If you watched even a brief portion of the 2010 Rose Parade or Rose Bowl Football game (the outcome of which delighted my OSU alumni bride), you probably saw those striking wide angle shots of the San Gabriel Mountains sitting majestically behind Pasadena.
Without going into a full-blown SoCal geography lesson, suffice it to say that those picturesque mountains are both a blessing and a curse to the L.A. basin.
The curse comes from the fact that the San Gabriels (and their sister range, the San Bernardinos) act as a barrier to regional air flow patterns and thus trap airborne particulates and such during certain times of the year, contributing to the smog problem for which L.A. is infamous.
The blessing comes from the fact that the San Gabriels act as a barrier to regional air flow patterns and cause the moisture-laden winter winds blowing off the Pacific Ocean to dump their precious liquid cargo in the form of rain as the push over the range. This is why the mountains are lush and green on one side and dusty and dry on the other – classic textbook rain shadow meteorology.
The upshot of all this for the urban angler is: the San Gabriel River. All that water has to go somewhere and somewhere just happens to be down the canyons and gullies of the mountains and through the heart of the greater L.A. basin. The San Gabriel River is a magnificent and complex system of tributaries that drain an area of roughly 640 square miles and flow some 60-odd miles before emptying into the Pacific.
Along the way she morphs from a network of scenic mountain streams to a drab, urbanized concrete lined channel. She passes through a dozen or more cities and varies from a trickle to a raging torrent, again, depending upon the time of year.
The raging torrent thing is one of the reasons the Army Corps of Engineers was charged with building the concrete channel through the more heavily populated portions of the river’s path. Study the historical records of SoCal and you will read of massive and terrible episodes of flooding. The Corps of Engineers built a way to move as much water away from homes and businesses and to the ocean as fast as possible.
They did their job and they did it well. Along the way though, some would argue that they tamed the life out of a huge stretch of the river – collateral damage in the struggle to keep SoCal safe from the ravages of wild water.
Most folks, in fact, tens of thousands of folks, drive by the arrow-straight, graffiti-covered, urban portion of the channel every day and assume that L.A. has no natural rivers.
Drive a few miles up in to the mountains however, and the more rugged side of the river starts to reveal herself, though she is likely to be badly scarred and abused from the uncouth hordes who assume that paved roads equate to maid service and who have no qualms about throwing dirty diapers, left over fast food wrappers and beer bottles in to the river — collateral damage to the wild waters from the ravages of SoCalifornians.
Hike a few more miles back into the hills though and you will discover lots of fishable waters populated with a mixed population of rainbow trout and brown trout but without the dangers of broken glass and used hypodermic needles – uncouth hordes tend to flock to “nature”, just not too far into nature, especially if it means no asphalt.
Up in those higher stretches of water, collateral damage comes directly from nature itself. Those same seasonal downpours so dreaded in the lower elevations, tear up banks, push down trees and roll boulders along that portion of the river too, it’s just that nobody loses a back yard or has their warehouse inventory washed away.
Up there, the cycle of apparent destruction brings with it certain collateral benefits. The surging waters push all of the debris and detritus downstream thus cleansing the river. They also push fish that have been sequestered far back in the quiet pools of the upper tributaries downstream to replenish the more accessible reaches and thus (hopefully) to the flies attached to the end of our lines.
So next year, while the world has its attention turned toward the flowers and footballs of Pasadena, you now know that their will be some urban anglers up in those picture perfect San Gabriel mountains pulling out ‘bows and browns to get the year started off right.
I love this addiction called urban fly fishin’.
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