East Fork SOS: Where Have all the Fish and Anglers Gone?

By Tom Walsh
President, Fisheries Resource Volunteer Corps

Repetitive comments from anglers, who have fished the East Fork of the San Gabriel River over the past five years, have indicated that there are no fish left. Based on 1,261 CDFW Angler Surveys over the past 15 years, anglers reported catching 10,901 fish. However, during the past five years only 777 fish have been caught, with only 11 being caught in the past two years.

What are the reasons for this significant decrease? Over the past five-to-12 years there are a number of events that have contributed to the loss of this fishery:

— 2005 – Twelve-year drought reduced total rainfall by 43.6 inches (3.6 inches/year) below 140-year season average.
— 2008 – Downturn in the economy brought an increase in encampments to the East Fork backcountry.
— 2008 – Price of gold hit all time high increasing from $769/oz. in 2007 to a high of $1,987/oz. in 2011.
— 2008 – Began removal of 20,000 tamarisk plants (One plant consumes up to 200 gallons of water per day)
— 2010 – California Department of Fish and Wildlife terminated fish plants on East and West forks to abide with court ruling.
— 2014 – High rain event on Aug. 3 bought significant amount of sediment downstream with large fish kill.

Of all of these events, the mining activity has been the most damaging, which has increased significantly, with the rise in gold prices, the promotion by mining guides via social media and the lack of enforcement of the mining prohibition.

The negative impacts to the stream and its riparian areas resulting from the mining activities are numerous. Large amounts of material in the stream and riparian areas are being moved to create dams, dredging holes and long diversion channels for sluicing, resulting in heavy silting, reduction in water flow and the interruption of the entire ecosystem. FRVC volunteer stream patrols have documented the loss old growth trees along the stream banks, permanent campsites within 50 to 100 feet of the stream, large amounts of equipment and trash from abandoned campsites, and the use of motorized dredging equipment.

In October 2010, the California Fish and Game Commission designated the East Fork from Heaton Flat to the headwaters as a Wild and Heritage Trout Stream. This designation includes 33.6 miles of perennial stream habitat, and is one of only 12 watersheds in the state with this designation. Unfortunately, the CDFW management plan has not been published or implemented.

This once-prominent fishery, which has been abandoned by almost everyone, needs the support of the Southern California fishing community.

10 thoughts on “East Fork SOS: Where Have all the Fish and Anglers Gone?”

  1. Was at West fork yesterday, looks real bad… Caught one stunted 5″ bow, but the leaves are back carpeting the river bottom and trash back everywhere till about the 3 mile mark?

  2. Lousy. Thanks for sharing those depressing stats.
    Consistent with my experience on East Fork too. Last trip was in 2014, here:

    No trout.

    1. WRONG. I just thru-hiked from Vincent Gap to the Bridge TNW trailhead and I caught three trout along the way fly fishing with a nymph. The first at Fish Fork, a tiny and beautiful purple rainbow. The second down about a mile, about an 8 inch rainbow, and the third was up north of the Narrows and this 12″ beauty fought like an 18 inch Sierra trout. STRONG fish up there, you just need to know how to fish and what to use.

      1. Brendan, thanks for this scouting report. Sounds like you had a great time! Please note this post is from four and a half years ago. I was up to the East Fork, just from the parking lot, earlier this summer and I’d say things have improved. Now reading your post, I am sure of it. Give nature half a chance …

  3. Was catching 10 – 12 inch natives a few miles up the narrows past the bridge to nowhere as recently as 2015. Lota of hiking though

  4. PLEASE DISPLAY SOME BASIC IQ before writing “storys”
    fishing and prospecting have gone hand and hand since the first settlers to enter the canyon in Earley 1800’s , just as it does today , “most” of the prospectors do not do what’s in your pictures posted ,its very easy to collect certain type of images to paint the image you would like , just like the flip side , fishermen and fishing litters the land more than a prospector , lead weights sinkers lost jigs lures hooks, fishing line , salmon eggs bottles everywhere , its a 2 way street if you want to Nit pick Two wrongs do not make a right , with the recent 10 year drought there are Many videos on your tube showing trout and sucker fish thieving in prospectors holes made in river be it dredges or shovels ,prospectors remove trash and lead from river while creating habitat for small fish to thrive … East fork has never been the best fishing for San Gabriels , what is silly is west fork and north fork have always had best fishing , just like gold is where you find it it , so are fish why did the Pasadena fly fishing club start in West fork in 1908 , , both can work together to make San Gabriel mountains what it was , these type of false nit picking stories will only cause division , division solves nothing , PS isn’t there a prospector on the California Seal ? I don’t see any fishermen , just ships and MInera


    Made in Azusa 1969

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.