Tag: West Fork San Gabriel River

End to a tough year

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.

The moon shines brightly before dawn on the banks of Oregon’s Owyhee River, named for the old spelling of Hawaii. (Jim Burns)

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.”

Sign from the West Fork in better days. (Jim Burns)

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.

Hanging with Seattle Pat on a cold night in the Western Sierra (Credit Jack Train)
TUSC’s Luis Rincon gets snowbound after the group woke up to an unexpected snowfall. (Credit Michelle)

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

West Fork San Gabriel update: Closure extends to April 1, 2022

Better times on the West Fork, before the Bobcat Fire virtually destroyed this beautiful fishery. (Jim Burns)

Letter to the Editor from California Fly Fisher: I much appreciated Jim Burns’s story on the West Fork of the San Gabriel, which did a good job of capturing the character of a place that I have been visiting for decades. (“The West Fork of the San Gabriel,” September/October 2020.) Unfortunately, shortly after the issue came out, much of that river’s watershed was reduced to charcoal and ash by the Bobcat Fire.

By the way, readers of Cal Fly Fisher might like to know that the Oct. 13 issue of the Los Angeles Times has a great article on the ecological devastation wrought by the fire, and it noted that the river also faces additional harm from mud flows when the rains of winter arrive. That’s a helluva one-two punch against this little fishery. Only time will tell whether it has been KOed for keeps — Fred Martinez, Los Angeles.

A typical hand-size rainbow from a trip I made in May to the West Fork. (Jim Burns)

Dear Fred,

Thanks for the props. I loved the West Fork, as I can tell you did. I thought you would appreciate this update from John Clearwater, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Forest Service:

In the course of four major fires we lost 23-percent, or nearly a quarter, of the Angeles this year.  To include some of our most beautiful areas.  It’s been a tough, heartbreaking year. 

Regarding the closure of the West Fork, the Bobcat Fire closure area extends to April 1, 2022. I don’t anticipate that the West Fork will reopen much sooner than that.

I was in there a few weeks ago with LA Times reporter, Louis Sahagun.  The area is near the origin site for the Bobcat Fire, and one of the areas that was most impacted by the Fire. 

Unfortunately, much of it now looking like an ashen lunar landscape.  It was clearly once a mountain paradise.  Now it’s heartbreaking to see.  This winter I suspect the road may disappear in a number of places due to the lack of vegetation and likelihood of runoff coming down the mountainsides.  During my time in there recently we encountered a number of rock slides breaking loose, rolling off the cliff tops and impacting onto the roadway, with rocks varying in size from that of a baseball to a soccer ball.  Any of which would have been fatal if it had struck someone on the head. 

Regardless, there is much work that will be required in the West Fork for public safety, forest recovery and habitat protection.

As for plans for the trout in the West Fork, I’ve spoken with the District Ranger team and they said the California Department of Fish & Wildlife is planning to soon relocate a number of trout from the West Fork to other areas of the San Gabriel river.  They could not provide a lot of details. 

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Angeles National Forest remains closed through Oct. 8

Due to extreme fire conditions, the Angeles National Forest, along with six other forests in California, will remain closed through Thursday, Oct. 8. This is because of a combination of extreme heat, dry conditions, significant wind events and firefighting resources that are stretched to the limit, the U.S. Forest Service said. The Bobcat Fire has burned for 26 days and is about 63 percent contained after tearing through almost 155,000 acres. Nine hundred ninety two personnel continue to fight the conflagration. (Courtesy @mrcalparks)

West Fork S.O.S.: Comment period extended to Nov. 1, 2016

On a whim, I visited the West Fork very recently. The sun was hot in the mid-morning sky; a group of local teens pulled up alongside the parked mighty Prius and one asked me if I ‘biked much?” I said no, which is true, because I almost never take that rickety garage-sale contraption out of my garage, unless it’s to come here.

The rust on the chain tells the tale and could have answered the lad’s question before I ever did.

In the few hours I spent in the catch/release section, above the second bridge, two marvelous items happened: I spotted a pair of young foxes, and I caught a small trout on a size 16 hi-viz Parachute Adams after about 10 minutes casting to a shadowy hole.

Upon my return, I told my incredulous son I’d hooked up. I beamed, even as he questioned, “But, isn’t that pretty bad? Didn’t we used to hook up at least a dozen times up there.”

Yes, Will, yes, we did.

And that’s why I hope everyone who reads this will click this link and let the powers that be at the Angeles National Forest know your thoughts, for ANF is seeking public comments on a “Need to Change” analysis for the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. Trout Unlimited has launched a campaign to get fishers to comment before the comment period ends July 27.

Why is there a “need to change” recreational policies on the West Fork?  As the advocacy website Friends of the River explains the 44 miles of stream within the national monument are designated a “wild & scenic river.”

“The West, North and East Forks .. drain the largest watershed in the mountain range and provide thirsty downstream residents with clean drinking water. The West Fork National Scenic Bikeway Trail provides easy access to one of the few catch and release trout streams (bold added) in the region, while the upper West Fork is traversed by the Gabrieleno National Recreation Trail. The East Fork provides trail access to the Sheep Mountain Wilderness.”

As it stands, when you come upon the survey box at the beginning of the West Fork’s c/r area, it makes even the most obstinately optimistic fishers scratch their heads. I mean what kind of comment does a thinking person leave?

“Dear Ranger,

Fishing has plummeted on this wild & scenic river to levels probably never seen before. Help.

Sincerely,

A very concerned citizen and angler”

I’m not sure if the well-intentioned West Fork San Gabriel River Conservancy is still functioning, but much of its website dates to early 2014.

Anyway, to bone up on the problems this area faces from our 4 million brethren, there’s a load of information and reporting on the Internet, which means at least some of it is actually true.

The best way to refresh your political ire is to visit, yourself, put your $5-a-day Adventure Pass on your dashboard, bring your $47.01 valid fishing license, a few flies and a 2 weight. Grease up the chain on your aging bike, ride past the swimmers to the second bridge, and angle. This area is our area, and it is in desperate need of attention. At least, that’s what I’m writing to ANF.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Spring signals tentative rebirth of So. Cal’s beloved West Fork

By Steve Kuchenski
Guest Contributor

YES! Trout are back, albeit in smaller numbers, on the West Fork. (Steve Kuchenski)
YES! Trout are back, albeit in smaller numbers, on the West Fork. (Steve Kuchenski)

So, I decided to ride my bike up near the base of Cogswell Dam yesterday, just to scout out conditions. As you can see from this YouTube link, the West Fork is as challenging as it is beautiful!

The late morning started out with hazy sun, and by the time I started fishing at 10:30, it was cloudy and cool. I didn’t see any major hatch, though at some places there were plenty of black gnats that were fascinated with my sunglasses. The water upstream seemed slightly cloudy, and the riverbed is still dark (and slippery!)from last fall’s leaf liter, so it is nearly impossible to see the dark shadows of fish amid all the protective structure.

At one pool, I saw no signs of feeding or other activity. I tried various drys and midges without any response,

BUGGY spring comes to the West Fork. (Steve Kuchenski)
BUGGY spring comes to the West Fork. (Steve Kuchenski)

but I’ve been told that when nothing else seems to be happening, try a woolly bugger. This approach was immediately rewarded with four-five flashes, each probably between 5-to-8 inches long. I don’t have any significant experience stripping WBs, so it took me awhile to get the hang of it, but eventually this 6-inch rainbow totally gulped the WB.

I stopped at several other pools, riffles and plunges along the way. I saw one fish flip out of the water, but never landed

WITH proper care, this little guy will grow up to make us all proud. (Steve Kuchenski)
WITH proper care, this little guy will grow up to make us all proud. (Steve Kuchenski)

anything after that, despite drifting multiple flies and midges. There were stoneflies, ants and other terrestrials out in force, but the fish remained hunkered down, and I don’t know if it was due to the low pressure of the impending storm, or the lack of a hatch, or just my own technique.

You have to bring your best game to the West Fork. I think it’s good that we’ll each spend a concentrated effort on individual segments of the river: It will give us a chance to see what works best for any given riffle or pool.

And, in any case, it will be a beautiful day.

Dark thoughts gather about the San Gabriel’s West Fork

WEST FORK: Even as new signage and a bridge go up, the fly fishing has gone way down.. (Jim Burns)
WEST FORK: Even as new signage and a bridge go up, the fly fishing has gone way down.. (Jim Burns)

UPDATE: This post is more than four years old, but continues to get traffic, so I wanted to give readers the lowdown, as of mid-July, 2017.  California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife recruited members of the Pasadena Casting Club and other groups to fish, snorkel and help access the health of the stream. The result: encouraging. Ten anglers caught 60 fish in five hours, all rainbows, ranging from under six to more than 13 inches. Two years ago, a similar study found only 20 fish. Our beloved West Fork is going in the right direction once again.

There’s no doubt that fly fishing is very much akin to love — true love, of course — and that possibly as writer Thomas Wolfe once lamented, “you can’t go home again.” Maybe all of that’s overstating the case, but a recent return trip to the West Fork left me wringing my hands.

Here’s how my day went, after some two years of staying away.

— Had Wednesday off … a near perfect weekday to go fishing

— Weather was perfect, in the 80s

— Found a spot in the lower parking area. That never happens

— Stoked

— Enjoy new signage for Cogswell Dam on locked gate

— Decide to hitch when a Prius driver opened the locked gate. She initially stopped, got spooked and waved as she accelerated past me

— Spot new, unfinished bridge to upper parking lot. Frown. Good roads make bad fishing

— Resumed enjoying day, trying to spot fish in the put-and-take area. Can’t see any trout

— Met a friendly dog named Crazy, or some such. He followed me up the canyon, much to owner’s chagrin

— Patient owner walked all the way back to get Crazy. Crazy followed me again. Owner carried Crazy off toward car

— Truck passed me on the road. Wonder how many people have a key to that damned gate?

And so some dark clouds began trying to intrude on my happy day off. At the first bridge, I saw two small trout, doing their round-and-round dance in the water, which I mistakenly called a mating ritual in these pages. Ready to thread up my ancient Orvis No. 2, 6-foot rod, I realized I’d torn the loop off the fly line on my last adventure. Darn. Time for a barrel knot between the 7x, 12 foot tippet (length not smart for this water …), and how do you tie a barrel knot again? Oh yeah, that’s how you do it.

— Fish gone

— Spied the trail up Bear Creek. Took it

— Caught one fingerling trout

— Wonder at the beauty of this (for me) discovery. Splendid to be alive

— Where were the fish? Waterbugs fooled me, as they looked like rises from a distance

— Made acquaintance of nice duck couple. They also wondered where the fish were

After what seemed like forever, even in this California canyon paradise, finally I spotted tiny fish rising. I rested on a boulder by the water and thought “tiny fish beat no fish,” so I threaded a tiny dry something, but to no avail. Then, a miniscule wired midge under a small yellow sallie nymph. Nada. Yes, there were plenty of tug, tug, tugs, but that was it.

— Exasperated, took closer look at fish. Whoa. These weren’t trout, but arroyo chub (I think)

Arroyo Chub are little guys that love to patrol their lanes. (Courtesy Sierra Club)
Arroyo Chub are little guys that love to patrol their lanes. (Courtesy Sierra Club)

— Had a grand time, out of myself, like being a kid, forgot the world, gloomy thoughts. Note to self: Must take wife picnicking here

— Headed back to road. Got decent pull at the Bear Creek pool that is fished by everyone and his mom, aunt, uncle, frenemy and others

Then, I saw three trucks parked right there, right by the side of the road, on the two sides of the road, actually

— Fly fisher having no luck at all by bridge

— Walking, hope to meet Crazy again

— Older gentleman in Long Beach Fly Fishing Club shirt, driving truck, asked me, “If I took ’em all out?” I say “no”

— Fight off gloomy thoughts like why do any of us think we can fish in the first place

— Start car with half-smile on my face. Was expecting full smile

And there you have it. This area needs help, folks. It is so achingly beautiful, yet at the same time so neglected by the thoughtless weekend crowds, the swimming, the fishing pressure, the easy access, the environmental lawsuits, the lack of any official presence … what else? I know for certain, I’ll not follow Wolfe’s advice. I’ll brave the traffic and maybe even Crazy to fish the catch-and-release section upriver one more time.

But, unfortunately, I’m not hopeful.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Which is your fav, the West or East Fork of the San Gabriel River?

Got Fish? You want to have caught plenty before filling out the survey. (Jim Burns)

Spurred on by an article in the current California Fly Fisher magazine, I spent most of Friday hiking and fishing on the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. Richard Alden Bean’s enticing article made me do it.

“The East Fork is a truly wild river in its upper sections and has recently been added to both the Wild Trout Program and the Heritage Trout Program of the California Department of Fish and Game,” he wrote.

This was good news, if for no other reason than I’ve got a golden trout and squat else toward my plaque. As the DFG website says, “By catching six different forms of California native trout from their historic drainages and photographing these fish you can receive a colorful, personalized certificate featuring the art of renowned fish illustrator Joseph Tomelleri.”  Your specific prey, according to Bean, is the coastal rainbow trout.

But …

First off, I loathe Friday, Saturday and Sunday fishing in the San Gabes, because what you end up with is people, people and more people. You’ve got your hikers, your waders, your drinkers; you’ve got your families with young children and water-wading dogs trying to help a fisherman by pointing at the one fish in the pool before pawing at the splash. I mean I’m very happy all sorts of different folks use the water on the weekends … just not so happy to be confined to using it with them, due to that little thing called making money (Remember the adage, “You’ve either got time, or money.”).

Long story short, I got Friday-skunked on the East Fork, and it’s never a fun feeling. As I tramped out near dusk, I vowed to come back soonest, but I wonder if readers of this blog wouldn’t share some inspiration in the meantime.

Which is your favorite fork?

Don't you just hate getting skunked? (Jim Burns)

Do you prefer the West with its accessible bike path and easy downhill ride back to the parking lot? Its fishable access ramps?

Or, do you like the East Fork, known for its pack-station appeal, and winding path to the fabled “Bridge to Nowhere”?

See you on the river, Jim Burns