November’s thankfulness

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.

SEDIMENT REMOVAL at the reservoir now takes place Monday through Saturday. West Fork Road is closed to all vehicles. Pedestrian and cyclist use is OK on Saturdays, Sunday and holidays, according to LA Public Works. (Credit: Jim Burns)

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.

THE VIEW close to Crystal Lake will stop you, with its collection of sharp mountain peaks and deep valleys. (Credit: Jim Burns)

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.”

“How long?”

“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.

Next time.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

WAY DOWN there is Tad from Orvis Pasadena, who was about to try catching a bass or two. He said the water was crystal clear (no pun intended) in June, but on that day it was murky at best. (Credit: Jim Burns)

The largest dam demolition in history is approved for the Klamath River


PacifiCorp’s four lower dams, Iron Gate, Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2 and J.C. Boyle in both California and Oregon are slated for removal. (Credit: Klamath River Renewal Corporation)

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

New York Times: ‘Remaking the river that remade LA’

WHEN OUR river gets angry, watch out. (Credit: Bob Blankenship)

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.

First 365-day Cali fishing license available Nov. 15

It costs California residents more to legally catch a brown than in any other state, like this beauty from the Trinity River. Sometimes your goofy hat is free. (Credit: Darren Victorine)

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


VIRGINIA LAKES: Actually a basin of lakes, their clear waters can hold elusive trout. (Credit: Jim Burns)

On the East Walker River a few days back, fishing with a bunch of longtime and new TU friends, I waited as a downstream drift effortlessly moved my tippet toward me, big Caddis on top, zebra midge below. Moving water takes on its own life when you wait. Cast. Wait. Cast. Wait, attention so focused, an electric spark of attentiveness.

Three days of fishing had yielded only meager results: Day One, skunk; Day Two, two brownies so small they both went through the holes in my net; now the last day was upon us. Late morning on one of the Virginia Lakes yielded spectacular scenes of granite majesty, made us think about geologic time, not human digital.

A lone cutty with beautiful red cheeks held so close to that lake bank, I grabbed my cell to take a shot, then, wondering what I was doing, raced to get my rod, cast the fly back in the water. No dice. The whole morning was like that, cruising fish, with no takers. My fishing bud, Rick, got so frustrated he slapped his rod tip in the water at a cruising fish, who didn’t even acknowledge the impact, so he tried again on trout’s next pass with the same result. He’d caught four-pounders at this very spot. He was generous enough to share it with me.

Late afternoon brought me back to the West Walker, as low, hot sun baked me to sweat and glare made me double blink. Enchanted by the music of singing water, no waders, yet I couldn’t help but submerge my boots on slippery rocks, just to satisfy that trout fever.

Don’t slip; set each foot down like balancing on a bowling ball; watch the bank-side scrub brush try to grab that airborne fly for its own.

CALIFORNIA FALL COLOR: A stand or group of aspen trees is considered a singular organism with the main life force underground in the extensive root system, according to the National Forest Foundation. (Credit: Jim Burns)

The guy in the town fly shop told us the “football trout,” rainbows who gorge themselves on plentiful bugs below the dam and into the Miracle Mile, were all gone. Too hot. He, himself, also thought about becoming a goner and moving out to North Dakota, tired of fire and endless drought.

In a watery burst, what draws so many of us to fishing happened to me: a flash of majesty and a solid hungry grab. A 12-inch or so football-shaped trout gleamed silver in that brutally reflective water, hooked and reluctantly riding the current toward me.

“Net!” I pleaded to another fishing bud, Bob, as I guided the trout in current to the bank. Bob was right there and then — just like that — the rainbow fatty was off my barbless hook and swimming freely away.

Over in a minute, what had consumed three days of my life, just like that.


No matter what, the skunk needs to go.

Fly fishing is certainly about catching trout, but maybe more about renewal, is it not? It’s about connecting with nature in a special way, a hunting way, a caring way that yanks us from our cocooned lives and into the present moment, maybe, into that geologic time where we can see more clearly that we are small, but our impact on nature is increasingly outsized, like that caldera spewing lava some 700,000 years ago, altogether changing the landscape that was.

As a mostly solo fly fisher, usually that burst of calm knowing called renewal comes from water, fish, weather, skill, lack of skill, patience, flashes of angry frustration and a rhythm removed from my urban life. My spiritual battery turns out to be blessedly rechargeable.

SIZE DOES MATTER: And this little Brown slipped through a hole in my net! (Credit: Jim Burns)

Yet on this trip, renewal came from group experience, new and old friends. Collectively, we laughed, got bored, got pissed, got frustrated, learned new things, forgot the old. We hiked in, we ate out, we wondered where in the hell the trout were, caught them on occasion, and tipped our hats to their elusive, wily nature. Everything, just right. We marveled together at the majesty of the Sierra, but I think secretly we marveled at how wonderful it is to be human in a time when honesty, generosity and compassion illuminate our best outcome, our path forward through the dark.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Conservationists stoked by the possibilities of removing SoCal barriers to steelhead migration

CalTrout’s Dr. Sandra Jacobson explains what’s involved in the design stage of the I-5 fish passage in San Juan Capistrano to a group of donors on Sept. 21. Efforts to remove barriers to the endangered Southern California Steelhead are coming to fruition, invigorated by the spotlight on removal of the obsolete Rindge Dam in Malibu, which has blocked steelhead passage from Malibu Lagoon to the Santa Monica Mountains for the past 80 years. (Credit: Jim Burns)

California Fly Fishing Open returns to the Kern River this Saturday, Oct. 8

Join the sixth annual California Fly Fishing Open on the Kern River.

This year entry net proceeds will benefit Casting for Recovery SoCal and Kern Valley Search and Rescue.

Start the day with the five-person team tournament on the mighty Kern River. Check-in will be at the Kern River Fly Shop at 7 a.m. You can pick up any last-minute fly-fishing supplies, scorecards and listen to general tournament announcements.

Turn in the scorecard at the shop by 2 p.m. sharp and head over to Rivernook Campground for the afternoon and evening festivities starting at 3 p.m.

This year there will be ticket sales, for a nominal price, for the post tournament festivities.

The evening festivities will have raffles galore, vendors, team parade, fly fishing games, tournament awards, and beverages & LIVE MUSIC  from Par Avion and the Stoneflys.

Everyone in attendance will be eligible to play Heads or Tails for a custom fly rod build by Chiaki Harami.

COST / FEES benefitting Casting for Recovery So.Cal & Kern Valley Search & Rescue

  • $250 for a 5 person team or $50 per person. Includes dinner, concert & festivities.
  • $20 for non-participant dinner, concert & festivities.
  • $10 for non-participant concert & festivities.
  • Start the day with the five-person team tournament on the mighty Kern River. Check-in will be at the Kern River Fly Shop at 7 a.m. You can pick up any last-minute fly-fishing supplies, scorecards and listen to general tournament announcements.
  • Turn in the scorecard at the shop by 2 p.m. sharp and head over to Rivernook Campground for the afternoon and evening festivities starting at 3 p.m.
  • This year there will be ticket sales, for a nominal price, for the post tournament festivities.
  • The evening festivities will have raffles galore, vendors, team parade, fly fishing games, tournament awards, and beverages & LIVE MUSIC  from Par Avion and the Stoneflys.
  • Everyone in attendance will be eligible to play Heads or Tails for a custom fly rod build by Chiaki Harami.

To register your team, click on the link

Sunday, check out a free film festival starring the LA River

Check out FoLAR‘s free evening of LA River fun and film at River Fest 2022 on Sunday, 5 p.m.-9 p.m., celebrating LA River’s deep connection to art, environmental justice, community health, and climate adaptation. This open-air festival will be hosted at the scenic LA State Historic Park, bringing together the best of LA’s food truck scene, environmental films (on a 45-foot screen) and booths.