So, my wife and I were barreling down the westbound 91 freeway today in our 27-foot long mobile animal hospital, gulping down foil wrapped food-like substances as we used our theoretical lunch hour to make up time between appointments when I saw the zig-zag dance of flashing blue and red lights about ¾ of a mile ahead of us.
In SoCal that usually means that the Highway Patrol is running a traffic break.
In case you are unfamiliar with such things, a traffic break is a technique that allows the CHP to create a temporary safe space in the endless flow of traffic so that the dauntless CalTrans workers can retrieve some object or cover some substance that presents a hazard to the motoring public.
The CHP car roars onto the freeway and then with full lights and sirens, begins to sashay back and forth across all eight lanes of traffic, daring anyone to pass them. Eventually everyone falls into place and then it is simply a matter of waiting to see if we will all come to a complete stop or just creep along at five miles per hour until whatever needs to be removed is removed.
Typically, the offending object is a wayward extension ladder from a work truck, or a mattress that someone was certain would stay on the roof of their car with a tie-down made from a pair of granny-knotted boot laces and a hank of the protective plastic overwrap held firmly in the driver’s left hand. Occasionally, the objects are much more unusual and offer some relief – in a perverse sort of way — to the frustration of coming to a complete stand still on a major highway. I have personally seen a 26-foot Boston Whaler complete with dual outboards, a stack of wooden pallets, numerous orange Big Wheel tricycles, the blade for a bulldozer and a kitchen table sitting where they ought not be.
Whatever the object, it is usually retrieved, pushed, pulled, scooped, scraped or sanded down in mere moments and then traffic roars back to life the way stock cars do when the yellow flag gets lifted at a Nascar event.
In any event, as soon as I saw the flashing lights today, I knew we were gonna be late.
Not that I minded so much. The precious seconds at a standstill gave me enough time to finish my meal without accidentally ingesting bits of foil and to glance over to the right side of the road to study and daydream about the section of the Santa Ana River that runs parallel to the highway at that point.
You see, there is about a three-mile section of river there that has the potential to be a fly casters dream. Were it anywhere else, there would be a mom & pop fly shop somewhere on the bank with guys in waders lunching on the front porch, savoring coffee and homemade apple pie and swapping stories of the one that broke off just before it got to net. Were it anywhere else, local clubs would be diligently and lovingly tending the banks and removing invasives. Were it anywhere else, magazines would have ads recommending guide services to it. Were it anywhere else, I wouldn’t have been sitting in traffic, staring at it and wishing I were fishing…
But circumstances being what they were, I sat there and opted to practice a little river reading over pontificating to my long-suffering wife on the bumper sticker slogan plastered on the SMART car in front of us. So, in the few moments that we were stopped I noticed a fast main channel with an excellent drift past sand bars and over gravel beds. I noticed pockets of slower water and undercuts. I saw numerous boulders offering shelter and opportunity from within the main flow. I noted that the brush was beat down from recent storms and there were a couple of snags where fish might sit. I noticed the foam lines and how bits of debris moved as they rode the current and lastly, I noticed the posted sign warning that it is an area that is off limits to fishing.
That last thing, the no fishing sign bugged me. I don’t know why it is there. Believe me, there are far worse spots that ought to be off limits but where we regularly “fling some string”. This section of the Santa Ana appears to be a picture perfect place to practice a little urban fly fishing – not picture perfect as in those stunning shots you see in magazines — get real, this is SoCal: A major freeway runs parallel just yards from it and concrete and chain link line the banks. I mean picture perfect in the sense that it has many, if not most, of the elements that make it the kind of place where fish are found and where anglers want to fish but it is closed.
It seems like a waste of good water to not be able to fish that section of river.
…Predictably, the flashing lights edged over to the right shoulder and traffic began inching then lurching then speeding forward. The cause for the delay this time, turned out to be a solo spin-out who, despite the scattered bits of plastic fender still littering the roadway appeared to be shaken but healthy.
Through careful and judicious use of lane changes, speed limits and knowledge that the CHP officer on duty was parked a few miles back lecturing a twenty-something about driving and cell phone use, we were not late to our next appointment.
In fact, I arrived somewhat refreshed, having taken a little three-minute mental fly-fishing vacation on the way to our destination.
I am going to have to do a little investigative snooping though – I’ll keep you posted.
I love the addiction called urban fly-fishin’.
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