Third annual Off Tha’ Hook is ‘bass in action’

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MARY JANE GARCIA gets little help from her brother as she poses with her trophy and bling. (Jim Burns)

On a cloudy Saturday, the third annual Off Tha’ Hook fishing throwback got off to a solid start as 20 adult anglers descended the riprap to the river. What happened to the additional 17 fishers who signed up is anyone’s guess, but some speculated that the change of location, from North Atwater Park to the Bowtie Parcel could have contributed.

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WINNER KEN MORRIS contemplates which  Trout Unlimited flies he received as gifts for joining the organization will match river aquatics. (Jim Burns)

Whatever the reason, action started early when Chris Manno of Los Feliz hooked a beautiful largemouth bass with his spinning rod and lure. He looked to have it going on into the home stretch until Ken Morris, also of Los Feliz, also hooked a bass, which, when inspected by the biologist Rosi Dagit, turned out to be 2 centimeters longer as well as heftier in the midsection. Morris also landed another bass and two green sunfish.

If we were horse racing, it would have been a win “by a nose.”

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A BASS gets measured before being returned to the river. (Jim Burns)

This was a first, in that carp have won the grand prize the last two years.

Meanwhile, the kids event really took off this year, perhaps doubling in size from 2015. A hundred children and teenagers had to go through four checkpoints with their parents before getting a rod and heading down to the water.

In the kids’ division, Mary Jane Garcia, 9, of Koreatown, caught not one, but two small carp.

When asked what her spinning rod bait was, her father gave a knowing look. After all, he’d nearly landed a carp earlier in the adult division.

“Tortillas,” he said, “just plain tortillas.”

Yes, the tried and true LA River carp elixir.

Meanwhile, Elijah Rodriguez, 16, of Los Angeles also won in the kids division for a beautiful, large tilapia.

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IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY to get in some casting practice, especially in matching blue T-shirts. (Jim Burns)

Also, this year, besides being at a new site, three fly fishing clubs supported the tournament, Pasadena Casting Club, Downey Fly Fishers and the Southwestern Council, which is actually composed of more than 20 area fly fishing clubs. PCC again donated a box of flies; and Downey was busy tying flies for the kids to use on the river. Patagonia donated more than $700 in gear, and Harley Davidson also contributed prizes this year as well.

Trout Unlimited provided lots of fly casting instruction, in which the object was to get the unhooked fly to set off a mouse trap. TU’s Bob Blankenship and Drew Irby are men of infinite patience, setting and resetting the traps, as well as untangling more than a fair share of birds’ nests.

Finally, Ken Jarrett, of Morro Bay, netted a minuscule Mississippi Silver Sides, winning the “rarest species” award.

“That’s the first time we’ve found one of those in the LA River,” Dagit said.

Below is video proof that there’s really nothing like catching your first fish. This video, taken by Bradley Martin, shows his son Wyatt hooking a fish for the first time.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

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Sunny day bass (Remember, stay out of the river this week!)

BLUE SKIES and bass are a perfect combo (Nick Blixt)

BLUE SKIES and bass are a perfect combo. (Nick Blixt)

GRAPHITE RODS and lightning don't mix. (Courtesy Field and Stream)

MEANWHILE, GRAPHITE RODS and lightning don’t mix. (Courtesy Field and Stream)

Nick Blixt caught this largemouth bass just in time, before the rain. Let’s hope it’s a good luck charm, and there are many left after these storms.

As I write, the rain is coming down hard, so here’s a reminder: Don’t look-ee-loo too close to the river. The water can come up on you very quickly. Also, I’ve heard predictions of lightning. If you are on the river and hear thunder or see lightning, immediately put your rod down and seek shelter. One of our bridges is an excellent place to ride it out. Just don’t forget your rod before you head home!

For a thorough three-part tutorial on fly fishing in weather, check this out.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Yes, fish are actually jumping out of the water

John L says:
October 3, 2015 at 6:06 pm Edit
Yup! Seen that today too! Big carp and Lil bass chasing each other, as if they were spawning again!

Sabrina Burgess-Drill says:

October 3, 2015 at 5:57 pm Edit

It was like that several years ago. Maybe 2005 or 6?

“Catch me, before I disappear in the El Nino river waves.” (Jim Burns)

Guess who’s back?

'BASS-A-NOVA': Yup, they're bacl! (John Tegmeyer)

‘BASS-A-NOVA’: Yup, they’re b-b-b-ack! (John Tegmeyer)

Last summer, there were bass — lots and lots of bass — as well as aggressive tilapia. And as just about anyone who has fished the L.A. River will tell you, both species are a heck of a lot easier to catch than our crafty carp. Targeting bass, you can do dumb things like muff your cast or take some drag on your line, and still recover and hook up. With carp, mostly, it’s one and done.

Then “poof.”

After last season’s first rain, all the bass disappeared. Because our river is currently more of a causeway without significant structure, what was solid fact one day vanished the next, as uneven flows swept away everything in their paths, including the bass that many of us watched grow to healthy sizes. That’s one of the beauties of catch and release: you can actually watch the fish mature through the season.

“Wonder where they went?” asked John Tegmeyer, which was truly said in hindsight, as yesterday he found a new Motherlode.

Maybe we can all file our “what the heck happened?” under the line from an old Joni Mitchell song, “Big Yellow Taxi”:

“Don’t it always seem to go
You don’t know what you got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot”

In the case of our river, the opposite will hopefully be true: our paved parking lot will gradually become something entirely more heavenly.

So, until fall’s predicted El Nino teaches us what rain really feels like, and the bass once again go missing, get out there.

Roland Trevino has been consistently hooking up on prince nymphs, instead of his usual fav, white poppers.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Contest: bag an L.A. River deuce, win a fab LARFF tee shirt

So here’s how my day went:

Actually, I got a rolling start last night by donating a couple of old reels to the Southwestern Council FFF charity effort at Orvis in Pasadena. That got me 20 percent off a new Battenkill III, which is a reel about as minimalist as they come. In other words, the palm of your hand and fingers supply most of the drag to slow a running fish down.

In other words, it burns so good.

A.M. off to the L.A River with my 5 wt., armed with a fine new line, new leader and, of course, the new reel. Throw in, hook up within five minutes (rare) and — bam — knot fails after three sharp tugs. Blame the new 5x leader, curse the gods, curse the river weeds, curse anything but the fish. From the size of the pull, think the better of a 5x leader and get on down to a 2x. Toss in, wait a bit — bam — same result, including failed knot.

Burn! Slowing down this carp old school gave me a hot palm. (Jim Burns)

Burn! Slowing down this carp old school gave me a hot palm. (Jim Burns)

And then this largemouth bass grabbed the same fly, a work-a-day glo-bug. (Jim Burns)

And then this largemouth bass grabbed the same fly, a work-a-day glo-bug. (Jim Burns)

Curse Orvis, maker of the slippery leader, curse limited knot skills, curse Lou Ferrigno, for no reason. Look up at monochrome sky and ask “why?”

Sit on rip rap. Retie. Walk upstream, toss in, hook up — bam — fish on. Big fish on. Mental notes intrude on sweaty, running experience … Play him on the reel. Slow down the narrow spool with palm, getting hot, ouch. Turn head, tire him out, another run, fingers, ya oh, man that smarts, more mental notes. What’s with the mental notes? Blame golf psychology book, “Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect” that is current read.

Walk back, walk back slowly. Runs again, remember that knot fail! Ease it up, running, slow him down.

In close now. Gold shine, liquid undulating gold. We see eye to eye. Back up, back up, and … he’s ashore.

Heart pumping, mental note, take the IPic. Fumble in pocket. Curse the white-hot September light, so bright I can’t really image the picture. A Mexican guy on a bike on the bike path, says “Take a picture,” as both a question and a statement. I think to myself, “but I am taking a picture,” and then realize maybe he wants to scale down the rip rap and take a snap of me and this California gold rush.

Elation. Snap. Fish back in water. Heart beats hard; left hand hurts; praise Orvis, praise my limited knot-tying ability, praise the very moment, alive, so very alive.

I right myself, put back in, same fly, and quickly get a different kind of tug, bass tug. Oh, yes, this is so easy, haha, nothing two-to it, and will it ever happen to me again? Snag an L.A. river deuce, same day, same fly.

Hallelujah.

Let 'em know you fly fish the L.A. River.

Let ’em know you fly fish the L.A. River.

In honor of this twofer, I propose an unofficial contest: if you hook up, two different species, same day, same fly, send me the story and pics, I’ll send you an lariverflyfishing tee shirt. Only got three left from the derby, all extra large.

See you on the river, Jim Burns