Much to my surprise, I’ve been writing/curating this blog for the past 10 years. Too legit to quit or something else all together? All I know is I started writing because I was fixated on a river running through Los Angeles that I’d never visited after living here for more than 30 years. Just finding access back in the day was difficult enough, but then to also consider you could catch fish in it seemed improbable at best.
Fast forward to the end of 2021 and our river has become famous, and not just in the movies. Carping the LA is now on fly-fisher bucket lists. That, of course, isn’t because of my writing, but I can say that the blog has grown up in a similar way to our beloved river. As you think about the end of the year, here are 10 winter stories in chronological order I thought you might enjoy.
I’ve made lots of friends through river work and hope you will be lucky enough to do the same. Eventually, some of the concrete will come out, and new habitat will go in. As poet Lewis MacAdams used to say, “We will know our work is done when the steelhead return.” So be it.
Happy New Year and see you on the river, Jim Burns
Dec. 23, 2010 — Carp clubbing takes river to new low
My son and I went out last week for some fishing on the city’s river. As we were leaving the water, we came upon a couple of friendly gents who intimately knew the area. Both had on caps; both had on backpacks; both had good senses of humor; and one should have been arrested:
“You don’t need that rod to catch carp down here,” said the one.
How could you not ask?
“What you need? You need a baseball bat, a Louisville Slugger, that’s what you need — a bat!”
Lots of buzz this week about a proposed ordinance to establish the Los Angeles River Improvement Overlay District. That’s a mouthful to say to Washington, “hey, Obama, where’s our money?”
Cash, authorized by Congress, is needed to complete an essential Corps study that analyzes the effects of ripping out lots of concrete. Currently, the last phase of the study is years behind schedule. Until it’s finished, Reyes’ river project can’t be completed.
Dec. 29, 2012 — Lariverflyfishing rings in New Year with 20,000th visit
I was pretty stoked about that number back then …
Nov. 13, 2013 — Seven tips to follow when stalking LA River carp
My favorite tips is No. 1: Don’t be in a hurry.
Dec. 18, 2014 — FoLAR seeks anglers for Long Beach fish study
Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) in partnership with the Aquarium of the Pacific will host Phase 3 of a scientific fish study with help from the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains. We need Citizen Scientists, in this case, volunteer anglers to help us catch what is in the soft bottom section of the Los Angeles River at Long Beach.
This is a rare chance for you to fish in an area that one does not normally access, contact WPB@FoLAR.org to hold a spot. Fishing will start at 2pm until dusk on Saturday, January 3rd, 2015.
Dec. 15, 2015 — Musings written in pencil: LA River Top 10 laundry list
No. 6 “Off Tha’ Hook” celebrated its second year. It’s become a party down by the banks on Sept. 3, a Dept. of Fish and Wildlife “free day,” when no license is required to fish. Best memory: the number of children fishing at least doubled over last year. I’m a sponsor for next year, so come on down. The entry fee will be reduced, according to FoLAR.
On our return to Sepulveda Basin, to continue the upper river fish survey, we captured 203 fish, a far cry from the more than 3,600 tilapia fry caught this time last year.
Dec. 1, 2017 — Huck Finn retelling along the LA River in debut novel
Dec. 16, 2018 — Holiday Twofer: Zinke out, rockfish in
So, it was with great holiday pleasure that I paged through the print Los Angeles Times this morning, to find two memorable events: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is following former scandal-plagued Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruit out the revolving Trump door, pursued by a cloud of more than a dozen ethics violations. Here’s a summary of what he did during his close to two years in office. Top of mind for me was his tone deaf response to millions of comments asking him not to recommend shrinking Bear’s Ears National Monument.
Dec. 13, 2019 — Help restore Southern California Steelhead habitat
Sespe Fly Fishers was awarded a $1,500 grant from Fly Fishers International. The multiple-page grant request was submitted by SFF Conservation Chair Randy Nelson who worked on the application for several days.
The funds were awarded to help Sespe Fly Fishers, in partnership with the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, to restore the habitat of the endangered Southern California Steelhead along several tributary streams of the Ventura River.
Dec. 29, 2020 — Ten things to cheer about in 2020
We’ve never experienced anything like this year that’s coming to a close, both collectively and individually. As my wife and I watched the Christmas star last week, its first appearance in some 700 years, it made me wonder. As a writer, I’m all about signs and portends, so I thought it could either mean the coming apocalypse or a brighter future, as it did so many centuries ago. I chose the latter.
Those of a certain age will remember Porky Pig’s sign off, “ba-dee, ba-dee, ba-dee, that’s all folks,” as the 2021 fishing season ends on many of our rivers today. And if you remember the joys of Porky Pig and his friends Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny and hapless Elmer Fudd, you probably hope for another year, instead of taking it for granted. I certainly know I do.
If 2020 was our COVID year, 2021 has been all about reentry, and it’s hard to figure. Everybody seems to be mad and raging about something. I have opinions, but my posts, all 635 of them, are not political here on LA River. I just began my 11th year, which is hard to believe.
Also, as readers have noticed, I don’t write nearly as much as I used to. I’ve trimmed back on traditional print as well, so you won’t see my byline in California Fly Fisher, but I’ll continue for Fallon’s Angler. At this point in my life, I get to be choosy.
Back to the year. From Western press reports, I expected overrun river conditions along the likely suspects, where new anglers would resemble a herd of raging bulls in Pamplona. Heat, passion and too much flask time can lead to inconsideration for your fellow anglers. So can just plain etiquette ignorance. One of the beautiful things about fly fishing is how much respect we have for each other on the water, as well as for fish and their habitats. Let’s not lose that beautiful part of our sport as our numbers increase. “Share the water.”
I still mourn the loss of the West Fork of the San Gabriel because of the Bobcat Fire, which, as it turns out, is irreplaceable as a beauty spot within a short drive from L.A. that had lots of small rainbows, a bike lane, shade and happy times. When it will actually return to those conditions, is anyone’s guess, but the stream is slated to reopen April 1, 2022. I hope that date isn’t another sign of things to come.
I was lucky enough to fish the nearest good water from L.A., the Kern, in winter and spring with no other anglers in sight on the 20-Mile Stretch. I went out with Rob Buehler of Buehler Brothers fame, on each occasion. Great guide and great guy.
Spring became summer with the drought tightening a dry, dusty grip across the West. Did you know Elko, Nevada, still has a fly shop and a weekly fishing column? The columnist and shop owner, Joe Doucette, even calls you back when you’re trying to find a spot to catch a Bonneville Cutthroat Trout in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park. For lots of reasons, that didn’t happen (yet), but my chats with Joe led me to a beaver pond in Nevada’s Ruby Range, full of small, radiant cutties. My wife and I missed a mountain lake, but even with a sky dirty gray from persistent Western wildfires, those small fish were a wonder to behold.
Next, I skipped Idaho’s Henry’s Fork out of agoraphobia, and instead went desert fishing on the awesome Owyhee River in Oregon at the Idaho border. Andrew Catt and I left Boise at 4:30 in the morning to beat the unrelenting summer heat. After an hour’s drive, we found very cold water and very active browns, even as the temperature soared into the high 90s.
The end of the season found me on the Western side of the Sierra last month with Trout Unlimited South Coast friends and new friends. The water levels at Edison and Henderson were heart-bracingly low, as was the drive into the back country through acres and acres of Camp Fire burn. We’d cancelled our trip with Jimmie Morales last year because of COVID, so it was pretty amazing to have Pat from Seattle, Jack, the nomad, and Rocky from Texas come join in. Several of our group without all-wheel drive vehicles got snowed in and had to spend an extra day. (Some have all the luck … .)
As for the LA River, it continues to be the source of crazy stories, like the one my friend, Bob, told me recently about the opera singer who enjoys the same carp honey hole. Only in LA, right? Earlier in the year, Bob and I couldn’t figure out what the mysterious raindrops in a forlorn pond were all about, until with a net he and his fiancée, Karen, discovered lots of large bullfrog tadpoles coming up for air. At first, I was madly casting to them, thinking they were blue sunfish rises!
So, readers, my fishy advice? Enjoy getting outdoors; enjoy the camaraderie of those of like mind; put yourself on a social media diet; show the ones you love how much you actually do love them and keep a little in reserve for those who come off cranky, but probably just need a hug. Keep it light and easy streamside, our refuge. This year I fished with guys who have wildly different political views from mine, and guess what – we all enjoyed each other’s much-needed company.
What will next year bring us all? As Porky Pig might stutter, “Stay tuned, folks … .”
See you on the river, Jim Burns
In shoals the hours their constant numbers bring
Like insects waking to th’ advancing spring;
Which take their rise from grubs obscene that lie
In shallow pools, or thence ascend the sky:
Such are these base ephemeras, so born
To die before the next revolving morn.
— George Crabbe, “The Newspaper”, 1785
Mayflies are totally prehistoric, with their distinctive wing profile. More than 3,000 species make up the Ephemeroptera, a wonderful word I first read just recently in an old British tome about bugs on the water. If you have spent any time at your vise during the pandemic, I’ll bet you’ve tied more than a few dries, as well as imitations of the rest of their life cycle, which is mostly spent as a nymph.
See you on the water, Jim Burns