Downey Wilderness Park Lake is one of those odd little places that really epitomize what SoCal urban Flyfishing is all about.
It is a pair of roughly dumbbell shaped, blue-tinted ponds that sit in the middle of a narrow stretch of park nestled between the 605 Freeway, the San Gabriel River and Florence Ave.
In fact the entrance to the park is the same road that dumps you onto the southbound 605 if you are not paying attention.
Despite its name, there ain’t no wilderness about it. It is about as “wild” as the Jungle Boat ride at Disneyland, unless your definition of wild includes overweight, thieving squirrels with cholesterol issues and geese with a distinct preference for churros over stale bread.
Even the portion of the San Gabriel River the runs next to it is nothing more than a giant culvert with a tiny trickle of water running down the middle of its concrete belly for most of the year. Our Kelvin fishing friend from Scotland would seriously hurt himself from laughing if he saw how we define urban river.
Yet, the park is a welcome spot of green in a great location for a quick opportunity to wet a line for a half an hour or so between appointments or on the way home from work. As a bonus, the high-powered aerators in the ponds create pleasant, albeit somewhat industrial looking, fountains of water which help to drown out noise and make talking somewhat difficult and pointless.
All in all, Downey Wilderness Park is one of those places to keep tucked away in the back of the mind when there is not enough time to go anywhere else but the need to cast a few flies is so overwhelming that you are bordering on homicidal. You might call it a “Mayday Lake” as in “Help. My head is going to pop off the end of my neck if I don’t do some fishing soon!”
Anyway, the time issue is what drove Sean and I there last Saturday. We only had about two hours to spare, including drive time, and Downey was the closest body of water to where we needed to be later in the morning.
We parked on the street and walked into the park to avoid the $2.00 parking fee. Now, you might think that we are unusually cheap — which we are, but we also have gotten the system down so that we use the walk time to get our rods assembled and rigged. By the time we walk up to the water’s edge, we’re ready to go. I prefer to think of it as skill building rather than penny-pinching.
Anyway, Sean has this sweet, little rig that he uses when we hit these pocket lakes. He ties on a stimulator with a small nymph trailing about eight inches behind it – a basic, textbook rig. No big deal, right? Well, it has proven deadly on numerous occasions and has become a go-to first strike set-up on these tiny pocket waters.
Within two casts we were pulling in small sunfish, mostly taken on the nymph. If you know anything about panfish, where there is one there are many. So we worked the school for quite a while. I could literally feel my shoulders relax and a smile come back to my face as we hauled in the little guys on almost every cast.
We followed the school around the edge of the pond for a while until the heat of the day drove them down into the deeper water. After that, things slowed down dramatically. We switched over to small Krystal buggers and though we had a couple of half-hearted hits, nothing much happened.
Still, the flyrod had worked its magic and the rest of the day seemed to go just a little bit better. Sometimes it’s not where you go, just that you went.