Month: July 2011

The Sweet Spot: Flickin’ dries on the West Fork

Maybe it was reading a hopeful headline in the Pasadena Star News, “San Gabriel River gets good grade despite signs of stress,” penned by our buddy Steve Scauzillo, that got me back to the West Fork. Even though the water lies a mere 25 miles from my house, I rarely find myself there. I think I got scared off by a lawsuit that stopped the Dept. of Fish and Game from stocking it some years back.

Licensed to fish: In 1929, wasn't there a Depression going on, just like this one? (Courtesy Drexel Grapevine Antiques)

Anyway, kicking around online, I found this document from DFG in 2008:

“The West Fork of the San Gabriel River supports the most important coldwater fishery

in Los Angeles County. It sustains a catch and release and special-regulations-only

fishery in the upper section and a put-and-take fishery in the lower portion. It also is

home to the federally threatened Santa Ana sucker, two fish species of special concern

(speckled dace and the arroyo chub) and a population of western pond turtles (also a

special concern species).

The fisheries habitat provided by the West Fork of the San Gabriel River has been

degraded by flood control activities, overuse by the recreating public and major


Not sure about the stocking lawsuit, but this pretty much sums it up. Traveling up Highway 39 from Azusa, you’ll spot the parking lot. There are actually two, the lower favored by fly fishers and mountain bikers. For those unfamiliar with the water, it’s catch and release only, past the second bridge, about two miles from the parking lot up the paved service road toward Cogswell Dam, which rules the top of the water, about six miles up.

The first mile or so spells summer fun for lots of kids and their parents, who splash away the heat in the river’s pools and eddies. It’s noisy and very urban, with occasional graffiti and homies. There’s also a very low consciousness about garbage, even with a huge dumpster right there. If you go, be a nice person, pitch in and pull out what others toss.

First spot to try is Bear Creek, one mile up. It can be fun, as can the rest of the sections, past the fishing ramps for our disabled brethren that lie farther up.

The flow was fast and springlike, except directly after the second bridge, which sputtered like typical hot, lackluster water. Small black flies were annoying as hell, a trademark of West Fork in summer. The trout were taking small dries such as Parachute Adams, as well as small nymphs, like a prince, or yummy midges, like the zebra. Don’t expect bigger trout, but also don’t expect to catch only minnows. Little browns are in there. Bring your lightest, shortest rod, some 7x tippet, bug spray, a decent hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a bike, if you’ve got one. The best part of the West Fork may just be the glide down after a day’s fishing. You’ll hardly touch the pedals.

Anyway, the point of this rambling entry really has little to do with fishing, but rather with antique fishing licenses. As I wrapped up the day near Bear Creek, a fully outfitted fly fisher appeared who I thought might be a ranger. He gave me the Emporer’s sign, and I signed back, “thumbs up,” and suggested he come down to the water to work a pool.

His name was Steve, I think, and he hailed from Simi Valley. He comes every week to the West Fork. As we talked about the heartbreak of Mammoth Lakes— a fishery that many will agree seems to decline a bit more every year — I noticed his many fishing licenses, mostly from back East. Looking more closely, I noticed most of the dates were from the middle of the last century.

Antique fishing licenses! Because I’ve lived a sheltered life, I’d never seen one of these before, and now I absolutely must start collecting. More snooping on the Web revealed Drexel Grapevine Antiques, in Valdese, N.C. Like everyone who’s ever read the Curtis Creek Manifesto knows, one of the best parts of fly fishing is in the characters you meet along the water.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick Mends: Pasadena to hear comments on plastic bag ban Tuesday

And, this just in from Wilson Lau, Watershed Coordinator at the Arroyo Seco Foundation:

Bag Man: Now that you can be nicked a dime for a paper bag at grocery stores in unincorporated areas in L.A. County, it pays to bring your own. (Barbara Burns)

The City of Pasadena is having a Special Meeting of the Environmental Advisory Commission (EAC) Tueday at 6 p.m. to receive comments on a recommendation for a proposed ordinance that would ban plastic carryout bags, impose a 10-cent charge on paper carryout bags, and require affected stores to provide reusable bags to customers for sale or at no charge.  The stores that would be affected by the proposed ordinance includes large grocers (gross annual sale of $2 million or more), retailers (at least 10,000 square feet of retail space and has a licensed pharmacy) as well as farmer’s markets, drug stores, pharmacies, supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience food stores, food marts, liquor stores, vendors participating at City-sponsored special events, and events held at City facilities or on City property.

Pasadena is committed to forging policies in support of increased environmental stewardship in partnership with the business community. Pasadena’s Green City Action Plan, adopted in 2006, identifies the development of a plastic bag reduction program to support its goal of achieving zero waste to landfills by 2040.

Questions? Contact Ursula Schmidt, Sustainability Affairs Manager, at (626) 744-6729.

Comments will be heard in Pasadena City Hall,  Council Chambers, S246, 100 N. Garfield Ave. Street parking is available on Garfield Avenue and Ramona Street, adjacent to City Hall.  A public parking lot is located at the Paseo Colorado Shopping Mall just south of City Hall at 280 East Colorado Blvd.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick Mends: State Supreme Court upholds plastic bag ban

Bag Man: Now that you can be nicked a dime for a paper bag at grocery stores in unincorporated areas in L.A. County, it pays to bring your own. (Barbara Burns)

Manhattan Beach doesn’t have to complete an environmental review in order to ban retailers from providing single-use plastic bags to customers at the point of sale, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday. Read the complete story.

This is a victory for those who want most plastic bags to disappear from the shopping landscape. I was in Trader Joe’s last week and luckily I didn’t forget my bags. The guy in front of me got a little salty when the clerk gave him the choice of either a paper bag, costing a dime, or a reusable plastic bag for a buck and change.

So “paper or plastic?” has become — what? — “paper or plastic?”

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Earth Quotes: Kenneth Grahame

This quotation from Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows” was published in 1908.  Of course, it’s a children’s classic, but the quote about England’s River Thames  inhabits the end page for the city’s Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan.

“By it and with it and on it and in it…It’s brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It’s my world, and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing.

Whether in winter or summer, spring, or autumn, it’s always got its fun and its excitements.

When the floods are on in February…and the brown water runs by my best bedroom window; or again when it all drops away and shows patches of mud…and the rushes and weed clog the channels…I can potter about dry shod over most of the bed of it and find fresh food to eat, and things careless people have dropped out of boats!”


See you on the river, Jim Burns


It’s a hike to Arroyo Seco’s Brown Mountain Dam

UPDATE: “Damnation” is a documentary well worth watching.

I’ve been working on a complicated piece this summer that, frankly, I’ll be happy to send in to the editor next week. It’s about Southern California steelhead. That alone may come as a shock to some readers of this space — not that I’m working on it, but that there actually is such a fish in our Mediterranean clime.

Dating from 1943, it’s fair to ask what purpose this federal dam serves today (Jim Burns).

When I think of the mighty steelhead, I envision surging rivers somewhere in the Northwest, and rain-soaked attempts by dogged casters to get a strike, as these powerful giants return from the ocean to spawn in fresh water. Unlike salmon that spawn and die, a steelhead may make more than one trip to the ocean and back to its native waters. Because it covers so many miles, the fish is known as an “umbrella” species, whose health can either augur well or poorly for the rest of us. Steelhead made the Endangered Species List in 1997, and the status was reaffirmed in 2006, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

In pursuit of the truth about the viability of this species here in So. Cal., I’ve spent time with city officials, the Army Corps of Engineers, environmentalists of varied stripes, biologists and just plain everyday folks who love to fish.

All of them agree that one of the literal obstacles to getting steelhead off the list is dams that stop them from returning to their native habitats to spawn.  I wanted to see for myself what one of these dams looked like. My wife agreed, and so we walked upstream yesterday in the July heat from Jet Propulsion Laboratory about four miles to Brown Mountain Dam.

Googling any topic can be deceiving, and so it was with our sojourn. No one in Pasadena needs to be reminded of the horrific Station Fire that took firemen’s lives, burned homes and ruined habitat two years ago. From reading, we expected our hike to be grim: lots of lunar landscapes, dead trees and squashed hopes. Not so.

Yes, there were dead trees. And, yes, there were large debris flows along the modest flow of the upper Arroyo Seco, all the way to the dam. But, there were also marvelous live oak canopies, wildflowers, cacti, blooming yuccas, calling birds, annoying insects. The Station Fire was devastating, but it hasn’t robbed us completely of this splendid natural respite.

Fish, however, were another matter. I spent unscientific time tossing rocks into likely holes, and even nymphed riffles and edges for a bit. If there are still fish, they were taking a long nap. This is particularly bad news as native rainbow trout (actually any rainbow trout) under the right conditions can become a steelhead. And there is a lot of work going into various plans to recover this species — in the Los Angeles River watershed.

Back to the dam. You’ve got to ask yourself, why, with the county ready to pour some $32 million into dredging and dumping the area above Devils’ Gate Dam, this little gem goes unnoticed. If I were a good reporter, I would have already asked an engineer how many tons of sediment lie behind Brown Mountain, just waiting to foul the county’s efforts if, God forbid, we have an earthquake of sufficient magnitude to bring the thing down.

Walking around its structure made me wonder aloud if the idea behind this dam was to slow the notoriously fast flow of winter storm water down the canyon. From my layman’s perspective, it’s a long way down those four miles to the flood plain alongside JPL. Couldn’t we allow it to return to its original state?

If nothing else, a walk up the Arroyo Seco should cure anyone of doubts about removing our channelized monstrosity of flood control to return our streams and rivers to the way they were.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick Mends: Oil spill fouls Yellowstone River

Dirty water: An oil spill befouls Yellowstone River. (Courtesy Natural Resources Defense Council)

According to emergency officials, a break in an Exxon oil pipeline caused the spill into the Yellowstone River Friday that has so far spewed thousands of gallons into the water, endangering residents, wild life and, of course, the rainbow trout for which Montana is famous. In fact, trout fishing is a $400 million business in that state.

The spill occurred near Billings, 100 miles below Yellowstone National Park and its prized fishing waters, which draw 11 million visitors a year to a state with a population of just 980,000, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Billings Gazette features updates on the event, while CNN has video coverage.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick Mends: Unincorporated L.A. County bag ban

It’s the month of July so …

gimme a “B”

gimme an “A”

gimme a “G”

what’s that spell?

“BAG,” and from here on out, supermarkets and pharmacies in unincorporated areas of L.A County will charge you a dime for each paper bag you need to carry out items from the store. Single-use plastic bags will be offered, however, for carryout, fruits, vegetables and raw meats.

What’s it mean?

On the heels of a 1 percent drop in sales tax here in the county, it is now wise to save your pennies by bringing your own bags for shopping.  Yesterday, according to various news sources, shoppers who forgot their bags got creative by enlisting cardboard boxes, multitasking hand and arm grips a la Brazilian jujitsu, reusable totes and even Gucci purses.

Reaction has been mostly positive, according to store personnel.

After having covered this for the past several months, I have mixed feelings about the piecemeal bans we’re seeing. A statewide ban would have been more effective and easier on consumers. Now, your bag burden depends on where you’re shopping: Altadena, yes; adjacent Pasadena, no …

Let’s wait and see if the ban decreases the amount of plastic harvested in next year’s river cleanup.

See you on the river, Jim Burns