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.
As we have all watched so many of our systems go haywire or barely hang on, there is still much to cheer. Here are my Top 10 in no particular order.
- Election of Joe Biden on a climate agenda
- The former president’s environmental record is beyond abysmal. Start with the shrinking of Bear’s Ears National Monument and rushed move to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Both are a disgrace to our heritage of enjoying federally owned open lands.
- Women embrace fly fishing
- From April Vokey’s podcast, to Montana Rodsmiths’ Aurora Lady Flex, unique rods build for women, to #chickswhofish, the sport is taking on a much-needed feminine side.
- Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, some major corps pledge to cut emissions
- It may not be perfect, but it’s a beginning with a goal of zero emissions by 2050 or 2060, depending on who you read. Climate change is real and caused by human activity. May disdain for science and disdain for experts now live only in the past. My grandson will thank you.
- Defeating Bristol Bay
- Alaska’s Trout Unlimited brought the heat and, as a result of a sustained community effort, the Pebble Mine isn’t being dug. The effort was two decades long, and we should all thank TU’s Meghan Barker for the many days she personally devoted to this defeat.
- Bring down the Klamath Dams
- As CalTrout writes “The removal process for the four Klamath Dams will start in 2021 and extend into 2023. We look forward to celebrating the day when the Klamath River flows freely for the first time in over a century, and more than 300 miles of spawning and rearing habitat are once again accessible to native salmon and steelhead.” The Iron Gate Dam will be the largest in history to come down.
- New sentiments and community effort: the Eklutna Dam in Alaska falls
- From Trout Unlimited: “Return to Us chronicles the historic effort spearheaded by Eklutna, Inc. and The Conservation Fund to remove the abandoned Lower Eklutna Dam and kickstart the return of diminished salmon runs to the river in Southcentral Alaska, near Anchorage.” In 2019, 90 dams in 26 states fell, setting a record number. I don’t currently have the 2020 figures.
- Beginnings of a fish passage on the Los Angeles River
- Planning has begun to deepen part of the river to allow the endangered Southern California Steelhead access to its spawning grounds in the mountains. We are still a very long way off from the entire river being navigable for these fish, but it’s a start.
- There are still wild trout in the San Gabriel mountains
- The loss of the West Fork is a devastating experience for those of us who love the outdoors. I wrote a story for the upcoming “California Fly Fisher” (hard copy only) in which those in the know recommend other spots for fish and enjoy. My last outing, I was surprised to catch three native rainbows in a couple of hours in our local mountains. They were small, cold and beautiful.
- The first Native American to be nominated for the Interior Department would replace former oil lobbyist David Bernhardt, as part of Biden’s climate-forward agenda.
- Plus Jennifer Granholm for Secretary of Energy, Michael Regan for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Brenda Mallory for Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, Gina McCarthy for National Climate Advisor, and Ali Zaidi for Deputy National Climate Advisor would all join Deb Haaland.
- LA River Fly Fishing turned 10!
- I never thought this site would last past a couple of years, but here I am clicking away. The site remains ad-free and has garnered around 235,000 views since I started writing and curating. Thanks for your support over the last decade. We’ll see how the LA River improves in the coming year.
Happy New Year and see you on the river, Jim Burns
Update: The Bishop Chamber of Commerce has announced significant changes for this weekend’s Blake Jones Trout Derby. In light of rapidly evolving concerns regarding Corona Virus/COVID-19, “social distancing” and “mass gatherings,” the Bishop Chamber is taking measures to at reduce risk to derby attendees, staff and volunteers for the event.
“We’ve given careful consideration to the situation including consulting with the Inyo County Public Health Officer,” Tawni Thomson of the Bishop Chamber of Commerce said. Dr. Richardson stated he feels the event is low risk and did not recommend cancellation; however, in order to minimize chances of virus spread, the Chamber Board of Directors has decided to eliminate the traditional awards ceremony “mass gathering” portion of the derby and all prizes will be awarded via raffle.
How will this work?
Everyone who has pre-registered for the derby will automatically be entered into the raffle.
Winners will be chosen on Monday, March 16, then notified by email or phone.
Winners will have the option to pick up the prize at the Chamber or have it shipped.
People that have pre-purchased a t-shirt will have the option to pick up at Chamber or have it shipped.
There will be no fish-weighing and no prize ceremony at the fairgrounds.
Anyone who does not wish to be in the raffle will have registration fee refunded.
“The fish have been stocked, the prizes are all ready to go,” Chamber Event Coordinator April Leeson said. The Bishop Chamber understands the annual derby is a beloved tradition that draws anglers from near and far to enjoy the family-friendly fishing event. They also understand the derby is very important to our local economy. “Although less than ideal, we believe this plan represents a good balance between preserving the fishing tradition and accommodating current health care concerns,” added Leeson.
“We’re calling our new format Plan “C” for Coronavirus,” Thomson said. “We are keeping a good sense of humor about the situation and we hope everyone that chooses to fish near Bishop this weekend has great luck and a great time.”
Opening Day in the Sierra is almost upon us (April 27), and according to writer Darcy Ellis, it heralds at least a decent season. Ellis penned “Epic season taking shape,” but after reading her piece in the Inyo Register Eastern Sierra Fishing Guide, I’m not sure “epic” is exactly the word the average fisherman would use.
“All of the elements have come together in 2013 for a banner fishing season: plenty of water, even more fish and lots of angling-related action for fishermen and their families,” read the article’s lead sentence.
Ample water is based on an interview with a Dept. of Fish and Wildlife environmental scientist, quoted as saying that “… we’re not anticipating low water this year.” Adequate water is one of the key criteria before the DFW will plant fish.
With the Monrovia fire still smoldering as I write this, it may surprise parched Southern Californians to hear this sort of prognostication. It also surprised the California Dept. of Water Resources.
“The snowpack is at 54 percent of normal, so it’s not looking good,” said Jennifer Lida, an information officer for the department.
The last manual survey of the year, in which DWR surveyors actually go into the mountains instead of relying on electronic sensors, is scheduled in about two weeks on Echo Summit, near Lake Tahoe. This measurement traditionally documents the wetness of any given season. Snowpack normally provides about a third of California’s water as it melts into streams, reservoirs and aquifers. The short-term good news is that “most key storage reservoirs are above or near historic levels,” according to the department.
Given this scenario, I’d get my fishing in early. Last year in the Golden Trout Wilderness, one favorite creek had turned into runs of unconnected water by August.
Still it looks like there will be lots of trout in the middle Sierra, the L.A. mecca for fly fishing. According to Ellis’s article, DFW plans to plant just shy of 1 million pounds of trout this season. You can check the planting schedule here.
Finally, there certainly will be family events during the summer. One that’s new is Trout Fest on June 29 at the Hot Creek Hatchery outside Mammoth. The flier promises kids going to the event that they will be able to “catch a fish, feed a fish, taste a fish, touch a fish.”
See you on the river, Jim Burns
By Jim Ruebsamen, Contributor
Yesterday was a great day to fish for trout in So. Cal., but I wasn’t expecting to see this mating dance. In fact, I’ve never seen this behavior before in our local watershed. At first, I thought that maybe a snake had taken a fish, and was rolling over and over to try to get it swallowed. Then, as the action came nearer to me, I was astonished to find the commotion was a pair of amorous native trout. Watching this miracle of nature make me want to redouble my own personal efforts to protect this region, and to restore it to what it once was. Take a look for yourself. (Be sure to hit “full screen” so that you can see the fish all the way through.)
See you on the river, Jim Burns
I was in a mope when I hiked down the canyon trail for some Friday afternoon fishing. No doubt about it, a mope, plain and simple. As I descended, feet feeling enervated, annoyed by the insistent biting flies, I forced a smile at those returning from the water, all bathing suits and youthful laughter, all optimism and camaraderie. Some would say “hi,” others would look up at me shyly, maybe not knowing if they should speak first. But I would have none of it. I felt old and alone. Like I said, a mope, or as Winston Churchill famously called his depressed moods, “the black dog.”
Where was my best fishing buddy? I asked the trees, bitterly (he moved north and we’ve since stopped talking)
Where was my best fishing dog? (died of cancer this summer)
Where was the general fun in life at all, the life I’ve always so enjoyed?
With these dark thoughts swirling like threatening ravens among the trees, I barely heard the footsteps behind me.
“Oh great, some more happy people,” I muttered, not looking around.
And so separated by perhaps two dozen yards, the three of us walked down the rock-strewn trail, me in the lead, the other two out of sight, but thudding along behind.
We were all going to the same place, which irritated me all the more. After all, if you can’t be nice to the ones leaving your refuge, how could you possibly be chatty with those who are invading it?
“Hey, are you fishing down here?”
The teen couldn’t have been more than 16, a big, overgrown kid, like a pup tripping over his own paws.
About to answer, trying to at least be civil, suddenly his friend came along, holding an ocean pole, looming over the trail, about to be hung up on every tree, bush and snagging obstacle. He looked at me, embarrassed, spying all the junk on my vest — the thermometer, the nail nippers, the golden hemostat — and my four-piece fly rod that I’d yet to attach.
“Kinda big for down here,” he mumbled. “We were just looking for something to do.”
My tight lips relaxed. I thought how silly it is to be a middle-aged man, thinking middle-aged thoughts, when life flows each day with such unstoppable exuberance. Still reluctant, I couldn’t help but half-smile.
As we walked on, past an ornery barking dog protecting his master’s property by the side of the creek, I really wondered if I would share the spots I’ve found over these past several months. After all, it’s called “hot spotting” for a reason: your fantastic fishing hole from last month is now dead as a bat because some yahoo has fished it out.
Watching them navigate the path, I suspected these high schoolers would most probably do exactly that. But the sight of that out-of-place pole, and their faces, which it would be a cliché to call “shiny,” spoke otherwise.
And as we walked and chatted, a wonderful thing happened: I came back to myself.
Soon, I’d tied a double surgeon’s knot to secure a length of super-skinny tippet to their tuna-tugging line. And I’d gifted them with a tiny bead-head nymph, the kind I knew the trout here loved to chase.
By afternoon’s end, Tommy, the bigger of the two, was learning how to cast a fly line. From the way he finessed my fly rod, I could easily squint my eyes and see an excellent fisherman down the road. And the smiling Charles caught a trout, only to release it back into the water on his own, no coaching from yours truly.
“It’s great down here,” Charles said, ” but people trash it.”
“Yes, they do,” I replied, as Tommy put some of it in my vest.
I left before them, but walking back up the trail, I thought maybe I should have stayed to guide them up. After all it does split confusingly at places, and Tommy had related the story about how their first outing here ended with getting lost and rangers having to come in after the gates closed.
Gut check … go back? I’d left to get some quiet time for myself, but also to give them time to be together without an adult around.
After puffing up the side of the canyon for 30 minutes, I sat in my car, wondering. After a time, I thought maybe I’d take a quick run back down … hadn’t they said they had to be back by twilight?
Then Charles popped into view, carrying that big tuna pole. Anxiety relieved. We both smiled and waved, and I wondered if Tommy would indeed talk his dad into doing some fly pole shopping before they headed out to Waterman the next day.
This life we have. This precious life we share with others.
See you on the river, Jim Burns