffith’s Gnats, my go-to flies for the system.
The Arroyo Seco was rarely large water, and remained a skinny stream most of the year. During periods of high rain, the river would rise dramatically, but usually there were times and places where the river would retreat underground, only to re-emerge. I welcomed the wildness of the forest, and listened to the wind in the trees and the gurgling of the brook.
Sometimes, I would see brightly shining trout circling each other around the red submerged roots, so entranced in their mating dance they would not notice me. Occasionally, a trout would break the mirror stillness of a nice pool. These were wary fish and the larger ones generally took up residence in bridge pools, large undercuts, the dam pool, or sometimes, small, yet deep, pocket pools.
This was really fishy water from the headwaters of the Arroyo Seco below Red Box, down to the lower portion of the Arroyo Seco above JPL. I had a chance to fly-fish many sections of the Arroyo Seco, or to spy a trout holding in the stream as I shot by on a mountain bike. It is amazing to think that before the Devil’s Gate and Brown Mountain Dams, large steelhead even swam in these tributaries.
At first we talked and laughed happily, enthralled at the excitement of our quest and the impending discovery of large holdout rainbow trout. As we walked, our gaze trained on the river. Not a single pool to be seen. All features of the river have been erased. Tons and tons of sand and pebbles filled the area that had once provided great habitat for fish.
Saturday, the stream was a rapid, narrow band of water that descended in a straight line toward the sea. As we walked on, our spirits remained up, but short pockets of silence punctuated our hike. I think during these times, we each may have contemplated the reality that there were likely no fish in this part of the system. We stopped atop the falls and ate our sandwiches, trail mix and tangerines. Roderick went on a quick, exploratory scouting mission to ensure that we were not missing any incredible pools just beyond the next bend. He returned a while later with the news that the creek looked the same beyond the falls.
After lunch, we packed up our trash and headed back to the waiting Jeep. As we approached the car, we agreed to salvage the rest of the day by wetting a line on the L.A. River. After all, I had found a promising new spot I wanted to check out.
Although this expedition had not turned up any rainbow trout, we had enjoyed a fun adventure and still remain hopeful they may exist somewhere in the Arroyo Seco system. It is incredible how much devastation the Station Fire and the record rainfall that followed it did to the Arroyo Seco system. Massive walls of mud, burned logs and debris made their way down the river, destroying everything in their path. While there is a certain resilience in nature, it would appear some things cannot undo themselves … at least for the time being.
Yet, I fervently hope that there, unseen by us, among submerged twigs and rocks, swim the next generation of rainbow trout – waiting for the protective embrace of dusk to emerge for their nightly insect feast.
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.
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!
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.