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.

 

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Record drought conditions make trouting tough in the San Gabes

CRAFTY CATCH: Under these drought conditions, it takes skill as well as stealth to land one of these jewels. (Jim Burns)

CRAFTY CATCH: Under these drought conditions, it takes skill as well as stealth to land one of these jewels. (Jim Burns)

One of the great things about fishing an area over a long period of time is that you can really get to know the water. You know that 50 paces up, there’s a great little hole, or you remember the one waterfall that always seems to have a trout underneath it. When my son and I hit a new river or stream, we always expect the worst, then, if it’s a good day, we get super-stoked about the results. That’s one reason a guide can charge you $400 for a day out in his neck of the woods … it is, after all, his neck of the woods, and so the thinking goes, you can slap water for the cost of a few flies, or get into the fish with expert advice.

There are sections of the San Gabriel Mountains where I feel at least close to being an expert, simply because I’ve spent so much time tramping and casting. But, that said, I hadn’t returned to one of my favorite loops in about a year because fishermen had busied themselves strip-mining out all of the fish. Remember, the fish you find on the West Fork, the East Fork, Chantry Flats and behind JPL are natives, not plants, as stocking stopped many years ago. Why we don’t have signs in multiple languages to leave the fish where they are — catch and release — is not only important, but key to their survival.

That much time certainly had passed between my last adventure and Sunday. Swarms of people exiting the parking lot really turn me off, but I was pleasantly surprised by how many of them stayed on the beaten path, while Will and I were able to disappear into some of the lesser-known canyon folds. Our canyons, folks, are a beautiful gift to behold.

Will was testing a new rod, a 3 weight, 4 section, with a sweet fast action.

We didn’t know what to expect from news reports, but also from a phone call to a ranger who said, “Well, you do know there’s a drought on.” Would there be any fish at all? After all, we’d canvassed parts of California’s Golden Trout Wilderness in which healthy streams disappear during summer trout conditions.

Alas, we did see an old favorite pool now choked with algae, water looking barely breathable for the trout who had come back from that strip-mining last year. There were small and wary.

We moved on to another pool, one in which two aggressive males spared with each other. The first time I saw that kind of movement, I mistook it for spawning; it’s more like Irish brawling. Needless to say, when this kind of action is happening, the fish are much more interested in kicking some ass than taking your fly.

Next pool: looked pretty dead, but with a decent amount of water still there, but the color was dark and off-putting, and tree branch sat ready to snag any carelessly thrown fly.

But, as I answered the inevitable question — “Are there fish in there?” — for the sixth time, I heard, “Dad,” with an intonation I’ve learned over these many years. Fish on.

Will had mined a pool in one of those beautiful creases, the kind that makes you forget you are so close to city lights. That trout was a beaut, snagged on a Parachute Adams, very dry.

“Good fish,” we both remarked and did a little laughing and whooping as well, enough so I’m sure the hikers thought there must be a constant stream of gorgeous trout just waiting behind every rock.

“Good luck rod,” we both agreed, and I’m sure it will be, just as soon as Mother Nature blesses us with the water we so badly need.

See you on the river, Jim Burns