Twice this past season, I’ve been in a fight to secure wayward pieces of my fly rod.
In the Pacific Northwest, my son and I were pounding some fast-moving water and “slammo” half of my five-piece, 7 weight rod comes off and starts floating downstream. The water was deep, fast and chilly, a nasty situation at best. After quickly adding up how my that Sage cost, I managed — finally — to pull the sucker back in on the fly line! Dumb. Note to self: push down the sections harder next time before beginning to fish.
Then last weekend, I had to climb up a mini-mountainside to get back to the trail. I stuck my three-piece, 3 weight in the deep back pocket of my vest, and zipped it, so I could use both hands to help leverage my large self up the hill. Because of the width and depth of the pocket, several inches of each piece protruded into the space behind my head. Feeling exhilarated by my solution, I muscled up the sliding San Gabriel sandstone, as it sporadically collapsed at an alarming rate.
With my reaching fingers close to success, a low-hanging branch snatched two of the three pieces out of my zipped pocket! They fell and hung out of my grasp, held by a helpful (small) plant, ready to tumble all the way back down, some 50 feet. Mere noses from the trail, but not yet there, I s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d far enough to grab hold of them, and today my back tells me that although I rescued my fav Sage, I’m not as young as I once was. Dumb. Note to self: stop all heroics and take the easy way up and out.
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.
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.
First off, another question: what’s the difference between habit, custom, superstition and the above?
Habit is ordinary, so thinking of a habit — always listening to the KNX traffic report “on the fives,” for example, before driving to work — nope, boring.
Custom might be a tad better, but a custom to me means something still ordinary, yet transcending a smidge: For example, last Thanksgiving when Uncle Arthur came over he sat in the first chair to the right of the host, so this year it’s the same. In fact, it’s customary.
Superstition is way off from ritual. Think pro sports of any kind. Think of the Cubbies and the curse of the billy goat that keeps them from winning a World Series; or that Jets receiver Jerrico Cotchery downs a yummy bowl of savory clam chowder before he plays the game.
Nope, if superstition invaded the sport of fly fishing, we’d all keep our lucky fly on the bedpost before waking at dawn, turning twice in a circle before putting our LEFT foot into our waders first, and … you get the idea.
But ritual, yes, that’s where the fun begins.
Ritual means that you’re out of the habit. Ritual means as well that a new custom might just be born today on the water. And, further, ritual allows you to put all your superstitious nonsense behind. Go ahead, get into your waders with your right foot, for cryin’ out loud.
And, ritual means lighting up a fine smoke after releasing the first fish of the day.
Of course, the Surgeon General, your dentist, the blood-pressure gal at Kaiser and just about everyone else will tell you that smoking cigars is a terribly bad thing. I remember a chance visit to an old-time cigar shop in Vancouver, Canada. Yes, you can buy as many overpriced Cubans as you want in this perfectly restored cigar mecca, but don’t try to light up using the dual-tipped turn-of-the-century cigar “fountain” in the middle of the room. It’s illegal and the gas has been shut off.
Anyway, if the occasional smoke is going to do me in, so be it. And, because it is occasional, I’m going to smoke what I like. And what I like is deep, dark and moody: the Ashton VSG. In fact, can I say I make a habit of buying this same cigar?
So, it was with some surprise when the fellow at Fair Oaks Cigars recommended a newcomer, the Liga Privada, which isn’t a Dominican, but hails from Nicaragua.
“It’s made by the Acid guys,” he said. Those would be the makers of the heinous flavored smoke.
Next chance I got, I lit up, following the appropriate ritual, of course. It’s a beautiful smoke. Not as heavy as the Ashton, not as much bite, but still very long on powerful flavor. Sweet.
You know, change doesn’t come easily. That’s why we probably won’t see the return of steelhead to the river until, well, let’s not get into that.
Change comes in two varieties: canny and not-so-much. The second is almost always accompanied by a press party. Let me explain.
When you find a restaurant that’s your “special occasion” place, you don’t want anyone messing with it, especially not the owner. Chefs are bad enough, we all know that. They’re always diddling with a good thing, inventing, tasting, creating. That’s fine, unless you want whatever it is — let’s say bourbon and soda — to stay exactly the way it’s always been.
So, it was with surprise — and horror — that very recently we were asked, “Here for the press party?” by the valet outside this Pasadena spot-on venerable. In only moments, basic solidity had succumbed to string theory.
Press party? Those two words always mean change, whether it’s the Tea Party partying in Washington in less than two months; or former gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman finding out her maid had decamped to attorney Gloria Allred for a smack down; or your credit card company blithely reminding you that you suck and your rates have gone up to prove it. (OK, maybe that last one, there was no press party…)
Press party? Change? We’re shivering.
The three of us met at the Raymond in Pasadena, Calif., for a birthday party: my best man, his birthday, one that counts for something.
As we opened the door, noise assaulted us, and lots of it, because the press party, turns out, was to inaugurate the new bar. Patrons in the few booths in the dining room all huddled around the center of each table, as if we were secretly burning a fire to keep out the wolves. The waiter was flustered; the hostess, more so. My wife eyed the noisome revelers askance.
To make matters worse, Best Man had spent the better part of an entire career in hospitality public relations. He confided that when asked the press party question, he had to muffle his autonomic response, which was, “Yes, and are you validating?”
We ordered. Food arrived. We were only mildly happy. Not good.
Then, owner Rob Levy appeared and we began to talk about bourbon and fly fishing. Suddenly, Best Man smiled, and wife, and Rob as well.
We discovered that the well bourbon at “1886,” the new name of the bar, was yummy Buffalo Trace. We talked of trout behind JPL — true — and that Rob’s business partner loved the cult of the dry fly. We were invigorated! Life was new again. Happy!
And so I learned that chilly November evening that at least one man held press parties for canny change, and thank goodness you can still slurp down oysters in the bar, just like it was 1886, and you didn’t have a care in the recession. Not one.
So, the question: what were you doing Sunday? Waiting for a few days off to visit the brown trout section of the Owens? Savoring the Trojans’ deep-dish desert smack down? Whatever it was, if you weren’t casting for carp, you missed it.
Ask Patrick. I met him on the water and he told me he’d already caught/released a good-size carp. Me, I got skunked in the hour I had to put in. It was, however, a sweet hour spent casting, hunting and hoping.
Then, I headed over to Porto’s for some Cuban bread, which looks a whole lot like French bread. Difference? I’m not sure (maybe a canny commenter will tell us …), but the Cuban pressed sandwiches we ate later that afternoon were great.
Moral of the story. Go fishing in our river. Be home in time for lunch.