Month: September 2015

Measured optimism unites steelhead event

KIDS and their parents take a break in the shade at the aquarium's Shark Lagoon. (Jim Burns)
KIDS and their parents take a break in the shade at the aquarium’s Shark Lagoon. (Jim Burns)

You have to ask yourself eventually, after catching only nonnative warm-water fish in the Los Angeles River, if all the talk about the return of native Southern California Steelhead lies somewhere between academic debate and actual pipe dream. After all, after decades of decline, this ocean-going rainbow trout is now on the endangered species list. Looking down mile after long concrete mile of river bed, it seem nearly impossible to return one steelhead to the river, let alone a healthy population.

And you would be correct in your skepticism, yet very short on your optimism, for we live in an area that once robustly supported this unique member of the Oncorhynchus mykiss family.

And optimism — measured, reasoned, for sure, but optimism none the less — was on full display at the Steelhead Science for Anglers event Saturday at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.Trout Unlimited, California Trout and Wild Steelheaders United created this must-attend free event, which would have seemed more likely in Seattle, or at least Northern California, than in Long Beach. Yet, here it was, and passing by the aquarium’s steelhead exhibit, full of young O. mykiss, to enter the large classroom for the four-hour event, there was an optimism evident. Biologists, researchers and fisherfolk varied and mixed their presentations, making it engaging to scientist and angler alike.

Both Trout Unlimited’s Drew Irby, and well-known local angler Kesley Gallagher weighed in on how to release big fish, as steelhead can weigh more than 25 pounds and grow to 45 inches in length.

“Keep the fish in the water, gills wet,” said Gallagher, which may seem like simple advice, but a quick perusal of this blog alone shows that most anglers get carried away by their “grip ‘n’ grin” photos. Anglers should avoid “tailing,” as well as grabbing the fish with grip gloves, or injuring its slime covering with a mesh net.

TU’s John McMillan cited steelhead research linking time out of water to reduced spawning capacity in Atlantic salmon. “Two minutes out of the water kills them,” he said.

Mark Capelli, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) South Central California Recovery Coordinator, reminded an audience of about 50, that before World War II catching steelhead was a winter industry. During the winter months these hearty fish return from the ocean to spawn, no easy feat. The fish literally have to surf on storm surges to gain access to their ancestral rivers and creeks, only to have to swim through a inch or two of water as conditions dry out moving upstream. His slides, remarkable for those of us used to an entirely different era, one  of depletion, underscored the vibrancy in this unique fish to our area.

“Unfortunately, the area memory of steelhead disappeared,” he said.

From 1948 through 1953, the needs of a rapidly increasing population decimated area runs that, according to newspaper accounts in the Los Angeles Times and other publications, ran into the thousands during rainy years. Dams, a prime example being the Devil’s Gate Dam in Pasadena that cuts off the Los Angeles River from its upper headwaters, spelled a near-death knell that would have probably killed off many species — but not this one.

BIOLOGIST Sabrina Drill speaks to the urgency of So. Cal. Steelhead recovery at the Aquarium of the Pacific on Saturday. (Jim Burns
BIOLOGIST Sabrina Drill speaks to the urgency of So. Cal. Steelhead recovery at the Aquarium of the Pacific on Saturday. (Jim Burns)

Viewed as an “indicator species” by the Environmental Protection Agency because its health is linked to its surrounding environment, steelhead thrive in both clean, colder fresh and salt water, and require unfettered access to return from its ocean sojourns to its spawning grounds inland.

As Sabrina Drill, the Natural Resources Advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, reminded the audience, between 1994 and today 147 adults steelhead were observed and recorded. Yet only a year after the clean up and restoration of the Malibu Lagoon, a steelhead was spotted in May.

“If you open the door, fish will come,” said Dana McCanne, part of whose job with the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife is convincing landowners to give steelhead unfettered passage across private property. He recounted how Santa Barbara has successfully removed barriers to fish passage on Mission Creek. And by the end of summer, all of the barriers on Carpinteria Creek will have been removed, opening passage to headwater habitat.

Indeed the NOAA recover plan focuses on “more pristine watersheds” in its five regions in Southern California, home to some 22 million souls. Although its timeline — 75-100 years — is steep according to human standards, in geologic time, it’s barely a heartbeat. Armed with $30 million in restoration money, and piggybacking on the national debate over the right architect for the L.A. River, a lot could happen.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

River fishing nicely after record rain

WITH A BIKE and a fly rod, you can cover lots of territory quickly. (Jim Burns)
WITH A BIKE and a fly rod, you can cover lots of territory quickly. (Jim Burns)

Tuesday Angelinos woke to a record rain that dropped more than 2 inches in a matter of hours on our thirsty basin. Check out this news report to watch rescues, as well as a swollen river with water speeds estimated at 35 m.p.h.

Today, I wanted to assess what this would mean for fishing, and was surprised not to find the river blown out, but instead to be greeted by clear water, normal levels and hungry fish. Mature tilapia and feisty green sunfish rose to both a chartreuse and to a purple (!) hi-viz Parachute Adams. I only wished I’d brought my 3 weight, as the 5 was too big for these undiscriminating fish. You have to choose your target rod: lighter for the littler guys, bigger and badder for the carp.

Bottom line: With the predicted monster El Nino possibly coming our way, these next few weeks are an excellent time to enjoy fall fishing, because once the water begins to drop in earnest, there’s not enough structure between the rip-rap banks to keep a fav spot the same. We waited for months for the bass to come back after last winter.

Also, on my way to some sweet water, here was a fly fisher who got his wheels there before I did. Technology trumps shank’s mare. (Sorry for the image quality …)

Any fishing and biking stories you’d like to share?

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Sponsored Post: Tackle Box Essentials

If you are going to embark on fishing as either a career or hobby, you are going to need to be sure you have all of the necessary gear to make your fishing trips successful.  Although the right gear won’t guarantee that you will come home with a successful catch, the wrong equipment can all but guarantee that you won’t.  It has been said that an artist is only as good as his tools and the same can be said about a fisherman.  One piece of essential equipment is a tackle bod.

A tackle box is an important piece of fishing equipment because it houses many of the things that will make your fishing successful.  It is a necessary way to keep your lures and hooks organized and safe.  But not all tackle boxes are created equal.  There are many different types of tackle boxes, from trunk-style boxes to drawer boxes.  Choosing the right one for your needs is important.

Whichever type of tackle box you choose (available from sites such as Sea Gear Marine) there are several features to look for.  First, you should ensure that it is sturdy and well-built, with a comfortable handle.  By far the most important thing you should check, however, is the latch.  It should be stiff and slightly tough to open and close, forming a firm closure.  Otherwise, you could risk the very annoying and time-consuming task of having to clean up a very messy spill of all of your previously well-organized lures and hooks.  Don’t be afraid to pull the latch to ensure that it is strong and that it will stay closed when the tackle box is lifted up.

Once you have the tackle box, it’s important to consider what you are going to put in it.  Of course, there are the usual suspects of lures and hooks, but there are some items that you may not expect that should be in your tackle box.  They include:

A set of pliers:  Needlenose pliers are very handy for removing hooks from the fish.  Most varieties also feature the ability to serve as cutters, so you can use them to snip line when necessary.

A small (but sharp) knife:  Used for cutting bait, opening up packaging, snipping line, etc.

A sharp file:  Used to re-sharpen your hooks or your knife while you are on the water

Baby wipes: For cleaning your hands or wiping up spills (fishing is messy business!)

Bug spray:  Mosquitos and other pests love water, so it’s always a good idea to protect yourself

Sunscreen:  Don’t get a nasty sunburn while you are on the lake.  Tote along a good waterproof sunscreen.

Lighter:  Besides lighting a fire when necessary, a lighter can come in handy for things like melting the ends of nylon rope to keep it from fraying and other such tasks.

Second ‘Off Tha Hook’ delivers fish, next generation

WINNING is what Matus Solobic of Altadena represents with the beautiful common carp. (Jim Burns)
WINNING: Matus Sobolic, of Altadena, represents with this beautiful common carp. (Jim Burns)

Fisherfolk are known for their sometimes tall tales, and even though the MSM were nowhere to be found, today’s second annual ‘Off Tha Hook’ in North Atwater Park produced plenty of gripping stories for the 200 or so participants. Some treated  new friends as if they were old buddies, sharing tales of rare fiberglass rods and 19th Century reels; others literally sampled tasty culinary capers at the Patagonia Pasadena booth — anyone for buffalo jerky?

WINNER Issaih Salgago, 15, of Palmdale (left) hangs with event organizer Bill Bowling. (Jim Burns)
WINNER Issaih Salgado, 15, of Palmdale (left) hangs with event organizer, Bill Bowling. (Jim Burns)

And although the River Rover — organizer Friends of the Los Angeles River’s mobile classroom — was also a no show because of a broken axle, kids  made up watery tales as they peered into tiny cups full of stonefly and mayfly nymphs, as well as icky leeches.

It was that cool.

— Matus Sobolic, of Altadena, proved that he is the guy to beat when it comes to carp, hauling in one common, around 4 pounds, and three small bass to win the grand prize. Sobolic won last year’s competition and also won the wading division at the Lake Henshaw Carp Throwdown earlier this summer. He lost two on the fly as they jumped wildly out of the water. The last So. Cal. double winner was David Wratchford, who won 2012-2013 at the Carp Throwdown, also in the wading division.

— Meanwhile, Issaih Salgado, 15, of Palmdale, won the kids’ division with a couple of small largemouth bass snatched spincasting on a silicone wiggly. His mom said she wasn’t surprised because he spends lots of time chasing fish at Fin & Feather, the well-know Antelope Valley private club.

— And Ben, who got away before I could ask him his age and last name, won rarest species for his fry tipalia, awarded by biologist Sabrina Drill.

TROUT UNLIMITED'S Bob Blankenship meets the official greeter. (Jim Burns).
TROUT UNLIMITED’S Bob Blankenship meets the official greeter. (Jim Burns).

The three shared a haul valued around $900 in donations from Patagonia Pasadena and the Pasadena Casting Club.

But the best story laid in watching 60-plus kids show up with family and friends to cast, many for the first time. They stood in line, then, in turn, hit the water, some dozen at a time, to try their luck, learn more about our urban river, and get tips from the experienced anglers who donated their time as well as experience.

As I watched, my mind traveled to a time in the near future when those now teenagers will continue the stewardship they learned today. For all of us who love the river, there is no better story than that.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

KIDS AND PARENTS alike are 'all in' for the children's fish. (Jim Burns)
KIDS AND PARENTS alike are ‘all in’ for the family fish. (Jim Burns)