Dr. Mark Drew, eastern Sierra CalTrout Headwaters project director, told us at our September meeting that a perfect storm of factors is probably responsible. He listed the opening of Hot Creek to winter fishing without the promised Department of Fish and Wildlife annual health monitoring, the prolonged drought and the concomitant 50 percent decreased in the flow of the spring that feeds the stream as probable causes.
This year for the first time in memory, Mammoth Creek dried up briefly.
DFW has done a quick study and finds no issues with water quality or food availability. Under pressure from the community that would suffer economic loss if the fishery does not recover, they have decided to stock HC with diploid rainbow trout, which can mature and reproduce. CalTrout and DFW are asking for our help. Here are the details.
Monday, Sept. 26 through Friday, Sept. 30: help electroshock Mammoth Creek.
Thursday, Oct. 6: help with the placement of 6,000 fish in Hot Creek. (They plan to place 12,000 per year for several years, and do electroshock surveys to see how the spawn is doing.)
If you can participate in either or part of these scheduled tasks, please contact Dr. Mark Drew at firstname.lastname@example.org
or call him at (760) 709-1492. He will provide snacks and lunch.
So, I decided to ride my bike up near the base of Cogswell Dam yesterday, just to scout out conditions. As you can see from this YouTube link, the West Fork is as challenging as it is beautiful!
The late morning started out with hazy sun, and by the time I started fishing at 10:30, it was cloudy and cool. I didn’t see any major hatch, though at some places there were plenty of black gnats that were fascinated with my sunglasses. The water upstream seemed slightly cloudy, and the riverbed is still dark (and slippery!)from last fall’s leaf liter, so it is nearly impossible to see the dark shadows of fish amid all the protective structure.
At one pool, I saw no signs of feeding or other activity. I tried various drys and midges without any response,
but I’ve been told that when nothing else seems to be happening, try a woolly bugger. This approach was immediately rewarded with four-five flashes, each probably between 5-to-8 inches long. I don’t have any significant experience stripping WBs, so it took me awhile to get the hang of it, but eventually this 6-inch rainbow totally gulped the WB.
I stopped at several other pools, riffles and plunges along the way. I saw one fish flip out of the water, but never landed
anything after that, despite drifting multiple flies and midges. There were stoneflies, ants and other terrestrials out in force, but the fish remained hunkered down, and I don’t know if it was due to the low pressure of the impending storm, or the lack of a hatch, or just my own technique.
You have to bring your best game to the West Fork. I think it’s good that we’ll each spend a concentrated effort on individual segments of the river: It will give us a chance to see what works best for any given riffle or pool.
Back in the day, Dick Roraback represented the journalist I wanted to become: after being graduated from The Sorbonne, he’d worked on the Herald Tribune in Paris (While on assignment in Africa, he’d somehow bamboozled the desk into publishing his story with the byline “By Ghana Rehah,” which got him suspended.); he was worldly, snide, grouchy, looked very old, and ripped through my fledgling restaurant reviews in a torrent of computer red ink. He seemed to me a refugee on the Los Angeles Times copy desk, a bit of the lion in winter. At the time, I wanted nothing more than to be like him — bold, intelligent and brash, thumbing his nose at the world and having a great time doing it.
I did wonder how this talented writer landed on the copy desk, reading the works of others, but no longer producing himself. Maybe “be brash in moderation,” I thought to myself.
By the time he’d again taken up ink and plume, I’d moved across town to become the travel editor for the Herald Examiner, and I didn’t read his series “In Search of the L.A. River,” published between 1985 and 1986.
In a recent paper entitled “Writing a river: how journalism helped restore the Los Angeles River,” academic Tilly Hinton argues a strong case for Roraback’s contribution to raising awareness about the river, and how this awareness helped to create the political will for change. She credits him alongside poet and FOLAR founder Lewis MacAdams as two pillars of the event.
I think Roraback would feel peeved to think of himself as a pillar of anything, and from what I’ve read MacAdams was none too pleased with the snarky tone Roraback used in his pieces. (For that matter, MacAdams also seems a wholly unlikely pillar, yet that he is, with a recent riverside plaque to prove it.)
For the series, which began at the river’s mouth in Long Beach and moved up to the headwaters, Roraback invented a character named “The Explorer.” At one point, The Explorer visited a man who kept an aquarium of fish captured from the river:
“Up in Atwater Glen on the other side of the channel, Tom Babel, manager of the riverside Port of Call apartments, allows as his community is a peaceful enough place to live –“You just gotta watch your back.” Just north, it seems, is “Toonerville, where anything goes.”
Even so, Babel likes living by the river, though he keeps his RV primed for a quick exit. “There’s been occasions when the rain got heavy and the river got two feet from the top of the bank,” he says. “I’d already started packing my important papers in the RV, ready to head for the high ground. . . . “
Larry Wickline, Babel’s stepson, takes a kinder view of riparian life.
“After the rains,” he says, “there’s rainbow trout this big! Keepers! You get catfish, carp, crayfish. Come up to my apartment. I have something to show you.”
Indeed he does. In Wickline’s flat is an illuminated fish tank holding an amazing variety of fish — gold, brown, white — all taken, he says, from the Los Angeles River.
“Good fishing when the river comes up,” Wickline says, “Except sometimes you can’t take a step for all those tiny snakes.
“It’s not so much the snakes, though, as the gangs. I wouldn’t go down there without a gun. At night, I wouldn’t go down there at all. . . . “
What I find particularly interesting about this passage is that, if true, rainbow trout were still in the river in the mid-80s, contrary to everything I’ve read about their disappearance from the river decades earlier.
The series certainly sparked interesting letters, including this one from Gene Lippert of Hacienda Heights:
“Just a note of appreciation for all the hard work Dick Roraback put in to bring us his fascinating story of the present Los Angeles River (‘In Search of the L.A. River,’ an occasional series.) I am following his tale with great interest.
“You see I lived my Tom Sawyer youth on the Los Angeles River in the area of the Imperial Highway bridge. That was before the ‘big paving extravaganza.’ We skinny-dipped in the pools, caught crawdads by the dozen and boiled them in an old can filled with river water and a dash of vinegar. We always kept supplies such as salt, pepper, coffee, cigarette butts (good for a couple of more puffs) in tin cans buried in the river bank. Small-sized trout were plentiful and easy to catch on a bent pin (had to jerk the fish out of the water and onto the bank the first time he nibbled or away went your bait). We slept overnight in the river bed most of the summers (dry, clean white sand). We were almost ridden over by a bunch of horses one night while sleeping. We had made camp in weeds four or five feet high and the fire had gone out.
“One time we stole redwood from an irrigation flume and built a boat. We got our caulking by digging the tar from between the expansion joints in Imperial Highway and melting it over a bonfire. The boat was a bust — it kept tipping over.”
So now I find Dick’s shadow once again moving across my writing life. Sometimes unlikely people follow you through time in the most unexpected ways.
UPDATE: This post is more than four years old, but continues to get traffic, so I wanted to give readers the lowdown, as of mid-July, 2017. California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife recruited members of the Pasadena Casting Club and other groups to fish, snorkel and help access the health of the stream. The result: encouraging. Ten anglers caught 60 fish in five hours, all rainbows, ranging from under six to more than 13 inches. Two years ago, a similar study found only 20 fish. Our beloved West Fork is going in the right direction once again.
There’s no doubt that fly fishing is very much akin to love — true love, of course — and that possibly as writer Thomas Wolfe once lamented, “you can’t go home again.” Maybe all of that’s overstating the case, but a recent return trip to the West Fork left me wringing my hands.
Here’s how my day went, after some two years of staying away.
— Had Wednesday off … a near perfect weekday to go fishing
— Weather was perfect, in the 80s
— Found a spot in the lower parking area. That never happens
— Enjoy new signage for Cogswell Dam on locked gate
— Decide to hitch when a Prius driver opened the locked gate. She initially stopped, got spooked and waved as she accelerated past me
— Spot new, unfinished bridge to upper parking lot. Frown. Good roads make bad fishing
— Resumed enjoying day, trying to spot fish in the put-and-take area. Can’t see any trout
— Met a friendly dog named Crazy, or some such. He followed me up the canyon, much to owner’s chagrin
— Patient owner walked all the way back to get Crazy. Crazy followed me again. Owner carried Crazy off toward car
— Truck passed me on the road. Wonder how many people have a key to that damned gate?
And so some dark clouds began trying to intrude on my happy day off. At the first bridge, I saw two small trout, doing their round-and-round dance in the water, which I mistakenly called a mating ritual in these pages. Ready to thread up my ancient Orvis No. 2, 6-foot rod, I realized I’d torn the loop off the fly line on my last adventure. Darn. Time for a barrel knot between the 7x, 12 foot tippet (length not smart for this water …), and how do you tie a barrel knot again? Oh yeah, that’s how you do it.
— Fish gone
— Spied the trail up Bear Creek. Took it
— Caught one fingerling trout
— Wonder at the beauty of this (for me) discovery. Splendid to be alive
— Where were the fish? Waterbugs fooled me, as they looked like rises from a distance
— Made acquaintance of nice duck couple. They also wondered where the fish were
After what seemed like forever, even in this California canyon paradise, finally I spotted tiny fish rising. I rested on a boulder by the water and thought “tiny fish beat no fish,” so I threaded a tiny dry something, but to no avail. Then, a miniscule wired midge under a small yellow sallie nymph. Nada. Yes, there were plenty of tug, tug, tugs, but that was it.
— Exasperated, took closer look at fish. Whoa. These weren’t trout, but arroyo chub (I think)
— Had a grand time, out of myself, like being a kid, forgot the world, gloomy thoughts. Note to self: Must take wife picnicking here
— Headed back to road. Got decent pull at the Bear Creek pool that is fished by everyone and his mom, aunt, uncle, frenemy and others
Then, I saw three trucks parked right there, right by the side of the road, on the two sides of the road, actually
— Fly fisher having no luck at all by bridge
— Walking, hope to meet Crazy again
— Older gentleman in Long Beach Fly Fishing Club shirt, driving truck, asked me, “If I took ’em all out?” I say “no”
— Fight off gloomy thoughts like why do any of us think we can fish in the first place
— Start car with half-smile on my face. Was expecting full smile
And there you have it. This area needs help, folks. It is so achingly beautiful, yet at the same time so neglected by the thoughtless weekend crowds, the swimming, the fishing pressure, the easy access, the environmental lawsuits, the lack of any official presence … what else? I know for certain, I’ll not follow Wolfe’s advice. I’ll brave the traffic and maybe even Crazy to fish the catch-and-release section upriver one more time.
Tramping through the San Gabriels today with my son was a wonder: we caught 16 trout, rainbows and browns, in a half-day’s work. I even foul-hooked a rainbow, which is certainly nothing to brag about, but was fun all the same.
But the point of this post is, please, don’t trash the wilderness. I walked through some brush, only to be snagged by old line that someone had left carelessly near a stream. Attached to it was an old-school wet fly, around a No. 4, so I guess I’m a fly richer, but that could have also tagged me in the eye. Not cool.
I also found a discarded spinning reel (!), more line at another part of the stream, and a Sports Chalet receipt that didn’t looked great against the wildflowers. I mean, come on, if we want to keep our resouces safe and sacred, we can’t treat them like a public toilet.
Remember: pack it in, pack it out.
And, if you are fishing in areas that don’t get stocked, please release your catch. One hole I’ve fished for many seasons with success contained only two small trout. I doubt that my other friends fell prey to cranes or other feathered pros. If you take out the fish, they are gone, Period. Once the fish are gone, what’s the point of our sport?
Sorry for the rant, but as you prepare to get out there for a fantastic season of fly fishing, let’s respect what we have. Please repost.