Good news, bad news for early spring L.A River carping

Just bring the essentials: coffee, rod, reel, "A Sewer Runs Through It" baseball cap. (Jim Burns)
Just bring the essentials: coffee, rod, reel, “A Sewer Runs Through It” baseball cap. (Jim Burns)

Finally, a day off.

I was so excited to get down to the river that when I saw this guy decked out in hip waders, I thought he was a nature photographer and kept going. Only his, “Hey, wait a minute,” stopped me. His name was Mark; and besides hip waders, he was also wearing “the hat.”  That would be the “A Sewer Runs Through It,” baseball cap that Fisherman’s Spot probably still sells, but shouldn’t, given all of the efforts to legitimize the Los Angeles River in the last few years.  His was spiffy gray, mine, a worn orange.

Oh, and he’d just fought a large carp into his backing, almost losing her as the fish wrapped his line around one of the many substantial rocks in the water. I saw the pic, and all I can say is, Mark, if you read this, send it to me!

Did you see the weather yesterday? Eighty-four degrees, gusting Santa Anas, and the water in our rio was crystal clear, not a strand of blooming seaweed mucking up the works. The flow was even and awesome, just the right amount of current so that gentle mends kept my fly where I wanted it to be.

And, there were fish. I spotted four in about 10 minutes, including a large female with her male companion right where Mark told me he’d just had his “come-to-backing” moment. From the fishy behavior I saw, I think they were pre-spawn. In other words, get out there now. Once the spawn hits in a few weeks, you’ll see lots of fish that have only one thing on their minds, and it’s not your fly.  Bring your camera or Go Pro. It’s amazing to witness the spectacle once it begins.

But here’s the sad truth about those four fish: I spooked them all. One thing to remember — and you’d think I’d remember it by now — is that when you walk along the cement waterside, the fish are within a foot or two of your position. That’s the good and the bad news, if you’re sight fishing — and why else would any fly fisher be down there?  — if you see them, they can see you as well. That’s why the super-clear water makes it almost as tricky to fish as casting into a “gin-clear” still trout pond.

Flood drains are sure ugly, but they make for great fishing-spotting markers. (Jim Burns)
Flood drains are sure ugly, but they make for great fishing-spotting markers. (Jim Burns)

I was also intrigued that Mark caught his beast on what looked to be an Orvis specialty fly, not one of the home-tied chartreuse egg patterns most of us use on the river. I pulled out a crawdaddy imitation, which I purchased at Orvis, threw in, got hooked, lost the fly. Boom. The good news about weighted eyes is that you don’t need to add weight, like you would to an unweighted egg to get it down into the current. The bad news: watch the many crevices that line the Glendale Narrows portion of the river. They’re a bad snag waiting to happen.

If you know anything about carp behavior, you’ll change yours to match theirs. In other words, wait a bit if you’ve spooked them, and they’ll come back. Carp habitually cruise in big circles, at least in our river. And sure enough, I kept spotting the amorous pair, again and again.

How do you spot a carp? First, buy some decent Polarized sunglasses, to help you see into the water. Also, don’t fish into glare. Know where the sun will be before you go. It’s So. Cal. and that means bright.

Usually you won’t see the entire fish, although given the distance I mentioned,it is possible. Rather, look for anything that doesn’t seem quite right. It could be a blur in the water, something moving out of the ordinary. What keeps it interesting is the bottom detritus. Could be almost anything that resembles a fish tale: that awful seaweed, a plastic bag (go L.A. City bag ban!), or something you really don’t want to be able to name.

Anyway, I got so lost in it all that two hours passed before I knew it. That’s two hours of beautiful water time right in the heart of Los Angeles.

Am I upset I didn’t hook up?

If I get Mark’s photo and post it, you’ll know the answer soon enough.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

11 thoughts on “Good news, bad news for early spring L.A River carping”

  1. No surprise of course – that you CAN catch things out there on things besides eggs. May not be optimal, but it was going to be a shocker if it was impossible.

  2. Hard to beat the eggs though, even as I keep trying myself. Nice tale! I wondered how the drought had your river. I know it is mostly? return urban runoff, but water up high in snow must mean something. It sure does here and we are lacking.


  3. Gregg, that’s the key, right there. There are gigantic signs along the freeway reminding us to conserve. Nothing mandatory, yet. But, you got it right: LA River and drought, long term what’s it mean for the development and restoration that are coming? Tight lines, Jim

    1. Did you see that episode of that stupid Beverly Hillbillies reality show where they tried to go down to the LA river to fish? It made me thing of you – just because they made it seem hopeless when obviously it isn’t

  4. Never saw it, but will keep a lookout. Ran across a guy today who said he caught four big tilapia in the rio. This just keeps getting more interesting!

  5. A large mouth bass! Wow, that’s something . So, if I’ve got it right, we fishing for bass,green sunfish, tilapia and carp. Not bad, right!

  6. Hi Jim. It was nice to run into you that day. had you been there a few minutes earlier you would have seen the spectacle and small crowd of joggers i had created. That was a great fight that day. The fish took off downstream, wrapped me around a large rock and then headed upstream. I didn’t jump in after him until he was deep in my backing and I thought I was going to lose another carp on the river. The water was deeper than my hip waders so I had to slosh like a maniac upstream after him, and when I had him in shallow water he was too big to pick up by the jaw so I had to go WWF on him. I have had my best takes with Jan’s Carp tickler and Hise’s carpnasty both in brown with orange. Maybe the orange looks like tilapia eggs? Both of these flies are also visible in the water. How / where do I send you a photo?

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