East Fork SOS: Where Have all the Fish and Anglers Gone?

By Tom Walsh
President, Fisheries Resource Volunteer Corps

Repetitive comments from anglers, who have fished the East Fork of the San Gabriel River over the past five years, have indicated that there are no fish left. Based on 1,261 CDFW Angler Surveys over the past 15 years, anglers reported catching 10,901 fish. However, during the past five years only 777 fish have been caught, with only 11 being caught in the past two years.

What are the reasons for this significant decrease? Over the past five-to-12 years there are a number of events that have contributed to the loss of this fishery:

— 2005 – Twelve-year drought reduced total rainfall by 43.6 inches (3.6 inches/year) below 140-year season average.
— 2008 – Downturn in the economy brought an increase in encampments to the East Fork backcountry.
— 2008 – Price of gold hit all time high increasing from $769/oz. in 2007 to a high of $1,987/oz. in 2011.
— 2008 – Began removal of 20,000 tamarisk plants (One plant consumes up to 200 gallons of water per day)
— 2010 – California Department of Fish and Wildlife terminated fish plants on East and West forks to abide with court ruling.
— 2014 – High rain event on Aug. 3 bought significant amount of sediment downstream with large fish kill.

Of all of these events, the mining activity has been the most damaging, which has increased significantly, with the rise in gold prices, the promotion by mining guides via social media and the lack of enforcement of the mining prohibition.

The negative impacts to the stream and its riparian areas resulting from the mining activities are numerous. Large amounts of material in the stream and riparian areas are being moved to create dams, dredging holes and long diversion channels for sluicing, resulting in heavy silting, reduction in water flow and the interruption of the entire ecosystem. FRVC volunteer stream patrols have documented the loss old growth trees along the stream banks, permanent campsites within 50 to 100 feet of the stream, large amounts of equipment and trash from abandoned campsites, and the use of motorized dredging equipment.

In October 2010, the California Fish and Game Commission designated the East Fork from Heaton Flat to the headwaters as a Wild and Heritage Trout Stream. This designation includes 33.6 miles of perennial stream habitat, and is one of only 12 watersheds in the state with this designation. Unfortunately, the CDFW management plan has not been published or implemented.

This once-prominent fishery, which has been abandoned by almost everyone, needs the support of the Southern California fishing community.

Advertisements

Will East Fork again become vulnerable to suction dredging?

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-4-13-17-pmFellow anglers,

In a political time, it’s once again time to get political.

If you thought that suction dredging mining was banned for good from the East Fork of the San Gabriel River outside Los Angeles, and other once-pristine California waters, think again.

You can read my coverage from 2012. I thought it was a done deal that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife would be allowed to stop illegal activities even on federal lands, even within a national monument. But Pasadena Casting Club Conservation Chair John Tobin recently alerted me that, sadly, it might not be the case in the future.

As Tobin wrote in an email, “California Senate Bill 637, effective January 1, 2016, created a path for the statutory prohibition against suction dredge mining on our California streams to be lifted.”

Currently, there’s a case before the California Supreme Court challenging whether state environmental law that makes a particular mining claim on federal land commercially impractical preempted by the federal mining laws, according to the brief.

In other words, can California through its police power protect the environment, even on federal land?

For anglers, this means a choice between antiquated, destructive machinery disrupting the stream bed and scattering whatever trout may have thrived there for a largely recreational activity. Imagine trying to wet a line next to one of these contraptions. Imagine the downstream effect to the water.

north-fork-redeker-dredging-070707-dredge-plume_upper-american-river-fdn

Can you imagine trying to fish downstream from this suction dredging mining operation? (Photo courtesy of Trout Unlimited.)

You can lend your voice either at Trout Unlimited  on suction dredging issue or at Friends of the River alert on suction dredging.

You use our national lands to enjoy one of the best parts of your recreational life. Help make suction dredge mining a thing of the past.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick Mends: San Gabriel River faces increased human pressures

Could this sign soon include “national recreation area”? (Courtesy Forest Camping)

The only time I’ve been up to the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, I got the last parking spot, passed by a pretty rough crew, and — most importantly — got skunked. The last part is why I haven’t been back.

In today’s Los Angeles Times, Louis Sahagun pens a remarkably scary portrait of a river that’s facing real problems, both from budget cuts that make law enforcement difficult and from the interests of competing groups.

What I found telling is that of the players Sahagun interviewed, not one was a fly fisherman. Believe me, we’re out there in the Sab Gabes, but I think word is out that the East Fork needs some serious work before it once again becomes a local fishing destination.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick Mends follow-up: Forest Service reaffirms all mining prohibited on East Fork

A recent post on this site stirred up the pro-con constituencies about suction dredge mining, with the arguments basically boiling down to habitat vs. access. Although the petition was directed at the California Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Forest Service has just posted this on its site:

All mining operations (location of mining claims, prospecting, and mining, including panning, sluicing, and dredging) under the 1872 Mining Law are prohibited within withdrawn areas of the Angeles National Forest.  Public Law No. 578 (1928 withdrawal) withdrew areas from entry and location under the mining laws.  There is no provision in PL 578 which provides for even a limited right to enter the withdrawn lands to prospect.  Therefore, National Forest System lands within the East Fork of the San Gabriel River are not open to prospecting or any other mining operations.

When I called for comment, the Arcadia office was closed (at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday), but without further reporting on this topic, looks to be a win for fishing habitat.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Which is your fav, the West or East Fork of the San Gabriel River?

Got Fish? You want to have caught plenty before filling out the survey. (Jim Burns)

Spurred on by an article in the current California Fly Fisher magazine, I spent most of Friday hiking and fishing on the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. Richard Alden Bean’s enticing article made me do it.

“The East Fork is a truly wild river in its upper sections and has recently been added to both the Wild Trout Program and the Heritage Trout Program of the California Department of Fish and Game,” he wrote.

This was good news, if for no other reason than I’ve got a golden trout and squat else toward my plaque. As the DFG website says, “By catching six different forms of California native trout from their historic drainages and photographing these fish you can receive a colorful, personalized certificate featuring the art of renowned fish illustrator Joseph Tomelleri.”  Your specific prey, according to Bean, is the coastal rainbow trout.

But …

First off, I loathe Friday, Saturday and Sunday fishing in the San Gabes, because what you end up with is people, people and more people. You’ve got your hikers, your waders, your drinkers; you’ve got your families with young children and water-wading dogs trying to help a fisherman by pointing at the one fish in the pool before pawing at the splash. I mean I’m very happy all sorts of different folks use the water on the weekends … just not so happy to be confined to using it with them, due to that little thing called making money (Remember the adage, “You’ve either got time, or money.”).

Long story short, I got Friday-skunked on the East Fork, and it’s never a fun feeling. As I tramped out near dusk, I vowed to come back soonest, but I wonder if readers of this blog wouldn’t share some inspiration in the meantime.

Which is your favorite fork?

Don't you just hate getting skunked? (Jim Burns)

Do you prefer the West with its accessible bike path and easy downhill ride back to the parking lot? Its fishable access ramps?

Or, do you like the East Fork, known for its pack-station appeal, and winding path to the fabled “Bridge to Nowhere”?

See you on the river, Jim Burns