In case you haven’t heard, SoCal has been under “storm watch” for the last couple of weeks, which means… it has been raining and the fishing has been lousy.
I know that sounds trite to those of you reading this after shoveling three feet of heavy off the driveway and it’s easy to think we are just a bunch of pansies getting worked up over a little bit of water, but the reality of the situation is that despite what the old song says or what the common perception of SoCal weather is… it rains here and it rains hard – just not often. The standing state record for maximum rainfall in a 24-hr. period (occurred in 1943 just a few miles from downtown L.A.) topped out at 26.12 inches – yeah, over an inch and hour for 24 hours straight. That’s a lot of water for anywhere.
Now I’ll grant that comparably speaking, SoCal winter temps ARE milder than most other areas of the country – rarely has anyone had their nipples freeze solid just from removing their shirt at a local football game, like say, in Green Bay. And the fact is that the lowest recorded temperature for downtown Los Angeles, 28 degrees, has only occurred three times since recording began in the 1870’s, but unless you’ve lived here, it would be wise not to underestimate what our cold, wet, winter storms can do.
Every couple of years, and this appears to be one of them, we experience a series of truly wicked storms that hammer the region in a short, intense period of time and generally jack things up in a pretty royal fashion.
Forget about trying to fish the L.A. River. They’ve got helicopters plucking stranded transients and wayward German Shepherds from mid-stream bridge abutments while uprooted trees and battered shopping carts go tumbling past at some 35 miles per hour – all stuff that can seriously hamper the back cast or foul the drift.
Nor is it a good idea to surf fish right now. The coastal waters are a surging, pounding, fetid brew of bacteria, toxins and pollutants sprinkled with many tons of urban debris that inundate and impale the beach, and anyone fool enough to be standing there, with each set of breakers.
Likewise, most of the local urban lakes resemble bogs more than lakes due to the floating mats of leaves and half-submerged tree limbs washed into them from the surrounding park spaces. Better to tie on a piece of yarn and practice casting in the now clean grass then to risk nicking the new fly line on all of the debris in the water.
Yet, as they say, this too shall pass. In fact, in the big scheme of things, SoCal is doin’ all right. Sure, the rains are here and it is inconvenient from the urban angling perspective but there’s really nothing to complain about…except, maybe my friend, Ray.
You see, the other night when we finally got a break in the weather, Ray and his wife began texting me while I was attending a very important function. It seems that they had snuck off to Anaheim Lakes to take advantage of some heavy stocking there last week.
The messages went something like this:
“just got #7”
“oop, make that #8 & #9”
“Hot chocolate & fire…opp, bobber movin’ again”
It turns out that the privately operated lakes at Anaheim Lakes had come through the storms quite nicely and have (make that had – unless those text messages were bogus) some sizeable stocked Rainbow Trout that are hitting top and bottom.
So, as they say, every cloud has a silver lining and it looks like Anaheim Lakes might be the silver lining for the SoCal urban angler during this stormy season.
As for me, I’m hoping that the silver lining to all my goading and chiding of Ray and his wife is that we get to taste some of that trout.
It seems that I have come across a hidden talent for deciding to go fishing on days when I shouldn’t. This Saturday was the third or fourth time now in the last 6 months that I have decided to go fishing on a day when an organization is holding a function at that very same spot. It was apperantly a California wide beach clean up day that if you signed up for you got free tickets for a day to Disneyland (according to a 4 or 5 year old little girl with a gleam in her eye while picking up all kinds of trash along the beach).
I arrived at one of my spots near Seal Beach to wet a line in the salt and try my hand in the surf and along the jetty. I decided to go so that I could get some time in before this huge storm came our way, and for about 30 minutes it was nice and calm.
Then the people came in droves, within about one hour there were about 150 people walking along the beach eagerly grabbing anything that they could find (most of which actually was not trash it was seaweed among other things). Now don’t get me wrong I think that it’s great to have people out cleaning the beaches instead of destroying them, as I normally see people doing. Though it does seem a little strange to do something for the good of our environment, just because you are getting Disneyland tickets for the effort (but that is besides the point).
Unfortunately with all the people I didn’t feel comfortable casting, especially when a group of little ones gather directly behind you saying “mommy what is that man doing”. So now I can chalk down a Beach Cleanup, a Meditation Class, Boat Races, The LA River Clean Up, among other things as events that have competed my day of fishing. Man do I know how to pick them!!!
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 Riveris 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 troutand 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.