Switzer Falls: the most probable place to find native trout

 

 

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Arroyo Seco Foundation receives $50,000 for trout study

The first book published by Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach details the struggles of the endangered Southern California Steelhead. (Courtesy Aquarium of the Pacific)

The Arroyo Seco Foundation has received a $50,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to determine the best stream conditions for introducing trout, according to the Pasadena Star-News. 

Tim Brick, the foundation’s managing director, adds:

“We’re still look for trout, but the stream is below 1 cubic feet per second again. We need to identify the pools and resting spots where the trout are hiding. Probably Bear Canyon is the most likely spot. Anyone care to go on a trout scout adventure?”

His email is tim@arroyoseco.org.

Finally, to get a taste of what fishing used to be like here, I’m rerunning my 2014 review of historian Tom Tomlinson’s excellent book, ““Against the Currents: The Unlikely Story of the Southern California Steelhead” below.

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If you think you’ve finished your summer reading list, stop! Consider one more book, please.

“Against the Current, The Unlikely Story of the Southern California Steelhead” could not, in truth, be a more unlikely tale. Author Tom Tomlinson takes the reader on an environmental roller coaster ride that matches our region’s boom-or-bust water supply, and throws in plenty of human Greek drama.

Beautiful color on this trout, which was released, unharmed, back to the water. (Jim Burns)

What just over a 100 years ago was a region so pristine that Easterners came here to mend their health, through hunting, fishing and soaking up the sunshine, quickly turned into what we have today. As someone who has lived here for over 30 years with no plans of leaving, I’m not complaining, but when you read this book and realize what it once was — especially if you enjoy fly fishing the San Gabes — well, get our your handkerchief.

Sob.

One fact to prime the tears: In the early 1900s, the then-equivalent of the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife set the limit of fish taken at … 100. If you’ve ever put boots to dirt and fly to water in our mountains, this should give you a chill. Guests at the local fishing camps regularly hauled in lots of rainbows, and, yes, steelhead. And they hauled, and they hauled and they hauled. Think buffalo in the plains states.

How we got from those abundant fishy beginnings to where we are today is a story of good intentions gone to greed, it’s about that simple.

As for the steelhead once again taking center stage as we enter the Great Los Angeles River Rebuilding, well, this magnificent creature needs our help to get off the endangered species list.

When Congress approves the billion bucks for a river makeover early next year (Update: As of this writing three years later, the federal money hasn’t arrived), I hope every politician, every engineer and every investor gets a copy of this book. They should look up the section on one Henry O’Melveny, lawyer, fishing advocate, Creel Club founder, ice plant owner and, sadly, leader of the pack that done the natural inhabitants of our erratic rivers and streams in. Indeed, he is a figure as defining of Greek tragedy as Oedipus or Agamemnon.

Fast forward to today, and a mayor who is bringing in major bucks from Washington for the river as well as public transportation. I hope that Mayor Eric Garcetti reads this slim volume. It is the most compelling work to date on why the natural habitat can’t take a backseat to our own urban comfort zone. That story already happened.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Calendar Item: Find out the latest ‘trout scout’ news on Wednesday

Update: The Arroyo Seco Foundation has recently received a $50,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to determine the best stream conditions for introducing trout, according to the Pasadena Star-News . 

Tim Brick, the foundation’s managing director, adds:

“We’re still look for trout, but the stream is below 1 cubic feet per second again. We need to identify the pools and resting spots where the trout are hiding. Probably Bear Canyon is the most likely spot. Anyone care to go on a trout scout adventure?”

His email is tim@arroyoseco.org.

Finally, to get a taste of what fishing used to be like here, check out historian Tom Tomlinson’s excellent book, ““Against the Currents: The Unlikely Story of the Southern California Steelhead.”

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Did the trout survive the drought?
What is the history of fish in the Arroyo?
What is the potential for native fish restoration?
What is the current restoration program?
Fish or Concrete — What’s the Future?

Wednesday, July 12, 7 p.m.

Donald Wright Auditorium
Pasadena Central Library, 285 E. Walnut St., Pasadena

Company volunteers for Native Trout Restoration Project

ASF_FEDBy John Goraj

Guest Contributor

Hey Everyone,

I just wanted to touch base with you all and give you a quick update about what’s been going on the Native Trout Restoration Project.
Last week, we had a large event with the FedEx Cares volunteers, 48 people total doing a stream survey/invasive species mapping in the Gould Mesa and in Switzer Falls areas. We measured stream depth, stream temperature and measured invasive plant patches, in addition to doing habitat assessments.
It was a great success and I couldn’t help thinking of all of you and how great it would be if we all could accomplish something like this together?
So, anyway, I’m going to work on that and I will let you know some dates.
Below is some of the data we collected with the FedEx Cares group.
I encourage you all to go up to Arroyo Seco and look for trout in the meantime – there are several big pools in the Switzer Falls and Bear Canyon areas.
Thank you all for your time and commitment to conservation!
John Goraj is the Native Trout Program Manager  at the Arroyo Seco Foundation.

Second ‘Trout Scout’ update: Gabrielino Trail to Gould Mesa

NICE SECTION of the Arroyo near Gould Mesa with large in stream boulders that create pools. (Courtesy John Goraj)

By John Goraj

Guest Contributor

Myself, along with three other volunteers, began the scout at the Altadena Crest Trailhead in Altadena. We hiked for about two and a half miles on the Gabrieleno Trail along the Arroyo Seco to Gould Mesa Trail Camp, eventually turning around somewhere between Gould Mesa and Paul Little Picnic Area. The Arroyo is beautiful right now and as always, a very thriving ecosystem. We saw several California newts, who are mating right now and mountain yellow-legged frogs.

We stopped several times along the way making several notes about trout habitat and riverine conditions. We saw several things that made me confident of the existence of rainbow trout in the Arroyo. Here are some of the major habitat features that we discovered in several key habitat categories.

This central section of the stream currently possesses all of the necessary habitat requirements needed for native southern California trout to thrive; cool and clear water, stable undercut banks, clean gravel beds with little to no silt, overhanging vegetation, structural/habitat diversity and the food that trout eat.

‘TROUT SCOUT’ volunteers from left, Ren Vokes, Ryan Anglin and Roland Trevino. (Courtesy John Goraj)

The stream is flowing well about 5-10 cfs and the water temperature is cool. The banks along this section of the stream are undercut creating sufficient pool depth for trout to live in during the drier summer months.

Additionally, the roots of white alder trees which grow abundantly along the stream provide strong support along the banks. The gravel beds are clean and soft creating high quality habitat for trout to possibly spawn in the future. Canopy cover above the stream (overhanging vegetation) was almost always 50-to-75 percent, which keeps dissolved oxygen adequately high for native trout to thrive.

Lastly, many of the key components of trout dietary needs were present as well. These include terrestrial insects, spiders, midges, dragonflies and water boatman bugs.

Perhaps the most promising feature was the discovery of several two-to-four-foot-deep pools created by in-stream structural diversity, such as boulders and large woody debris. These pools are essential for trout survival and illustrate the important function that downed logs and boulders play in providing high quality for trout.

I will keep you all updated on the next “Trout Scout” and any possible trout sightings!

John Goraj is the Native Trout Program Manager  at the Arroyo Seco Foundation.

 

“Trout Scout’ finds water, critical habitat conditions, in Arroyo Seco

By John Goraj
Guest Contributor

Hello all:

I wanted to give you a quick update on the initial “trout scout” that Arroyo Seco Foundation and volunteers did last week at Switzer’s Falls on Feb. 11. Please keep in mind that this first trip was not meant to be a technical, scientific survey, but rather to get a general idea of the habitat conditions for native trout and stream ecology/hydrology at the moment. But, the next few trips will become more technical as time goes on, employing GIS, DNA extraction and using snorkeling and wetsuit gear to look for trout.

arroyo

One of several 3-4 foot deep pools we saw as we made our way through the canyon. (Courtesy John Goraj)

We walked about two miles down the trail, stopping several times along the way to survey conditions and look for evidence of life. One thing is for certain — the Arroyo Seco has not flowed this turbulently in several years! I would guess that the streamflow was close to 50-75 cubic feet per second. It was so wonderful to see. We had to jump over the stream on rocks and downed logs several times along the way. There were several three-to-four-foot-deep pools as we made our way through the canyon. Many of these pools possessed some critical habitat features needed for rainbow trout: clean gravel beds; in-stream woody debris and boulders that create additional pools, turbulent, cool water and overhanging vegetation creating cover. Additionally, the strong root systems of white alder and cottonwood trees that line the stream have established solid banks, which is another key component of healthy mountain streams needed to sustain trout species.

Although we did not see any fish this time, the most salient observation I can make right now is that I do believe some trout are living up there. All or most of the necessary habitat conditions are present and I think it’s only a matter of time before we see some fish.

The next survey will focus on going deeper into the Bear Canyon area. I have heard from several anglers that they have seen trout up here prior to the 2009 Station Fire. The combined effects of the fire and the recent five-year drought had made seeing trout in this area improbable. But I don’t think this is case anymore. The Switzer Falls/Bear Canyon area is recovering quickly and now with all the rain and snowmelt, conditions have changed for the better.

Thank you for your interest as always and feel free to email me with any questions or comments at: john@arroyoseco.org.

Exploratory expedition fails to find Arroyo Seco rainbows

By Roland Trevino
Guest Contributor

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.

SAD, BUT TRUE: The deepest water didn't hold a thing. (Roland Trevino)

SAD, BUT TRUE: The deepest water didn’t hold a thing. (Roland Trevino)

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.

Ansel Trevino, in his trademark cowboy hat, gets ready for lunch. (Roland Trevino)

DEJECTION: Ansel Trevino, in his trademark cowboy hat, surveys the sad scene. (Roland Trevino)

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.