Hey, now, let’s get happy. Friends of the Los Angeles River just released “State of the River 3: The Long Beach Fish Study.”
As the organization’s founder writes in the introduction: “The first time I came to Willow Street in Long Beach was to announce our first LA River cleanup in the 1980s. We called for 10,000 people to join us in trash collection and only about 10 showed up. “ He goes on to say that most would have seen this as abject failure, but, as an organization that thrived on failure, it was surely a win, instead.
Lewis MacAdams recounts how that failure lead to its first grant, one that chronicled the 200 some odd bird species living in and around the river.
Later, in 2008, came the mid-river fish study, revealing that nature is just damned hard to kill, even with our best efforts. Participants found hundreds and hundreds of non-native fish living in the Glendale Narrows section of the river, by Atwater Village.
Today, you can read about the efforts of more than 130 professional scientists and amateur anglers, all coming together to support both FoLAR and the Aquarium of the Pacific in this latest release. Five fishing events, coordinated by the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains and FoLAR, plied the brackish waters from May, 2014 to August, 2015. The story of what was – and wasn’t – found unfolds herein like a good mystery. Rich field notes catalog water quality (surprisingly good), days and times of the study, numbers of participants and anglers, gear used and fish caught.
And, as with many things, it could be an odd experience. For example, one day, trash collected in seine nets lists:
— condom — surgical glove
— tea kettle — Doritos bags
— ketchup — trash bags
— men’s brown sock
As Robert Blankenship, president of the South Coast Chapter of Trout Unlimited, who lives in the area, writes, “I visit and fish this area regularly. I’ve caught a bunch of carp, with a few big catfish and some smallish largemouth bass thrown in” and goes on to lament that on the very hot survey days the anglers “demonstrated why it’s called fishing, not catching.”
The big prize of the survey was a tiny, native fish that literally swam into the hands of one volunteer. Dabin Lee, a California State University Los Angeles student, caught a Killifish.
Dr. Sabrina Drill, natural resources advisor, UC Cooperative Extension, notes in the book that “For some, the measure of ‘functioning’ ecosystem is whether it supports native biodiversity,” and goes on to write that by that measure the in-stream community is failing. But, given the robustness with which Angelinos now fish and kayak its waters, “the meaning of the suite of fishes in the river now is open to interpretation and depends a bit on your starting point.”
Still Drill regrets the absence of native species, and there is no denying that the king we all wish to return to our area, the endangered Southern California Steelhead, is missing from this and the Glendale Narrows survey.
Although there are several photographs of two steelhead in Ballona Creek in 2008, as Rosi Dagit, RCDSMM senior conservation biologist, writes “Most years, fewer than 10 adult steelhead were seen throughout the whole area, concentrated in just a few rivers and creeks.” That is down from runs of literally thousands of fish in the 1940s, which has been well-documented in the Los Angeles Times.
“We thought for sure there were steelhead trout lurking in the river at Long Beach, waiting for concrete removal so they can make their way back upstream as they did for the last time in 1940, but no such luck,” writes William Preston Bowling, FoLAR’s special projects manager. “The California Killifish was discovered in this study and could be an indicator for water temperatures that a steelhead could survive in.”
To this end, it’s imperative that the billion-dollar re-imagining of the Glendale Narrows area go beyond architecture and new housing. What’s important for the steelhead is also supremely important to us: better water quality, reducing river water temperatures and restoring riparian function, as Dagit notes elsewhere in the text.
So, if you missed volunteering for Willow Street, don’t despair, the work continues, moving to the upper river and a chance to sign up for Wednesday’s field excursion.
See you on the river, Jim Burns
I don’t know how biologist Rosi Dagit does it but every time she calls a meeting of the fishing-for-science clan, the mercury breaks another record. Today was no exception, as around 25 sweating volunteers traveled to Willow Street in Long Beach for the last effort to see what could be caught in this important area where the Los Angeles River runs into the ocean.
We saw a dozen or so mullet, as they danced around our side of the lagoon, bobbing and weaving to invisible underwater music. Four of us tried everything in the flybox, from San Juan worm, to topside stimulator. What goes into the record book is but a shadow of what’s really in the water.
The kayak crew, pulling a net, came up empty, a disappointment.
John Tegmeyer fashioned his own boilies — like the Brits do, but with a dose of Tapatio Sauce thrown in for color — and came very close to landing a large carp.
Meanwhile, Zino Nakasuji fooled a 7-pound common carp with a pale egg pattern.
But Dabin Lee of Los Angeles handscooped the most important catch of the day — a tiny California Killifish, which is a native and lives in brackish water.
“I do it all the time,” Lee said, referring to her habit of catching small fish in her hands. It made for a remarkable end to four attempts over the last year and a half to document exactly what lives in this part of the river.
The great hope is to spot a steelhead.
“I just recently got a picture of one from Cabrillo Pier,” Dagit said.
And, of course, that is the lofty dream of so many of us, that the Southern California Steelhead, currently an endangered species, will make its comeback in tandem with the river renewal. With the anticipated El Niño this winter, we may yet get that opportunity, when fish return from the ocean, hoping to ride high water in to their inland spawning grounds.
And if you missed this part of the survey, you’ll have another opportunity. Next year, Dagit is targeting the Sepuveda Dam area in the San Fernando Valley.
Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this silly video from the day.
See you on the river, Jim Burns
In another first, the advocacy group Friends of the Los Angeles River has installed three tubes for fisherfolk to safely discard used line in selected spots along the river’s upper banks. Trout Unlimited provided the funding, while both Councilperson Mitch O’Farrell (13th District) and the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council provided their political imprimatur.
“We support FoLAR taking a stance on discarded fishing line, while educating anglers who are new to fishing the L.A. River as well as the anglers who have fished the river for decades,” wrote AVNC co-chairs Torin Dunnavant and Courtney Morris in their letter of support.
Both the AVNC and O’Farrell’s office cited a trigger event for better line management, the death of a Great Blue Heron, called Fred by locals, who was caught in fishing line, seriously injured and subsequently died as marine biologists attempted to nurse him back to health.
Monofilament may seem harmless enough, but it represents both an eco-hazard as well as a possible deadly ensnarement for the wildlife so abundant on the river. According to FoLAR, birds can be attracted to the fishy smell on used line, then become hopelessly ensnared while digging for it in convention trash cans. Also, monofillament does not degrade over time leaving what amounts to an ageless hazard if not dispossed of properly.
As awareness has increased among state agencies, fishing clubs and individual anglers, these recycling tubes have become more common on streams. For example, a tube sits next to the angler survey box at the beginning of the catch and release section of the West Fork of the San Gabriel, a popular area for local flyfishers.
Each week, the tubes’ contents will be sent to the Berkley Conservation Institute in Iowa. The company, which produces conventional fishing line, recycles used line into 4-foot cubicle fish habitats it calls “Fish-Habs.” According to the company’s website, since 1990, BCI has recycled more than 9 million miles worth of fishing line. That’s enough line to fill two reels for every angler in America.
At the close of recreational zones on Labor Day, the program results will be re-evaluated to measure impact and the tubes could become a permanent fixture on the river.
Currently, the tubes are located at the Glendale Narrows Dover Street river entrance in the yoga pocket park, Acresite Street and FoLAR’s own Frog Spot. Future rollouts include the Bowtie Parcel and Marsh Park, if the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority that patrols the area agrees.
Fishing has only recently become legal on the river, during a certain time — Memorial Day through Labor Day — and within certain places, the carefully defined recreational zones below Fletcher Bridge, the so-called Elysian Valley River, and in a stretch in the Sepulveda Basin River in the San Fernando Valley. The fact that the pilot line recycling tubes lie outside these boundaries speaks to the growing number of anglers who search for the best places to fish, regardless of geographic boundaries.
“As the LA River is reborn, it needs the help of a variety of river huggers: fisherfolk, bird watchers, dog walkers, nature strollers. It’s important that everyone who has a particular interest respects the interests of others, and lost or discarded fishing line can ensnare the birds and other creatures that call the river home,”” Robert Blankenship, president of Trout Unlimited’s south coast chapter, said. “We encourage all fishermen to discard used line in the collectors, and would appreciate anyone who sees old fishing line in the river area to please use the collectors as well.”
See you on the river, Jim Burns
Oh, the tall tales fisherfolk tell. As a matter of fact, they say that if you weren’t born with the ability to stretch the truth just a wee bit, spending time on the water will surely school you in that all-too-human trait.
But, at the Frog Spot, sharing and learning more about fishing the L.A. River Sunday, not a tall tale emerged from the gathered fishing fanatics, just a bounty of hard-won knowledge about our river. The weather was perfect; the setting, urban-divine, as bicyclists zoomed along the bike lane, possibly fired up by CicLAvia, while AMTRAK whistled its station arrival not far away.
— William Preston Bowling, who organized the first Off Tha’ Hook fishing derby in September, served as MC, but he also filled in the crowd of a dozen or so participants on Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) line recovery efforts. Your line has a life of around 5,000 years, so please think twice before tossing that next bird’s nest into the water. Grove Pashley, of LA River Kayak Safari, reminded us of two blue herons separately caught up in bird’s nests of line in the last couple of years. I know one died, but I’m not sure of the other’s fate.
Bowling said that soon there will be line disposal tubes at high-traffic areas along the river. FoLAR will recycle the line by sending it to Berkley, a company that actually re-purposes used line, turning it into new.
— Robert Blankenship from Trout Unlimited turned his darkroom PowerPoint into a daytime handout, and regaled us with tales of Southern California Steelhead recovery efforts. His presentation was made all the more sweet by a guest appearance from Tom Tomlinson, who wrote “Against the Currents: The Unlikely Story of the Southern California Steelhead” this year, published by the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. If you haven’t read this important book yet, pick it up.
Blankenship showed us how Santa Barbara has re-designed its flood control channels to include holding water for steelhead returning from the ocean. The story of the steelhead here in our truly unwelcoming climes is one of courage, fortitude and grit. There’s actually a self-guided tour that links steelhead art and brew pubs, which sounded like the best of both worlds to many of us. Look for more from TU under the local leadership of Blankenship, a strong advocate for our river.
— Next, Lizzy Montgomery from the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains told us about the INaturalist app, and how to use it. Take a look here for more info. I’m not sure that as a fishing community we’re using this as much as we could/should. The research that comes from fishers out there on the water can greatly aid biologists who can’t use their standard procedures for species and fish counts. As she said, ” I can’t imagine we would use SCUBA gear on this river.” Agreed.
— Ban Luu, who has plied the river since 2007 using traditional tackle, told us he had no idea there were fish in it when he first cast out: He was testing a new rod and reel to get ready for an ocean trip! With each cast, he heard splashing, thudding, all the auditory telltale signs of big fish. “I was hooked,” he said, no pun intended. And Luu is the right guy to get hooked, taking time to keep a detailed fishing journal, perfecting his light tackle gear after much research and trial and error. Also, he has perfected his own masa blend with garlic, after rejecting both bread and tortilla baits, both well regarded by locals.
And … ready for this, Luu said he’s caught over 2,000 fish since 2007! After listening to his presentation, I am sure this isn’t a fish tale.
As for yours truly, I discussed the usual suspects we catch on our river, as well as fly rods and flies that give you the best chance of hooking up. I, too, used old-school photographs from this blog that included fish and the commentators who sent them in to illustrate my talk.Simply put, without the LARFF community, I would have had much less to discuss. Thank you for your support and friendship over the last four years!
Finally, Bowling reminded us that we are all invited to participate in the return to the lower section of the river, Saturday, Jan. 3, from 2 p.m. until dusk. Get in touch with him (firstname.lastname@example.org) to reserve your spot (free), and help to document what fish are in that lower section on WIllow Street.
Who knows, steelhead may yet be waiting for discovery, akin to those spotted on the San Gabriel River. Blankenship shared a wonderful picture from a few years back of a large steelhead hanging out by a discarded TV in a West L.A. flood control channel. It was a renewed call to “bring ’em home,” as FoLAR co-founder Lewis MacAdams would say.
See you on the river. — Jim Burns
Yes, there are fish in the Los Angeles River!
Enjoy a free talk at The Frog Spot with three fishing experts. Jim Burns of LA River Fly Fishing will describe the fish swimming in the river today, where they are and how to catch them. Robert Blankenship of Trout Unlimited will discuss efforts to bring back the native Southern California Steelhead. Elysian Valley fisherman and FOLAR docent Ban Luu will offer tips and techniques for fishing in the Glendale Narrows. FOLAR’s own William Preston Bowling will also share information about its scientific fish studies as well as a new citizen science opportunity.
The Frog Spot
2825 Benedict Street LA 90039
Sent from my iPad