HOT AIR

By , September 29, 2009 7:38 pm

First Bass of The DayAutumn 2009 officially began in North America on September 22, 2009 at 5:18 pm EDT.

For much of the country, Autumn or Fall traditionally means a transition into cooler temperatures, changes in the foliage and shorter days.

In SoCal, we get the shorter days all right, but for us, the Fall is notorious for being incredibly hot, dry and windy. The seasonal Santa Ana winds blow in and the temps can easily soar into the triple digits while the humidity plummets in the opposite direction to the single digits.

No one really knows why they are called the Santa Ana Winds, though many explanations are put forth as fact. My favorite one is that the name harkens from the Spanish colonial days and is a corruption of the phrase for “Devil Winds”. Besides appealing to the romantic notion of a California long gone, that explanation is certainly an apt description, especially when an unanticipated hurricane-velocity gust drives a size 10 wooly bugger between your shoulder blades– though I have been known to call them something else during those moments.

At any rate, urban fishing in SoCal during the Santa Anas is always an adventure – Sure, fickle breezes befoul every other cast and cause flies to drop into places not aimed for, but in the same way that the hot, irritating winds stir up the darker passions of Angelenos, they also seem to induce a frenzied, maddened bite in local Bass and Panfish populations.

Sean and I both experienced this during the last bout of “Devil Winds”, when we each had opportunities to sneak off for a couple of hours to different local lakes.

I had a scorching good time, taking a dozen five to six-inch bass on a yellow egg imitation rigged as a dropper off of a grasshopper fly – all in about an hour. Sean, likewise, smoked ‘em at the lake he hit, pulling in another dozen Bass and Panfish on a similar rig, though the lake he hit was paradoxically shrouded in coastal fog.

Put Up The Fight of a Fish Twice It's Size!

What made these little ventures exciting was the fury with which these relatively small fish hit our flies. These fish charged and fought and shook their heads just like the big boys. I even had one shake out the hook only to have another one hit it before the ripples of the first fish had died down.

When we compared notes, Sean told of similar ferocity amongst the fish he encountered.

Chalk it up to the season or the winds, either way, we both had a devilishly good time pursuing this addiction called urban fly fishing.

These Bass Were Liking The Fall Weather

“Those hot dry winds that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happern. ”        

 —Raymond Chandler, “Red Wind”

A FOGGY SATURDAY

By , September 27, 2009 10:00 pm

My wife had to put in a little over time at work yesterday early in the morning, and I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to check out a few new Urban Park Lakes down by her work in Santa Ana. We dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:00, then I dropped her off at her office and I was on my way. I ended up scoping out two new parks that we will be adding to our Locations page shortly. I could not believe how much fog there was, I could barely see driving and the sun didn’t end up coming out until about 12:00. The fishing was good, and I ended up catching about 15 Bass. This Bass that I caught was one of the most beat up fish that I have ever seen.

Beat Up Bass

The Panfish were also out, and the Bluegills were decent sized. All in all. it was a great morning of fishing and I can’t wait to get out and explore a few more of the Urban Park Lakes that I have on my list.

Nice Male BluegillCheck out the black spot on the fin

BACK IN DA’ DAY

By , September 20, 2009 6:00 am

Glendale NarrowsIn the world of L.A. urban fishing, the Glendale Narrows portion of the Los Angeles River is frequently and favorably mentioned. And, indeed, today it is a pretty awesome place to get in some local brown-lining.

Forty years ago though, if you said you were going to fish or especially fly fish on the L.A. River, my school chums and I would have probably called you the “Spanglish” equivalent of a hick or an idiot and might even have thrown a few rocks at you if we saw you doing so.

Not that fish weren’t found there — to the contrary, my friends and I spent huge chunks of our summers and many of our weekend hours yanking hand-sized goldfish and catfish out of the various pools and pocket waters using home-made nets and traps we carted down there on our Stingray bicycles.

Likewise, while it is not uncommon today to see a guy wearing a pair of waders while plying the middle reaches of the Narrows, back then it was black canvas and white rubber Chuck Taylors and jeans for everything – hiking, biking, fishing, fighting, football, baseball, basketball, rock-hopping, school, weddings, funerals – everything. You would have definitely caught a portion of grief if you had shown up in rubber pants in those days. Forget about roughing up the Simms Freestones in polluted urban waters, we worried about the “tenderizing” our backsides would get if we couldn’t get our shoes to dry out by the time we got home.

Yeah, things down in the River were a lot different back then.

That’s why it has been such a blast to reconnect with the River through our urban fly ventures. Being able to pass on long forgotten secrets of the river to my fishin’ buddy, Sean (aka the young guy) and re-discover old stomping grounds and stretches of water I used to know the way some guys know the route from couch to kitchen, has been good for the soul.

I’m thrilled at the way the River has matured (recovered is probably a better term). The height and health of the trees, the clarity of the water, the number of bird species and the quantity of catchable fish are all signs of a thriving ecosystem … yet, there is one thought that keeps jumping around in the back of my mind after each visit to the Narrows…

Back in the day, tens of thousands of toads inhabited the River. They were everywhere. They even made annual mass migrations into the surrounding neighborhoods that became the stuff of legend. I can remember one hot summer night when the street literally undulated in the fading light of dusk as an army of toads made their way up from the River – I couldn’t sleep for a week.

Toads where so common that the section of the River tucked between the Golden State Freeway and the old Taylor Rail Yard was, and still is, known locally as “Frogtown”. There is even an art festival known as the Frogtown Art Walk that draws its name from that little piece of SoCal natural history.

Frog Town

It used to be virtually impossible to go down to the River and not see toads. Nowadays, I rarely see them.

Not that I mind all that much.

Truth be told, toads kinda give me the Willys. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a trained biologist. I understand the vital role they play in the balance of things and how they eat insects and such and how they in turn are an important food source for fish and birds. I know that they serve as indicator species – canaries in the global coal mine. I know all that stuff.

It’s just that I have much stronger, visceral memories of unexpectedly stepping on them in the wet grass at twilight and of them jumping out of the dog’s water bowl as I walked by in the dark and of riding my bike into a massive swarm of toadlettes in my haste to get home before my curfew and wiping out as though I had hit a patch of black ice. (If you think parents make a stink over soggy Converses, try ‘splainin’ away “toad kill” all over your good school clothes.)

Some folks speculate that improved water flow and quality have made it less favorable for tadpoles. Others issue dire warnings about climate change and eco-altering toxins. Could be. The water flow is definitely faster than I remember and some of the old familiar rock hops across the River are now partially submerged. There are definitely fewer stagnant pools where tens of thousands of tadpoles used to congregate. Not sure about the toxins theory either. The water sure seems cleaner now. Way more fish live in the River than in times past and I don’t encounter the dreaded Black Ooze nearly as often as I used to. Sure seems to be a lot more birds living down there now too, even some of the supposedly fragile species. I just don’t really know where all the toads went.

I do know that me and the River have this forty year plus history goin’ on and toads or no toads, it’s been a wild ride.

I love this addiction, called urban fly fishin’.

No Frogs, Just Flowers

FIRST CATCH

By , September 17, 2009 6:00 am

The First Catch

We hadn’t planned on going fishing. There were a few too many things that needed doing and too few hours to do them but then my God-daughter walked into the house with her pink Barbie pole sticking out of a pink tote bag.

She set the bag at my feet and confidently told her mom and dad, “Uncle Dan can fix it.”

I glanced in the bag and saw that the all-in-one pole/reel combo was in several pieces. Closer inspection though, showed that nothing was broken, only disassembled.

“Lily did it!”

“Doesn’t matter…I’ve seen worse… Give me a few minutes.”

Sure enough, within a few minutes I was casting the rubber, fish-shaped plug that came with the pole across the living room at the cat, much to my God-daughter’s delight and my wife’s consternation.

Suddenly certain things seemed far less important than trying out the refurbished pole.

So, while Abby and her Dad piled into the back seat of the Toyota, Sean (who along with his wife had joined us all for lunch) and I loaded up our gear and weighed our options as to where we ought to go. We decided that Laguna Lake Park would be the likeliest place to hook a few Bluegill and maybe some Green Sunfish with the Barbie pole while offering the possibility of tying onto something a little more challenging with our fly rods.

Thirty minutes later I was tying up a size 18 ant imitation about ten inches below a bubble float on the Barbie pole and giving a quick casting refresher before turning little fisher-girl loose. Sean and I stationed her at a spot on the shore between us while fishing license-less Dad took up a coaching position on a nearby bench.  In retrospect, it must have looked like a seven–year old princess was on an outing with her bodyguards.

Now, during the car ride over to the lake, Sean and I had felt pretty confident that we could arrange it so that she would catch a fish. But once we were there…doubt reared its ugly head as several casts later Abby was still fish-less and her enthusiasm flagging.

Fortunately about that time, Sean hooked up on a Bluegill, sending a certain someone into squeals of delight.  Of course, Abby thought it was hilarious that a grown man would break out in squeals of delight over a four-inch long fish so she too began to laugh and her enthusiasm returned.

Taking advantage of the change in mood, I decided to up the odds by switching her rig to a size 22 black midge suspended about five inches below the float and have her fish it about two feet from the shoreline.

That was the magic formula. Within two minutes we watched the bobber dip and the line go taunt.

Now, there is probably a certain amount of confidence that is gained by being seven years old and having three burly guys who would lay down their lives for you standing there yelling encouragement as you bring in your first fish but whatever the case, my god-daughter responded to the tug on the line and landed her first Bluegill single-handedly.

The reality of the moment was that in her surprise she raised her arms in the air and fairly yanked the fish out of the water. Still, she did it all on her own and the moment was not going to pass without great fanfare and admiration.

Remember, we want the girl to LIKE fishing.

The other folks on the lake were surely amused as the three of us high-fived each other, high-fived Abby, whipped out our cell phones and snapped historic photos that were making there way back home to Mom before that poor little bluegill even knew what hit him.

Of course, it is one thing to land a fish but it is entirely another thing getting it off the hook. My God-daughter is competitive and adventurous but she is still all little girl, so despite our combined coaching, she simply would not touch the squirming ‘gill on the end of the line. That is a job strictly relegated to Poppa and /or Uncle Dan.

Eventually the hapless fish earned its freedom and the little midge imitation went back into the water.

Two more fish fell to the Barbie pole get up.

All was going smoothly until a blood-curdling scream pierced the late afternoon air. My God-daughter had got her first fish that day, now she was experiencing her first hook in the finger.

Sean immediately went into 911 mode and (I’m quite certain) ran on water in an effort to reach Abby while her Dad charged in from the other direction. I happened to be standing next to her and grabbed the line to take tension off the hook, which then simply fell away from her finger (remember it was a size 22 midge).

Though the wound was minor and bloodless, an appropriate amount of attention was made over it before we tried to resume fishing.  Abby declared loudly and forcefully that she wanted nothing more to do with fishing and tried to give the pole to her Dad who, in a moment of great Fatherly wisdom said, “Hey, get back on the horse.” — which is one of the reasons I love the guy so much.

Now She's A Pro

So after a few moments of stares and looks and body language that only a father and daughter can understand, (and during which Sean and I quietly moved away,) the little fisher-girl was back in the saddle, so to speak.

Two Bluegill later, the “Great Hooking Incident” was all but forgotten and order was restored in the universe.

By the time we were ready to leave the park, Abby could claim five fish to her tally. The conversation focused on the catching and naming of the fish we had caught and who had caught the most and the biggest but nary a mention was made about getting snagged – priorities are in fact learned young. Likewise, the car ride home, as in our previous adventure, was a non-stop chatter-fest about the great adventure of the day – and indeed it had been.

TORTILLA FLATS

By , September 11, 2009 7:00 am

Urban Exploring A week ago the L.A. basin sat under a thick, brown layer of smoke and ash due to the massive and deadly Station and Morris fires burning wildly out of control just to the north of Los Angeles and, in fact threatening some of the foothill communities. Maps posted on the website, inciweb.org, (one of the best sites for quick, factual fire info. for the western U.S.) showed ugly, ragged fire lines encompassing some of the most rugged and heavily vegetated terrain in SoCal. At the time of this posting, those same maps show that the fires have eaten through an area larger than the city of Chicago…and they are still burning.

A week ago I stood on the lawn of the Griffith Park Observatory along with my buddy, Sean, and we watched through telescopes as the fire exploded entire trees in its ravenous march down the hillsides of not so distant canyons.

But that was last week.

Yesterday, Sean and I stood on the banks of the L.A. River, just a couple of miles from the observatory, beneath a startling clear blue sky with a fresh cooling breeze in our faces.

And while all of California is in a severe drought, down in the River the water flowed fast and strong and clear.

We had made the drive back up from the O.C. to “La Reever” because in my quest to learn more about the fires I thought I might have stumbled upon a new fishing spot via Google aerial maps.

Sure enough, tucked away in a highly industrialized neighborhood of sheet metal fabricators, welding shops and dubious import companies and nestled between freeway bridges, railroad trestles and high tension power line towers there is a little slice of paradise – at least by L.A. urban standards. And the best part of it was that no one was there. Not a soul.

There we were, in the middle of roughly 11 million people and we actually had a sizeable stretch of moving water all to ourselves.

We backed Sean’s tan Toyota about a quarter-mile down a service road (every successful guy from the “barrio” learns to drive with equal facility backwards and forwards – it’s a useful skill for avoiding stray bullets) where it blended in nicely with the decomposed granite roadway and the tall bushes trying to hold on ‘til the winter rains.

We geared up and walked another couple of hundred yards to a breach in the chainlink and barbed wire and began our decent down the steep concrete banks. I did a quick scan of the local graffiti to see if I could detect any active “dissing” going on which would raise the keep-looking-over-your-shoulder factor, but found none. In fact, we did not even find any piles of empty beer bottles or food wrappers or any signs that anybody had been down there in the recent past.

As we moved down the embankment, I started to get excited because I could see dozens of fat, torpedo shapes resting in a large pool at the bottom end of some riffles. Sean had forgotten his polarized glasses and could not see the fish so he just looked at me and nodded politely – the way one nods at the finger-pointing, rambling conspiracy theorist stationed on the steps outside the main Post Office.

I began muttering about needing light colored sinking flies and desperately tried to remember if I had any white Wooly Buggers left in my fly box. Sean was already rigging up a Wooly Bugger with a salmon egg imitation as a dropper rig and, again, just nodded politely in my direction.

We positioned ourselves at opposite ends of the pool and began working toward the middle. I cast carefully in front of the shadowy shapes beneath the surface. There was very little conversation, no drama, no people and it just felt great being out on the water, casting with my favorite rod and enjoying the peace and quiet murmuring of the River. Anyone, I repeat, anyone who tells you that Carp are not worth the water they swim in has not fished for them in earnest.

The next several hours were spent casting and crawling and kneeling amongst the bushes and pleading and grumbling along the banks of this section of water in an effort to entice these fish to strike. Time and time again I watched two-foot long Carp follow my flies only to turn away abruptly and inexplicably.

When I finally did get a strike, the fish immediately dove into the rocks and broke me off before I could turn its head around. Based on the unhappy groans coming from over Sean’s way, I surmised that he was having similar woes.

After thoroughly working about a quarter-mile of the River we decided to head over to Atwater Village and fish below the Hyperion Bridge – a well-known and commonly fished location. We were disappointed that we hadn’t landed any fish but we were thrilled with the number and wariness of the fish we had stumbled upon in this new location.

As we crested the hill on the path leading to the Hyperion Bridge section of the River, our first image was that of a lone fisherman sitting in the middle of the flats in a folding lawn chair. He was using two rods and even from a couple of hundred yards away, we could tell that he probably had them both rigged with 40-pound test or more. By the time we got to the bottom of the embankment, he was busy landing a foot-long fish.

Tortilla Man

There was a backpack on the shore and after Lawn-chair-guy had let his catch go he waded over to the backpack, sizing us up as we drew near to it. He took a cigarette from out of the front pocket and lit up as Sean asked him how he was doing. He smiled and said it had been a very good day. Sean asked him what he was using for bait and the guy replied, “tortilla”.

We looked at each other, wished him well and then somewhat frantically started digging around in our respective fly boxes as we walked toward a favored pool. Despite a plethora of flies for practically every location we fish, neither of us had any approximation of a tortilla. After some hard thinking, I considered snipping off a corner of my boxer shorts and using some tippet to tie it onto a #10 hook but then, aside from the obvious logistical problem of dropping ‘trow in the middle of the River, I remembered that it was Sunday and I had on the plaid ones anyway.

So, we fished until near dark but did not have the success of our lawn chair friend. The ride home was a mixture of contentment over our new-found location and amazement that we had been out-fished by tortillas. I could tell, though, from the animated way Sean was speaking that a fire had been started in him and we would probably be using a very interesting pattern the next time we hit the flats at Glendale Narrows.

New LA River Spot

WILL TROUT BECOME THE NEXT LAB RAT?

By , September 10, 2009 1:34 pm

Due to financial and logistical constraints, researchers usually use only a few hundred rats to test a particular carcinogen. They typically determine which dose causes about 10% of rats to develop cancer. Then they extrapolate down several orders of magnitude to estimate what dose would cause acceptable above-background cancer rates in people, leaving much room for error.

Since the cost of caring for trout is about 5% of the cost of caring for rats, researchers can use many more trout to test carcinogens. For example, George Bailey of Oregon State University (Corvalis) and his team tested the carcinogen Dibenzol [a, l] pyrene (DBP) at ultra-low doses of 0-225 ppm in 40,800 rainbow trout for 4 weeks and then fed them a normal diet for 9 months (Chem. Res. Toxicol. published online 18 May 2009; doi: 10.1021/tx9000754). They found that a DBP dose of 0.45 ppm caused an additional 0.02% of trout to develop liver cancer.

Bailey’s team then estimated the dose of DBP that would cause an additional one liver tumor in 1,000,000 people and found it was 500-1,500 times higher than that predicted from higher-dose DBP experiments in rats. This means that some carcinogens could be safe at levels far higher than currently thought. Additionally, researchers might need to re-evaluate how to best assess carcinogen toxicity. Exactly where trout fit into the picture remains to be seen. 

Taken from LabAnimal Magazine, Vol.38 No.8 / August 2009

SAYING ADIEU

By , September 4, 2009 6:00 am

Much has been written about Benson, The Famed British Carp that was reportedly about 35 years old at the time of its passing.

 Benson The Famed Brittish Carp

Sadly, I now understand the sense of loss over this national treasure.

This morning upon awakening, I did my usual routine of stumbling out of bed, heading straight to the coffee maker and then over to the 40 gallon tank where our veil-tailed goldfish (dubbed “Goldie” in a rather uncharacteristically mundane naming ceremony by my wife) resided, only to find her floating on her side, doing a slow motion pirouette in the current from the filters.

Dumbfounded and not fully awake, I stared at her for a full minute before the caffeine kicked in and I came to the realization that her gills were indeed still and she was indeed…gone.

I was baffled since only six hours prior she had swam along the front glass of the aquarium while I carried on a late night bill paying session at the dining room table.

In any event, I stood there for quite a while watching my long time pet drift aimlessly over the tops of the aquatic plants.

Now, I know goldfish and death are a frequent pairing in the scheme of things and I consider myself not overly sentimental, but “Goldie” had given a solid decade to soothing the jangled nerves and settling the twisting stomach by doing nothing more than gliding silently, serenely and slowly along the length of her tank while all sorts of drama unfolded around her.

She was a subtle reminder that a good home, a good meal and a nice long swim go a long way toward putting things in perspective.

Rest in peace, Goldie, rest in peace.

Switch to our mobile site