So good, it’s ‘Off Tha’ Hook’

imageRemember back to the bad old days, say, four years ago, when some of our city’s fisherfolk were issued citations for having the audacity to fish in our river?

Flash forward to Saturday, Sept. 6, precisely 9 a.m. at North Atwater Park in Atwater Village. Not only is it the last day of this year when you don’t have to have a license to legally fish, it’s also the date for the inaugural, the one and only awesomeness of FOLAR’s “Off Tha’ Hook.”

You read that correctly. This is the first fishing derby to hit the banks of the Los Angeles River since 1849. OK, I made that part up. If you actually know of another fishing tourney on the river, please comment below.

Here’s what’s going down:

— fishing contest, for fly fishing and traditional, wading OK, from 9-10 a.m. Yup, one hour. After biologists and volunteers document weight and length, the fish will be returned to the rio.

— the contest is followed by an hour’s worth of family fishing and education. Angler volunteers (you could be one) will help children learn conventional fishing. This will be a supervised, safe time for the kids.

— awards ceremony at 11 a.m., includes a prize for the “rarest” species. All children who are registered and participate in the family fishing event will receive a blue ribbon.

— food truck, that’s the rumor, and a good bet. I don’t know which one.

I’ll post better details as they become available, but I do know you want to sign up soon, as the number of anglers for this historic event is limited to 25 anglers and 25 kids.

Wow, I really can’t believe I just wrote this up.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

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Fisherfolk ready for Saturday’s Opening Day in the Sierra

This brown got fooled by a lot of elk hair caddis on a size 14 hook. (Jim Burns)

This brown got fooled by a lot of elk hair caddis on a size 14 hook. (Jim Burns)

Opening Day in the Sierra is almost upon us (April 27), and according to writer Darcy Ellis, it heralds at least a decent season. Ellis penned “Epic season taking shape,” but after reading her piece in the Inyo Register Eastern Sierra Fishing Guide, I’m not sure “epic” is exactly the word the average fisherman would use.

“All of the elements have come together in 2013 for a banner fishing season: plenty of water, even more fish and lots of angling-related action for fishermen and their families,” read the article’s lead sentence.

Ample water is based on an interview with a Dept. of Fish and Wildlife environmental scientist, quoted as saying that “… we’re not anticipating low water this year.” Adequate water is one of the key criteria before the DFW will plant fish.

With the Monrovia fire still smoldering as I write this, it may surprise parched Southern Californians to hear this sort of prognostication. It also surprised the California Dept. of Water Resources.

“The snowpack is at 54 percent of normal, so it’s not looking good,” said Jennifer Lida, an information officer for the department.

The last manual survey of the year, in which DWR surveyors actually go into the mountains instead of relying on electronic sensors,  is scheduled in about two weeks on Echo Summit, near Lake Tahoe. This measurement traditionally documents the wetness of any given season. Snowpack normally provides about a third of California’s water as it melts into streams, reservoirs and aquifers. The short-term good news is that “most key storage reservoirs are above or near historic levels,” according to the department.

Given this scenario, I’d get my fishing in early. Last year in the Golden Trout Wilderness, one favorite creek had turned into runs of unconnected water by August.

Still it looks like there will be lots of trout in the middle Sierra, the L.A. mecca for fly fishing.  According to Ellis’s article, DFW plans to plant just shy of 1 million pounds of trout this season. You can check the planting schedule here.

Finally, there certainly will be family events during the summer. One that’s new is Trout Fest on June 29 at the Hot Creek Hatchery outside Mammoth. The flier promises kids going to the event that they will be able to “catch a fish, feed a fish, taste a fish, touch a fish.”

See you on the river, Jim Burns

With an eye to the Los Angeles River Recreational Zone Pilot Program

Bird's eye view: Inside a storm drain, safe for kids, one of the many improvements made at the North Atwater Creek Pocket Park. (Jim Burns)

Bird’s eye view: Inside a storm drain, safe for kids, one of the many improvements made at the North Atwater Creek Pocket Park. (Jim Burns)

The City of Los Angeles is busy presenting the proposed 2013 Los Angeles River Recreational Zone Pilot Program for Glendale Narrows with the second meeting occurring right now at City Hall. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend, but will post when the final meeting is to occur, sometime next month. The idea is to get public comment on a plan to open up recreation within that approximately seven-mile stretch of our river.

I’ve read the pilot program and all you kayakers out there should be pretty excited. If passed, the proposal would mean that individual non-motorized boaters would be able to launch from North Atwater Park, Steelhead Park and Marsh Park,  from Memorial Day through Labor Day, when there is very little chance of a flood from torrential rain.  That also means you could be fly fishing from your kayak as well, because the proposal also calls for fishing, bird watching and hiking. Swimming would still be a no-no. And float tubes are just plain impractical because of low water.

Dept. of Fish and Wildlife regs would then apply in the river.

I really wonder what this would mean for the eradication of carp in the river, as the U.S. Army Corps views it as an invasive species, even though carp have been resident for decades.

From the report: On Aug. 28, 2012, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 1201, which amended the Los Angeles Flood Control Act “to provide for public use of navigable waterways under the district’s control that are suitable for recreational and educational purposes, when these purposes are not inconsistent with the use thereof by the district for flood control and water conservation.”

Stay tuned and see you on the river, Jim Burns

New L.A. River funding brings new questions

From top left, clockwise, the tranquility of carp-filled pools, at the beginning of Glendale Narrows. Once you get past the city locks, you can see self-shadows and nifty bridge architecture. (Jim Burns)

The Buddhists say that the curse of the human realm is change. And if you live long enough, you tend to agree with them.

Of course, even if you haven’t lived a long time, only a fool won’t recognize that change comes in two flavors: good and bad. Maybe some would quibble with me and argue change can be neutral, but those changes aren’t the ones any of us remember. A neutral change is akin to no change. Most of us see the world in Manichaean terms — a big word for good versus evil. Change is flavored by one side or the other.

Maybe that’s a tad too much philosophy for a Monday morning, perhaps a shadow of tomorrow’s election, but change felt palpable on the river this weekend, and I wondered which flavor it would eventually be.

I took advantage of the 80-degree weather to explore three favorite fishy spots, looking for carp. One thing that doesn’t change — I often get skunked by these elusive fish. Water in the Glendale Narrows section is two-to-three feet deep in most spots. Consequently, fish see you as quickly as you spot them. And, at least on the fly, sight fishing is the best way to land one, and it has certain risks.

My boots scraped down the river’s  rip-rap skin, close to the giant bunkerlike concrete abutments that once held electric Red Line tracks, jutting out from the old Glendale Avenue bridge. There, the wide concrete swatch of the river’s artificial bottom is entirely concrete, and as I watched the water’s constant flow, I realized this vista I’d taken for granted was vulnerable to change.

By now, if you follow “riverly” events, you know that clothier Miss Me has  breathed new life into the stalled keystone environmental feasibility study with a substantial gift. As Molly Peterson reported for KPCC: “The Army Corps of Engineers study, nicknamed  ARBOR (Alternative with Restoration Benefits and Opportunities for Revitalization), was $970,000 short of the $9.7 million needed to proceed.”

And the clothing company has offered almost $1 million to close that funding gap. The Corps lead planner Kathleen Bergmann recently told me that the money has to pass through some approval hoops. “We are moving forward on last year’s funds.  While funds have been offered, we must receive permission to receive those funds, and sign an agreement.  Congress has set up a very precise method for doing this, and must be notified as well. We are in the process of taking those steps to get approval to receive the funds.”

So green is green, and it’s great to know that the money is finally available, even given the ridiculous amount of time it’s taken to fully fund the study during the Great Recession.

“Remember that the fundamental purpose of the Study is to improve the ecosystem values in the LA River– and that means riparian habitat that is good for wildlife, including fish species,” said Carol Armstrong, director of the Los Angeles River Project office. “The Study will go public with its alternatives early next year. Once finished, it will recommend one of those as its recommended project, which will then go to Washington, DC, for approval by the federal powers-that-be. So, those alternatives are under development now. Basically we’re moving from Study to Project now that the Study is fully funded.”

I believe it’s a given that at least sections of concrete are on their way out. Since I began this post on a mystical note, look at the signs.

— The Paddle the River program, although only around for eight weeks a year, is in its second year, with a five-year contract. Now apparently,  program leaders have aspirations to paddle the seven miles of Glendale Narrows as well.

— Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB1201 into law this year, which broadens the L.A. County Dept. of Public Works 100-year-old mission of flood control and storm water management to include education and recreation. Friends of the L.A. River and UCLA’s Environmental Law Clinic spearheaded the effort that was then introduced by State Senator Kevin de Leon.

— I haven’t heard of any tickets being issued to those plying the river’s bottom during the last few years.

— Also, I haven’t heard of LAPD harassment of activists since Jenny Price’s  river tour was disrupted over a turf war some three years ago.

Add to all that Arroyo Seco Foundation Exec Tim Brick’s recent grant acquisition of over $3 million to improve the Hahamongna watershed above JPL in Pasadena. As he wrote me in an email, “A key goal of this project is to improve conditions for the trout and other fish in the Arroyo stream.  The water intake facilities were not designed to protect the fish, but we want to change that by redesigning the facilities and improving the habitat there. This brief video shows the facilities and the area to be improved: Water Facilities in Hahamongna Canyon.”

It’s time for optimism, to see the change as very good. In other words, this puppy is going to happen, because after decades of inertia, the political will has arrived to bring in the bucks.

But am I the only one who gets a little nervous with big money?

As I trudged along in the autumn heat, marveling at this wonderful liquid behemoth, I wondered what the change would actually look like, and I felt that nagging bite of Manichaeism again. I want to be able to fly fish, enjoy the din of the I-5, ponder the eastern vistas of Griffith Park. I don’t want to buy souvenir T-shirts a la San Antonio’s River Walk stalls, although enjoying a crafted beer by water’s edge wouldn’t be all bad.

So let me ask you, what do you want?

— 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