West Fork San Gabriel update: Closure extends to April 1, 2022

Better times on the West Fork, before the Bobcat Fire virtually destroyed this beautiful fishery. (Jim Burns)

Letter to the Editor from California Fly Fisher: I much appreciated Jim Burns’s story on the West Fork of the San Gabriel, which did a good job of capturing the character of a place that I have been visiting for decades. (“The West Fork of the San Gabriel,” September/October 2020.) Unfortunately, shortly after the issue came out, much of that river’s watershed was reduced to charcoal and ash by the Bobcat Fire.

By the way, readers of Cal Fly Fisher might like to know that the Oct. 13 issue of the Los Angeles Times has a great article on the ecological devastation wrought by the fire, and it noted that the river also faces additional harm from mud flows when the rains of winter arrive. That’s a helluva one-two punch against this little fishery. Only time will tell whether it has been KOed for keeps — Fred Martinez, Los Angeles.

A typical hand-size rainbow from a trip I made in May to the West Fork. (Jim Burns)

Dear Fred,

Thanks for the props. I loved the West Fork, as I can tell you did. I thought you would appreciate this update from John Clearwater, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Forest Service:

In the course of four major fires we lost 23-percent, or nearly a quarter, of the Angeles this year.  To include some of our most beautiful areas.  It’s been a tough, heartbreaking year. 

Regarding the closure of the West Fork, the Bobcat Fire closure area extends to April 1, 2022. I don’t anticipate that the West Fork will reopen much sooner than that.

I was in there a few weeks ago with LA Times reporter, Louis Sahagun.  The area is near the origin site for the Bobcat Fire, and one of the areas that was most impacted by the Fire. 

Unfortunately, much of it now looking like an ashen lunar landscape.  It was clearly once a mountain paradise.  Now it’s heartbreaking to see.  This winter I suspect the road may disappear in a number of places due to the lack of vegetation and likelihood of runoff coming down the mountainsides.  During my time in there recently we encountered a number of rock slides breaking loose, rolling off the cliff tops and impacting onto the roadway, with rocks varying in size from that of a baseball to a soccer ball.  Any of which would have been fatal if it had struck someone on the head. 

Regardless, there is much work that will be required in the West Fork for public safety, forest recovery and habitat protection.

As for plans for the trout in the West Fork, I’ve spoken with the District Ranger team and they said the California Department of Fish & Wildlife is planning to soon relocate a number of trout from the West Fork to other areas of the San Gabriel river.  They could not provide a lot of details. 

See you on the river, Jim Burns

David Street’s elegant writing stirs the imagination

From ‘Fishing in Wild Places,’ illustrated by Terence Lambert

From the classic “Fishing in Wild Places”:

“The nearest one will come to that sort of virgin trout-water on mainland Britain is likely to be in the remote uplands — tiny streams and mountain lochs in the wide country, where golden eagles sweep the skies and osprey dive. Such places are fished, if at all, by only a handful of anglers in the course of a season, men prepared to travel light, to walk and climb for half the day and to make their way safely home in the evening without troubling the mountain rescue teams! As I have found out to my cost, the mist can come down quickly in these places, cocooning one in a cold, wet blanket of nothingness, the landscape disappears and it is hard to trace even one’s own boots.”

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Bibliophiles take note: Volumes from Bill O’Kelly’s incredible book collection for sale

Reading about fly fishing is almost as much fun as a line on the water. (Jim Burns)

From the Southwest Council:

As most of you know by now, Bill O’Kelly, past president of the Southwest Council and of Sierra Pacific Fly Fishers, passed Aug. 12. If you never had the opportunity to attend a fly fishing show with Bill, you missed an experience. He loved to cart around boxes of books to procure signatures from noted show attendees and authors. He was forever crunching his spreadsheet to see who else was available to sign his books. It was such a delight to witness his excitement when he would preview a show program and realize how many signatures would be his. Needless to say, his UPS bills were extraordinary.

His family has asked for our assistance to sell this vast collection and this is the first step. If you click here, you will get a Word document listing almost 1,200 titles. Many are first editions. If you are interested, please reply to this email (specialprojects@swcffi.org) with the title AND item number (first number on the line). We will find the book to ascertain its condition and quality and get back to you with a price.

If you know you would prefer a signed copy or a first edition, please note this, or on the other hand, if you just want a reading copy, please indicate that as well.

Other than whether something is hardcover, paperback, signed or personalized to Bill, we do not know what some of Bill’s other notes on the spreadsheet may mean.  We will let you know if we figure it out as we proceed.

Nothing about this process will be fast so we ask for your patience as this moves forward. Once we know which book(s) you hope to purchase (since there may be multiple offers), we can discuss delivery options. With over 20 clubs in SoCal and Nevada, we should be able to get books from place to place and maybe avoid some shipping costs.

All net proceeds will be going directly to the family.

Michael Schweit, Special Projects Director SWCFFI

Fishing paradise Mammoth inundated with Creek Fire smoke

BEFORE AND HEARTBREAKING AFTER pictures of Twin Lakes, above Mammoth Lakes, Calif., from July 21 and today. The Creek Fire, which is not in Mammoth, has burned more than 338,000 acres with full containment expected by Halloween. (Courtesy BiBi Photography)

‘We’re going to turn this place into a trout stream again’

Twenty-five-inch steelhead trout caught in the Los Angeles River near Glendale, in January, 1940. (Courtesy family of Dr. Charles L. Hogue)

From Los Angeles Times environment writer Louis Sahagun:

Biologists and engineers are setting the stage for an environmental recovery effort in downtown Los Angeles that could rival the return of the gray wolf, bald eagle and California condor.

This time, the species teetering on the edge of extinction is the Southern California steelhead trout and the abused habitat is a 4.8-mile-long stretch of the L.A. River flood-control channel that most people only glimpse from a freeway.

The brutal vista of concrete and treated urban runoff exists as an impenetrable barrier to ancestral spawning grounds in the San Gabriel Mountains for the estimated 400 federally endangered Southern California steelhead left on Earth.

The Los Angeles River Fish Passage and Habitat Structures Design Plan, which is being championed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, aims to change all that with a carefully calibrated retrofit.

Read the whole story here. The Council for Watershed Health has launched a webpage allowing people to keep up with the progress of the fish passage project. Read my 2012 thoughts about the possible return of steelhead here.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Angeles National Forest remains closed through Oct. 8

Due to extreme fire conditions, the Angeles National Forest, along with six other forests in California, will remain closed through Thursday, Oct. 8. This is because of a combination of extreme heat, dry conditions, significant wind events and firefighting resources that are stretched to the limit, the U.S. Forest Service said. The Bobcat Fire has burned for 26 days and is about 63 percent contained after tearing through almost 155,000 acres. Nine hundred ninety two personnel continue to fight the conflagration. (Courtesy @mrcalparks)