“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.

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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.

Quick Mends: Fighting the good fight from Vermont to the Hahamonga


Dating from 1943, it's fair to ask what purpose this federal dam serves today (Jim Burns).

Dating from 1943, it’s fair to ask what purpose this federal dam atop the Hahamonga watershed serves today (Jim Burns).

All right, even on the West Coast, we realize Vermont is famous for maple syrup, but what about the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vt.? Not so much.

Still, according to American River’s River Blog, the two organizations have partnered up to highlight eco-education. At a recent AMFF meeting, Steve White, who runs American Rivers’ Anglers Fund, talked about  protection and restoration of vital fish habitat through dam removals, and Wild and Scenic designations, among other topics.

Meanwhile, the PBS NewsHour continues to cover restoration efforts for California’s  San Joaquin River, which may be the largest river restoration project in the country. These troubled financial times may set the project back several decades, a project in which $100 million has been spent thus far, with a projected cost of $2 billion.

Closer to home, the Arroyo Seco Foundation and a bevy of environmental activists wonder why Edison continues to receive an E-ticket ride to trash the Hahamonga habitat in the verdant canyon area next to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. At issue, the city of Pasadena granted Edison a utility easement through Hahamongna Watershed Park for its power poles heading north/south to Jet Propulsion Laboratory more than 60 years ago. The giant electric utility claims that the easement gives it the right to maintain access to the poles that lead along the west side of the park from near Devil’s Gate Dam all the way up to JPL, according to ASF’s website.

Concerned residents have lobbied the city and are ready to fight the utility, particularly after losing the battle to protect the Arcadia Oak Grove in 2011. What the Los Angeles Times described as a “a prized grove of more than 200 oaks and sycamores,” owned by the county Department of Public Works, was reduced to stumps and sawdust as the agency prepared the site to take on 500,000 cubic yards of silt, rocks and vegetation to be scooped out of Santa Anita Reservoir.

Meanwhile, we’re all waiting for the verdict of the U.S. Army Corps on the restoration of the Los Angeles River. Watch this space to find out which of the various proposals will get the green light.

See you on the river, Jim Burns
@jimgoesfishing