Ever since the Bobcat Fire razed our beloved West Fork of the San Gabriel, I’ve dreaded going back to take a look and cast a line. I remember taking my son roller blading here when he was around 8 years old. Now 38, that’s been a long time. The place for me was one of contradictions: like the Wild & Scenic designation, while tons of weekend trash overwhelmed the streams’ skeleton staff; or the designation as endangered for the Yellow-Legged frog that ended stocking of the West Fork, which continued to wow fishers such as myself in years to come — without stocking. Of the picture of a supposed steelhead caught above the dam that set off a stir among biologists and enthusiasts alike, only to later be categorized as another rainbow.
Through it all, I loved the West Fork and all the good times it brought into my life.
So, it was with some trepidation that I inflated the tires on the used Schwinn my wife bought me pre-pandemic specifically to visit the WF, oil its rusty chain, brush off its leaves and cobwebs and load it into my go-to adventure car, the 2005 Prius. My heart felt unsettled as I drove to get my $3 cup at Starbucks (actually a mere $2.80 if you bring your own mug …), and followed my familiar route, exiting the 210 at what was once the Miller Brewery exit, heading up the canyon.
I nodded my head as I passed my friend Analiza’s house, thought about the time I had dinner with a woman who I actually think was possessed at El Encanto, heard the words of another friend, Bernard, as he told me about pulling a giant from the lower river. It was like that driving all the way up — the blissful insistency of one’s own memories from a long life.
I almost turned off at the East Fork to avoid having to see what I didn’t want to see. Earlier pictures from braver souls showed a moonscape, where once thick, native trees had shaded much of the seven-plus miles of bike path to the Cogswell Dam. But, I persevered and pulled into the oddly quiet parking lot. Also, odd was the fact that I passed some three Highway Patrol cruisers at the bike lane’s entrance, and a fourth at the top end of the parking lot. Never in all the years of my visits had I seen cops there, nor received a ticket for forgetting to put my ancient Adventure Pass on my dash board. This was new.
As I looked closer, I saw why — several pieces of heavy equipment working hard, making noise, lumbering their way, foot by foot, up the canyon road.
But I thought “what the hell?” as I unloaded the bike and put on my sling, full of lunch, water, and a mix of dries and nymphs. “Maybe I can just stay casual and glide on by them.”
I was reminded on the clipboard scene in Michael Keaton’s journalist thriller, “The Paper,” in which he declares “Henry: A clipboard and a confident wave will get you into any building in the world!”
Of course, as I approached the gate and the oddly dressed big fella in the old car by the gate, I didn’t have a clip board, only a 4 weight Winston Ibis.
As he lumbered out of his car staring at me, I finally asked, “Can I help you?”
To which he replied, “No, I can help you.”
And he dropped the bomb, the one that let me off the hook of actually seeing what had become of my — our — beloved West Fork.
“It is closed for repairs to the dam.”
“Probably three to four months.”
He still eyed me with suspicion, and I returned the favor. After all the pats, I didn’t expect a guy dressed in old clothes, exiting a beater to be the security guard. But …
Then, I remember: when this closure began I’d run an incorrect headline a thoughtful reader caught. I’d written the WF would be closed on weekends and open on weekdays. It was the other way around. And … this was Tuesday.
Glumly I rode back to the car, stopping to watch all the grunting machinery do whatever they were all doing. But unlike watching big dump trucks and towering cranes gleefully as a kid, instead I felt the weight of loss once again on my shoulders.
To cheer myself up, I decided to drive north to Crystal Lake. In all those years, I’d never driven past the West Fork parking lot! I drove past the North Fork, and, as the elevation steadily climbed from 2,000 to 3,000 feet and beyond, tight valleys filled with the fall colors of yellow, auburn and burnished brown. And the chill was on, beautiful, just the right amount of cool on this cloudless afternoon.
See you on the river, Jim Burns
U.S. regulators approved a plan Thursday to demolish four dams on a California river and open up hundreds of miles of salmon habitat that would be the largest dam removal and river restoration project in the world when it goes forward.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s unanimous vote on the lower Klamath River dams is the last major regulatory hurdle and the biggest milestone for a $500 million demolition proposal championed by Native American tribes and environmentalists for years. The project would return the lower half of California’s second-largest river to a free-flowing state for the first time in more than a century. READ MORE
FEBRUARY 1938 WAS a wet month in Los Angeles. The ground, where it hadn’t been paved over, was saturated, which meant rain had nowhere to go except into the streets, canals and washes. On the 27th, a storm arrived. During the following days, the city received its second-highest 24-hour rainfall in history. Reservoirs overflowed, dams topped out and floodwaters careered down Pacoima Wash and Tujunga Wash toward the Los Angeles River. By the time the river peaked at Long Beach, its flow exceeded the Mississippi’s at St. Louis. “It was as if the Pacific had moved in to take back its ancient bed,” wrote Rupert Hughes in “City of Angels,” a 1941 novel that climaxes with the flood. In an instant, the Lankershim Bridge in North Hollywood collapsed, and five people were swept away. Sewer and gas lines ruptured; communications were cut; houses were lifted straight off their foundations and sank into the water. In all, 87 people died. Read More.
A few weeks ago, I was in Mammoth at my favorite fly fishing store, hoping to get a free replacement 2022 fishing license, since I’d thrown mine out by accident. All those pieces of paper, so little time.
Well, my replacement license cost $11.88, no kindness from the DFW for those of us who throw stuff out by accident.
As I waited to get my new license printed out, I told the clerk how excited I was that next year you could buy a resident license in California and it would be good for 365 days, instead of the way it is now, in which no matter when you buy the license from the first day in January to the last day in December it will still cost you $54. And even after the many efforts of Pasadena Casting Club member Ron Escue to get a senior discount, the state still says, “fuggettaboutit.”
That fifty-four bucks makes it the most expensive fresh-water resident fishing license in the U.S with other Western states (Colorado, $36.71; Arizona, $37; Utah, $34; Montana, $21, for example) much cheaper. So … isn’t it a good thing to switch from the calendar year to the 365 model? Apparently, that’s why Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) introduced AB 817 in February 2021, because fewer anglers were buying licenses precisely because of this inequity. Since 1980, annual resident sport fishing license sales have declined 55 percent while the state’s population has increased more than 60 percent, according to Wood’s website. Also, apparently we will join the 21st Century with a mobile app for renewal, instead of the annual trek to Big 5.
So, all of this seemed good news to me, but not the guys behind the counter.
“Hey, then you’ll have to remember when you renewed,” said the one.
“And it’s not really that great a deal when you consider all the winter months when we don’t fish anyway,” said the other.
Um, yeah, I guess.
As I paid up, I wondered why all the resistance to a great idea?
Since I didn’t ask, now I don’t know, but I suspect politics must be involved.
Anyway, I’ll gladly take the 365 license, which is available Nov. 15 for 2023, wait for someone in comments to tell me how the app works, as well as hold my breath for that magical senior rate.
See you on the river, Jim Burns