WEST FORK: Even as new signage and a bridge go up, the fly fishing has gone way down.. (Jim Burns)
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)
Arroyo Chub are little guys that love to patrol their lanes. (Courtesy Sierra Club)
— 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.
But, unfortunately, I’m not hopeful.
See you on the river, Jim Burns