Wild trout spawn in the San Gabriel Mountains

Yesterday was a great day to fish for trout in So. Cal., but I wasn’t expecting to see this mating dance. In fact, I’ve never seen this behavior before in our local watershed. At first, I thought that maybe a snake had taken a fish, and was rolling over and over to try to get it swallowed. Then, as the action came nearer to me, I was astonished to find the commotion was a pair of amorous native trout.  Watching this miracle of nature make me want to redouble my own personal efforts to protect this region, and to restore it to what it once was. Take a look for yourself. (Be sure to hit “full screen” so that you can see the fish all the way through.)

See you on the river, Jim Burns

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San Gabriel Mountains inch closer to national park service protection

Could this sign soon include “national recreation area”? (Courtesy Forest Camping)

UPDATE: President Obama created the newest national monument on Oct. 10, 2014, by setting aside 346,000 acres in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Los Angeles’s natural resources have been on fire lately, with a burn that isn’t whipped up from a blistering fall Santa Ana. In June, the Urban Waters Federal Partnership chose the L.A. River as one of seven polluted city waterways to clean up, then the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allowed a pilot kayak and canoe program on the river in August. And now the National Park Service is determining whether our own San Gabes might be suitable for a national recreation area.

According to its website, “The National Park Service (NPS) prepared the Draft San Gabriel Mountains and Watershed Special Resource Study to determine whether all or part of the study area is significant, suitable, and feasible for designation as a unit of the national park system. Congress authorized this study in 2003.

“The study area covers approximately 700,000 acres of land in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan region, including urban communities, local and regional parks and open space, and 415,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest.”

While stopping short of recommending national park protection, the NPS suggests four alternatives:

— expand the current Angeles National Forest to include the area

— turn the vast watershed into a national recreation area

— partner with other agencies to create something else

— or don’t budge.

In our era of downsized America, don’t think the last option might not appeal. After all, California is in the midst of closing 70 state parks to save money, and the national park system remains woefully underfunded. The department’s annual budget is $2.9 billion and includes some 28,000 full-time employees and over 2 million volunteers. President George Bush campaigned on a promise to wipe out an estimated $5 billion backlog in park maintenance projects, which had swelled to $9 billion by 2009, according to CNN, and was reduced by $1 billion through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funds.

Michael Kellett, director of the New National Parks Project, told the liberal website Remapping Debate that he would like to see more federal land be made into national parks and be brought under the umbrella of NPS protection, a change he thinks might actually save the tax payers money.

Lovin’ the East Fork of the San Gabriel River at sunset (Jim Burns)

“What is missing from the conversation of the costs of new parks,” he said, “is that we are already paying to manage these lands and that it would probably be cheaper to make them national parks,” because many places adjacent to parks or that could be potential parks are already federally owned. Many are national forests, which are owned by the public but are logged, mined, or otherwise used by private business for small fees. The government maintains the roads and infrastructure of these areas and charges businesses for a permit to used the lands.

In her story, KPCC reporter Kitty Felde tells us that at least two major dems are on board:

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said she was “pleased the National Park Service is taking the next step toward preserving the unique natural resources of the San Gabriel Mountains and Puente Hills,” while Democratic Rep. Judy Chu said she was, “glad to see that the study has incorporated many of the comments voiced by the public, local stakeholders, and members of Congress.”

So … why don’t you get your opinion on the record? The public comment period kicks off at the El Monte Senior Center (odd place for a kick off …) Saturday, Oct. 29, and runs through mid-December.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Fly fishing for the first time in the San Gabriel Mountains

I was in a mope when I hiked down the canyon trail for some Friday afternoon fishing. No doubt about it, a mope, plain and simple. As I descended, feet feeling enervated, annoyed by the insistent biting flies, I forced a smile at those returning from the water, all bathing suits and youthful laughter, all optimism and camaraderie. Some would say “hi,” others would look up at me shyly, maybe not knowing if they should speak first. But I would have none of it. I felt old and alone. Like I said, a mope, or as Winston Churchill famously called his depressed moods, “the black dog.”

Local high school students Tommy, left, and Charles fly fish for the first time (Jim Burns).

Where was my best fishing buddy? I asked the trees, bitterly (he moved north and we’ve since stopped talking)

Where was my best fishing dog? (died of cancer this summer)

Where was the general fun in life at all, the life I’ve always so enjoyed?

With these dark thoughts swirling like threatening ravens among the trees,  I barely heard the footsteps behind me.

“Oh great, some more happy people,” I muttered, not looking around.

And so separated by perhaps two dozen yards, the three of us walked down the rock-strewn trail, me in the lead, the other two out of sight, but thudding along behind.

We were all going to the same place, which irritated me all the more. After all, if you can’t be nice to the ones leaving your refuge, how could you possibly be chatty with those who are invading it?

And — inevitably –when we all stopped together under the shade canopy of a dozen thick trees, the blazing summer light turning to smokey lounge, one of them asked the question.

“Hey, are you fishing down here?”

The teen couldn’t have been more than 16, a big, overgrown kid, like a pup tripping over his own paws.

About to answer, trying to at least be civil, suddenly his friend came along, holding an ocean pole, looming over the trail, about to be hung up on every tree, bush and snagging obstacle. He looked at me, embarrassed, spying all the junk on my vest — the thermometer, the nail nippers, the golden hemostat — and my four-piece fly rod that I’d yet to attach.

“Kinda big for down here,” he mumbled. “We were just looking for something to do.”

My tight lips relaxed. I thought how silly it is to be a middle-aged man, thinking middle-aged thoughts, when life flows each day with such unstoppable exuberance. Still reluctant, I couldn’t help but half-smile.

As we walked on, past an ornery barking dog protecting his master’s property by the side of the creek, I really wondered if I would share the spots I’ve found over these past several months. After all, it’s called “hot spotting” for a reason: your fantastic fishing hole from last month is now dead as a bat because some yahoo has fished it out.

Watching them navigate the path, I suspected these high schoolers would most probably do exactly that. But the sight of that out-of-place pole, and their faces, which it would be a cliché to call “shiny,” spoke otherwise.

And as we walked and chatted, a wonderful thing happened: I came back to myself.

Check out the red cheek on this trout from the San Gabes. (Jim Burns)

Soon, I’d tied a double surgeon’s knot to secure a length of super-skinny tippet to their tuna-tugging line. And I’d gifted them with a tiny bead-head nymph, the kind I knew the trout here loved to chase.

By afternoon’s end, Tommy, the bigger of the two, was learning how to cast a fly line. From the way he finessed my fly rod, I could easily squint my eyes and see an excellent fisherman down the road. And the smiling Charles caught a trout, only to release it back into the water on his own, no coaching from yours truly.

“It’s great down here,” Charles said, ” but people trash it.”

“Yes, they do,” I replied, as Tommy put some of it in my vest.

I left before them, but walking back up the trail, I thought maybe I should have stayed to guide them up. After all it does split confusingly at places, and Tommy had related the story about how their first outing here ended with getting lost and rangers having to come in after the gates closed.

Gut check … go back? I’d left to get some quiet time for myself, but also to give them time to be together without an adult around.

After puffing up the side of the canyon for 30 minutes, I sat in my car, wondering. After a time, I thought maybe I’d take a quick run back down … hadn’t they said they had to be back by twilight?

Then Charles popped into view, carrying that big tuna pole. Anxiety relieved. We both smiled and waved, and I wondered if Tommy would indeed talk his dad into doing some fly pole shopping before they headed out to Waterman the next day.

This life we have. This precious life we share with others.

See you on the river, Jim Burns