Month: November 2010

The Skunk

Mirror, mirror on the water, tell us carp are where they outter (be).

I met Mario and his friend as they rode their bikes under the Hyperion Bridge. When he called to me, at first I felt unnerved. Then, looking around, I felt foolish to think that this bright-faced boy might be up to no good.

“Fly fishing?” he asked with a knowing smile.

“Got a good spot?” I answered in return.

And off we went, two kids who might have been Tom and Huck from earlier days, and an older gentleman, two on bikes, one on sneakers, plying the waters of the Glendale Narrows.

Shortly, we came to Mario’s spot, which is one well known to the bait guys. In fact, we watched from the other side of a long island as one of them hooked up.

“Nice fish,” I shouted cupping my hands against the wind and background noise.

“That’s a minnow,” his friend called back. “You should see the big ones.”


As we wheeled and walked to a spot I knew, I told the boys to keep a sharp eye out for fish. Now that they’d seen a carp, they realized I wasn’t just telling them tall fish tales. And, sure enough, we spotted a bonnie golden bonefish as he pushed up a concrete step, the swift water parted by his muscular body and slashing tail.

“Whoa,” said the friend.

“Told ya,” the old guy answered back.

Then, I cast, cast, moved my indicator, cast, fooled with my weight, cast. Not a strike.

Soon, the boys got bored, which Mario said happened, but that it was worth it because of the thrill of the catch. They wanted to cross to the other side, so that we’d be closer to where the bait guys were hooking up. The thought of wading in that cold, questionable water didn’t thrill me, and we parted company, as they decided to stay on our side of the river, and go home for sandwiches.

“When you usually here?” Mario asked.

“Fridays,” I answered. The three of us shook hands, and then shook our heads in agreement, that we would meet again one of these Fridays, and, possibly, Mario would bring his dad along.

Being skunked is a quiet ticket to unhappiness and frustration, unless you meet some new buddies during the process.

I fished out the day without a strike, yet as I walked back to the car, empty-handed, I thought about my two new friends. Fishing, after all, isn’t always about catching … If I’d seen them on the sidewalk, in the mall, or in a restaurant, I doubt we would have ever said a word. Yet here, in our defiled river, we three strangers became just a tad better acquainted than when we arrived.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick Mends

You never know when a carp might be wondering if you're real or just hiding out.

Here ye, here ye!

Ready to tell some tall fish tales of the carp that got away …?

Give your wife and buddies a break, and come over to the Departures LA River StoryShare Initiative. Let’s do it by the letters:

Who: Councilman Ed Reyes, KCET
What: see above
When: Saturday, Dec. 4
Where: Opening of the new Elysian Valley Bike Path
To preregister, follow this link, or just show up!

See you on the river, Jim Burns

The Raymond parties like it’s ‘1886’

Acuna-hansen captured this moody snap of the new digs during quieter times.

You know, change doesn’t come easily. That’s why we probably won’t see the return of steelhead to the river until, well, let’s not get into that.

Change comes in two varieties: canny and not-so-much.   The second is almost always accompanied by a press party. Let me explain.

When you find a restaurant that’s your “special occasion” place, you don’t want anyone messing with it, especially not the owner. Chefs are bad enough, we all know that. They’re always diddling with a good thing, inventing, tasting, creating. That’s fine, unless you want whatever it is — let’s say bourbon and soda — to stay exactly the way it’s always been.

So, it was with surprise — and horror — that very recently we were asked, “Here for the press party?” by the valet outside this Pasadena spot-on venerable. In only moments, basic solidity had succumbed to string theory.

Press party? Those two words always mean change, whether it’s the Tea Party partying in Washington in less than two months; or former gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman finding out her maid had decamped to attorney Gloria Allred for a smack down; or your credit card company blithely reminding you that you suck and your rates have gone up to prove it. (OK, maybe that last one, there was no press party…)

Press party? Change? We’re shivering.

The three of us met at the Raymond in Pasadena, Calif., for a birthday party: my best man, his birthday, one that counts for something.

As we opened the door, noise assaulted us, and lots of it, because the press party, turns out, was to inaugurate the new bar. Patrons in the few booths in the dining room all huddled around the center of each table, as if we were secretly burning a fire to keep out the wolves.  The waiter was flustered; the hostess, more so. My wife eyed the noisome revelers askance.

To make matters worse, Best Man had spent the better part of an entire career in hospitality public relations. He confided that when asked the press party question, he had to muffle his autonomic response, which was, “Yes, and are you validating?”

We ordered. Food arrived. We were only mildly happy. Not good.

Then, owner Rob Levy appeared and we began to talk about bourbon and fly fishing. Suddenly, Best Man smiled, and wife, and Rob as well.

We discovered that the well bourbon at “1886,” the new name of the bar, was yummy Buffalo Trace. We talked of trout behind JPL — true — and that Rob’s business partner loved the cult of the dry fly. We were invigorated! Life was new again. Happy!

And so I learned that chilly November evening that at least one man held press parties for canny change, and thank goodness you can still slurp down oysters in the bar, just like it was 1886, and you didn’t have a care in the recession. Not one.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick mends

Even if you heard this piece last night on New Jersey’s Passaic River, check out the video in which NPR  reporter Art Silverman talks about the rise, and fall — and hopefully rise again — of a waterway that jump-started our new country back in the day.

“She is crying out to be saved,” says the urban sherpa.

See you on the river, Jim Burns


Ah, blessed Friday!

I started out the day by buying a new pair of Orvis River Guard wading boots, because I tossed my two pairs of oldies with the felt soles. I’m already regretting that decision. Sure, Trout Unlimited and the country of New Zealand want you to ditch your felt. And, yes, every time I’d see the sign from the DFG on Hot Creek, and read about freezing my boots (which, BTW I didn’t do …. who does?) to kill the nasties, well, you get the drift. But, hey, maybe they would have been good for gardening, or scaring young children at Halloween. So today, there I was with a mismatched pair of Red Ball leg waders that would look great on an athletic pole dancer, but not so terrific on yours truly and new boots with “Vibram EcoTraX” soles. Nobody noticed, not even the ladies who were getting hay at the local hay shop next to Victory park (Another item from L.A. you wouldn’t expect).

Nothing like catching that first fish on a new reel. Next purchase: a bigger net.

At Orvis, I met manager Dave Shaffer, who suggested trying the river below the Victory Boulevard bridge. I did. I was skunked. Not his fault. I managed to miss the two fish I did sight, and when this happens, it’s both humbling and frustrating, not in equal measures.

Think I took the long way around to my actual thought for this post — fishing before work. Granted today I didn’t have to clock in, so maybe that had something to do with getting skunked. No matter. Several Fridays ago, when guide and buddy David Wratchford took this photo of moi, we talked about the general awesomeness of fishing before work. Once years ago, I was in Medford, Ore., en route to the Rouge River to kayak. A high school teacher and I got to talking, and he told me what a thrill it was to hook up before going to earn a living.

At the time, I couldn’t stand the guy, not because of his tone, his demeanor, his haircut, or anything else about him. My contempt was situational. In other words, he lived in a place where fishing before work was possible. I didn’t.

Where did I live at the time? L.A.

Was there a river running through it during the Pleistocene? Yes, thank you very much.

Did I know about it? Huh? Know about what? Don’t let this happen to you, kids.

This Galvin 8 Wt. still makes me a little nervous. But the mojo it puts on carp is truly phenomenal.

So, as David and I walked back to our separate rides at the Red Car pocket park next to the Hyperion Bridge, the rubescent glow of a new morning illumined our smiles.

True, I was smiling because I’d caught the first fish on my new Galvin Rush Arbor reel, fitted with Sharkskin, the zingy, singing line. For him, well, I don’t know David well, but I get the feeling every time he’s on the river — any river — the thrill is like getting to fish before going to work. Except this time, that’s exactly what he was doing.

“Ahhh, don’t get me muddy,” he said to his second carp of the morning as its mighty tail paid him back for interrupting a leisurely breakfast.

You gotta love it when you can fish in your work clothes. But that’s where he’s got us, civilians. You can see him most days at Fisherman’s Spot in Van Nuys.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Do you take plastic? L.A. County bans single-use bags in unincorporated areas

Hoorah for Hollywood and now let’s cheer the L.A. County Board of Sups as well … Remember all the way back two weeks ago, when Prop. 26 was defeated? Well, today the supers voted 3-1 to ban plastic bags, which is cool, but it will only take place in unincorporated areas of the county. Think Altadena. That means the ban, which begins January 1, 2012, will not affect cities.

As a fly fisherman, you know you’re sick and tired of seeing trash in the Glendale Narrows, especially after a storm. So it should be worth it to either take your friggin’ bags with you on grocery runs, or pony up the dime that grocery stores will be able to charge for green bags.

Read all about it on L.A. Creek Freak, a thoroughly entertaining blog about the river.

After the storm: LA Public Works corrals debris caught by booms from the L.A. River. (Courtesy Algalita Marine Research Foundation)

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Must be Sunday, wet a line

So, the question: what were you doing Sunday? Waiting for  a few days off to visit the brown trout section of the Owens? Savoring the Trojans’ deep-dish desert smack down? Whatever it was, if you weren’t casting for carp, you missed it.

This fly-fisherman just about set the river on fire! Maybe we should send this snap to “Ghost Hunters.”

Ask Patrick. I met him on the water and he told me he’d already caught/released a good-size carp. Me, I got skunked in the hour I had to put in. It was, however, a sweet hour spent casting, hunting and hoping.

Then, I headed over to Porto’s for some Cuban bread, which looks a whole lot like French bread. Difference? I’m not sure (maybe a canny commenter will tell us …), but the Cuban pressed sandwiches we ate later that afternoon were great.

Moral of the story. Go fishing in our river. Be home in time for lunch.

See you on the river, Jim

L.A. River gets some exposure

Under shameless promotion, get thee to a newsstand (are there still newsstands … ?) and buy the latest issue of California Fly Fisher magazine.

David Wratchford checks out his bad self in the new issue of Cal Fly Fisher.

My piece talks about history, Friends of the Los Angeles River, getting a ticket, and there are some beauty shots of guide David Wratchford pulling in carp.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Glendale Narrows Adventure No. 1

Let’s go fly fish the L.A. River, catch a 5-pound carp (or much bigger) and spend the day away.

Without work. With friends.


A steelhead rendered on the Guardians of the River gate. Once these oceangoing trout ran up the river. Time for them to return.

Much of the 51 miles of river looks like something out of a “Transformers” chase scene.  That’s because Hollywood production companies frequently shoot the concrete stretches, making the river famous for all the wrong reasons. That’s fine for Hollywood, not great for us. To get some carp action, try this easy day trip.

First, park your car in the municipal lot adjacent to the golf course in Atwater Village. Then, set your sights on the Los Feliz Café, 3207 Los Feliz Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90039, (323) 661-2355, for good eats. You might want to save this until after fishing, but to legally use the lot, you gotta snack. You could also bring your clubs for a quick nine after fishing. Surf ‘n’ turf.

Two, walk west with rod in hand, a 7 wt. or above, loaded with 3x leader, attached to a glow bug. This is one of only a few access points you’ll find elaborately marked. Walk through artist Michael Amescua’s Guardians of the River gate, and you’re here. To your left is the Tropico Bridge, opened in 1925. Across the water, you’ll see the end of Griffith Park, along with the buzzing I-5 freeway. To your right, time to fish.

The Guardians of the River gate in Atwater Village is one of the few access points along the river.

Three, walk along the bike path and look for carp. It’s much easier if you can spot them, then to blind cast. Believe me, there are hundreds and hundreds in the water. Note about water: it’s reclaimed upstream. Hook carp. Hear reel whizz hopefully into backing. Repeat.

Four, send me pictures of your adventure and I’ll post them. Tell friends. Go often. Remember, it’s yours.

See you on the river, Jim Burns.