Month: January 2011

Getting hooked on plastic bag bans

I’ve railed against plastic bags before in this space, so it was with glee that I read the Los Angeles Times today (legacy edition with black coffee and oatmeal) to find the Santa Monica City Council voted to ban them, beginning in September. Oh, and that vote was unanimous.

How many plastic bags do the good citizens of this beach city use in a year, you rightly ask? The advocacy group Heal the Bay estimates the number in excess of 25 million.

LA Public Works removing debris caught by booms from the L.A. River after a storm event. (Courtesy Algalita Marine Research Foundation)

According to the piece, Heal the Bay began pushing the issue two years ago, which stalled amid industry threats of a lawsuit. After the city’s environmental review of the proposed ordinance, the language was softened to include reusable polyethylene bags. These bags, according to an L.A. County environmental study, are stronger than single-use bags, and can be wiped clean, a good start for using them over again, instead of tossing in the garbage.

That pleased the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, which praised the changes.

And, stores will now be able to charge a dime per paper bag within city limits. To avoid fees, just bring your own.

So far, single-use bag bans have been approved in :

— Los Angeles County

— Marin County

— San Jose

Next week, Calabasas considers whether it wants to join the growing movement.

Anyway, if you’re reading this at work, take a peek at a preview for “Plastic Planet,” a new doc from Europe.  I’m wary of “shock-jock docs,” which seem so evenly reported, but many times stack the deck a la the later works of Michael Moore. Admittedly, I’ve only watched the trailer, but will rent it.

See you on the (cleaner) river, Jim Burns

Annie, get your paddle (ready)

With apologies to the musical of almost the same name, some encouraging news from Los Angeles City Councilmember Ed Reyes’ office. This afternoon, this motion was presented to the Los Angeles River Ad Hoc Committee to study — and hopefully recommend for approval — non-motorized boats on the river. Expect findings in 90 days. I don’t know about you, but I’m marking my calendar, because



OK, maybe single kayaks, lose the high-rise.Motion-ReyesLARiverBoatingAug102010


Could become this:








And eventually this:

And, of course, that should be a carp, not a trout!













See you on the river, Jim Burns

The dog did it

Once of the best reasons to get down to the river is stories … most of the offerings from this blog come from hanging out along its walkways and shoreline, and listening. It’s wonderful, really, to have a place in L.A. where people want to talk and share experiences. Here’s the latest, which fits into the “accident with a happy ending” category:

OK, you're right, this is not the pug that got rescued, but he sure is cute. (courtesy

I’m standing on a rock in the middle of the river, the temp hovered in the middle-80s, not bad for January. I had on wading boots and shorts. It had been relatively peaceful when all of a sudden two kids, about 6 years old, broke from their parents on the tree-lined trail above and made quick for the flowing water. They laughed and yelled, leaping their way incautiously down the riprap slope.

And … what’s a dog — in this case a black-and-brown pug — to do, but follow the kids down the incline, then overshoot the bank, bellyflopping into the water.

Most winters, isolated TV reports show the L.A.F.D. rescuing all manner of things that shouldn’t be in the river, from adults, to kids, to horses, to dogs, and, yes, I think there was a mannequin pulled from the water within these past few weeks. Luckily, the Glendale Narrows section flows only briskly along its mostly natural bottom, a far cry from the dangerous concrete sluiceways created by the Army Corps of Engineers both above and below.

“He can’t swim,” Dad’s friend cried, as he hustled down the slope. The kids thought the dog was playing around. The dog looked as if he thought otherwise, little paws unsuccessfully trying to find purchase on the bank.

Unfortunately, Dad’s friend couldn’t put the brakes on his Keds fast enough and dunked, feet first, into the same still hole as the pug, ripping the backside of his shorts in the bargain.

Happy result: pug rescued, shaking off the chilly water; Dad’s friend, feeling a bit foolish as he looked at me, but triumphant none the less, hoisted himself to the bank; and the kids, well, they got a talking to:

“Let me tell you about the water down here,” Dad said as they walked away uphill, a grim sermon about to take place. I’m sure the rest of the sentence wasn’t about river safety, but about unclean water.

If you have kids, you’d say the same thing today.

But some day, if everyone who loves the river continues to insist on change, parents won’t have to scold their children about water quality, and can get back to basic training: water safety; how to swim; how to kayak; how to fly fish.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick Mends: Carp patterns

I wanted to highlight this terrific thread from our Kernville brethren in the golden bonefish.

You've got yer San Juan Worm, yer Carp Worm ... (Courtesy ClauserFreak).

If you’ve been wondering if the GloBug is really the only fly to use to entice a carp, this primer will be very enlightening. By the looks of these many patterns, they aren’t too discriminating!

See you on the river,

Jim Burns

Why the (cigar) ritual rules

What’s fly fishing without ritual?

First off, another question: what’s the difference between habit, custom, superstition and the above?

Habit is ordinary, so thinking of a habit — always listening to the KNX traffic report “on the fives,” for example, before driving to work — nope, boring.

Custom might be a tad better, but a custom to me means something still ordinary, yet transcending a smidge: For example, last Thanksgiving when Uncle Arthur came over he sat in the first chair to the right of the host, so this year it’s the same. In fact, it’s customary.

Come on! Where's that billy goat when fans really need him?

Superstition is way off from ritual. Think pro sports of any kind. Think of the Cubbies and the curse of the billy goat that keeps them from winning a World Series; or that Jets receiver Jerrico Cotchery downs a yummy bowl of savory clam chowder before he plays the game.

Nope, if superstition invaded the sport of fly fishing, we’d all keep our lucky fly on the bedpost before waking at dawn, turning twice in a circle before putting our LEFT foot into our waders first, and … you get the idea.

But ritual, yes, that’s where the fun begins.

Ritual means that you’re out of the habit. Ritual means as well that a new custom might just be born today on the water. And, further, ritual allows you to put all your superstitious nonsense behind. Go ahead, get into your waders with your right foot, for cryin’ out loud.

And, ritual means lighting up a fine smoke after releasing the first fish of the day.

Of course, the Surgeon General, your dentist, the blood-pressure gal at Kaiser and just about everyone else will tell you that smoking cigars is a terribly bad thing. I remember a chance visit to an old-time cigar shop in Vancouver, Canada. Yes, you can buy as many overpriced Cubans as you want in this perfectly restored cigar mecca, but don’t try to light up using the dual-tipped turn-of-the-century cigar “fountain” in the middle of the room. It’s illegal and the gas has been shut off.

Anyway, if the occasional smoke is going to do me in, so be it. And, because it is occasional, I’m going to smoke what I like. And what I like is deep, dark and moody: the Ashton VSG. In fact, can I say I make a habit of buying this same cigar?

Fine smokes belong in a liga privada of their own.

So, it was with some surprise when the fellow at Fair Oaks Cigars recommended a newcomer, the Liga Privada, which isn’t a Dominican, but hails from Nicaragua.

“It’s made by the Acid guys,” he said. Those would be the makers of the heinous flavored smoke.

Next chance I got, I lit up, following the appropriate ritual, of course. It’s a beautiful smoke. Not as heavy as the Ashton, not as much bite, but still very long on powerful flavor. Sweet.

The price is about equal, around $15.

Save your pennies (I do), and …

See you on the water, Jim Burns

‘There aren’t any fish up here’

Oh, to be footloose, with fly rod in hand, in the San Gabriel Mountains. No tedious drive to the Owens River; no heart-thumping commute to the Kern. Yesterday, the January temperature was in the middle-50s, so my son, Will, and I decided to avenge our recent skunk on the L.A. River by visiting a cousin, literally 10 minutes from my wife’s office in Arcadia.

Beautiful canyons such as this one dot the San Gabriel Mountains.

As we made our way from the sparsely used parking lot, hikers on the trail looking at our fly rods stopped to utter either a statement, or a question. Either,

“There aren’t any fish up here.”


“Are there fish up here?”

The answer to both, is a simple, “ye-hah!”
It was a wonderful home coming. Whereas, stalking the elusive golden bonefish is still something I’m fine tuning, I’ve fished the San Gabes for years. And, basically you’ve got your teeny-weeny trout — mostly — then once in a while the fish gods throw in something to make it really exciting.

Will and I brought a Sage SP 3 weight and a Winston Ibis 4 weight, both really nice stream rods, well-suited to the area’s steep canyon walls and narrow, faster-running waters. We’d strung up 6x tippets, and kept it simple with hi-viz Parachute Adams 18s.

Two sweet rainbows took the same pattern fly at the same time.

“Gotten any strikes?” I asked Will, while munching on a Fresh & Easy Italian sandwich.

He looked at me as if four casts didn’t warrant a gentle prod from the old man. Yet, on his fifth cast, there appeared the strike that I so often get from this hole.

He pulled up a small rainbow, and that set the afternoon’s tone, even as it clouded over, got windy-nasty and the near-freezing water chilled my fingers beyond my So. Cal. comfort zone.

I could have gone on like that for a long while, reading the stream, then having smaller fish take the fly, over and over again.

But, like I said, the fish gods can be unpredictable. And so, as we both cast into the biggest hole, I hooked up, watching the rod tip bend with a gift larger than most in this shimmering water.

“Hey!” I called out to Will above the noise of cascading water, just in time to see his Winston’s tiptop bend as if it were staring into the misty pool to see what had come onto the line.

Father-son hook up; same time; two ‘bows of the “keep ‘n’ eat” variety. We looked at each other with astonished eyes, with satisfied grins, with ripples of 20 years of past trips moving between us. Fly-fishing can move beyond the simple joys of the sport and play easily in the profound. It can keep fathers and sons together through rocky teen years and beyond.

Our new friends got their photo-op, then we returned them to frigid waters.

Crazy fun.

Check out the colors on these trout, which we quickly returned to the stream.

Will wanted to stay for one more fish, and, sure enough, he hooked up again within a few minutes. As he pulled this one out, suddenly cries issued from above. I looked up by the waterfall to see four young people waving, taking pictures, shouting, as Will smiled. I thought the crowd overly enthusiastic for a stranger’s accomplishment.

As they left, Will came over to me and said, again in amazement, “Those are four other students from my program!”

What are the chances?

Would you believe me if I told you that after we hiked to the trail’s top, away from the water, I picked a lady bug from Will’s arm?

See you on the water, Jim Burns

Speaking of astacology

I never thought I’d see one of these critters on the river, but there he was this afternoon, feeling all full of himself, putting his mini-lobster claws up in a defensive posture.

Crayfish, crawdaddy or mudbug, whatever you like to call them, they're alive and well in the L.A. River.

What’s also truly wonderful about seeing crawdaddies in the river is that most species can’t tolerate polluted water. That means that sweet smell of treated water must be more than just a scent. True, we’d all be much better off without the toxic runoff that spills through the basin, but seeing these tiny creatures just adds to the hope — and to nature’s mystery — as a multitude of birds, and several different species of fish, continue to make the river their home.

If you haven’t been down to the river lately, make it a New Year’s resolution to go often. It’s a wonderful, free experience in the heart of our city.

See you on the river, Jim Burns