It is no secret that my fishing buddy, Sean and I frequently fly fish the various forks of the upper San Gabriel River drainage as well as the lower sections and even the mouth of the river all the way down in Seal Beach. Exactly where we have the best success and land the most fish…well, that is and will remain a secret.
However it is also no secret that the San Gabriel offers a huge variety of fishing opportunities for the urban angler looking for something slightly different and maybe even the opportunity to put into practice those line-mending techniques typically reserved for streams and rivers greater than an hour from home.
The upper San Gabriel is divided into three major forks (North Fork, West Fork and East Fork) and drains an area of the Angeles National Forest about 400 square miles in size. Each fork varies in character from steep gradient, fast-moving, cold water to slower, slightly silted water. All three major forks and several smaller feeds hold fish. While some of the upper sections hold native trout that seldom see flies.
The lower section holds bass, sunfish, catfish, tilapia and carp while sand bass, kelp bass, flatfish and several other salt-water species can be taken on the fly down at the mouth of the river.
So the other day, after a very pleasant afternoon on the San Gabriel, I settled down in my favorite chair and began an internet search to see what 411 I could drum up on this very special river.
Now, you can probably imagine what an urban river that is only about an hour away from millions of people is subjected to on a day-to-day basis and you can also probably imagine what craziness people might post about their…um… activities on this river.
Although I’ll never be able to un-see some of the
nonsense I came across, I eventually found some research papers on the Fish & Game website describing the results from an electro-fishing survey performed in 2007 and 2008 on the upper stretches of the river above the Cogswell Dam.
As might be expected, rainbow trout were found throughout the drainage system. However, the next three most commonly seen species
were: the speckled dace, the santa ana sucker and the arroyo chub.
None of these native fish are considered game fish, though there are records and even historical photos (circa 1940) of suckers being taken on rod and reel. Chub can grow about five inches in length and slightly resemble minnows or very young goldfish. Chub can grow about six inches and also vaguely resemble minnows. Suckers can also grow slightly larger though under today’s conditions they usually don’t. They look some thing like a skinny carp.
As native species, the arroyo chub, speckled dace, and santa ana sucker have all figured prominently in various hotly–contested, lengthy and expensive legal and scientific battles. However, my interest in these fish (for the purposes of this article) rest more in their abundance as prey items and thus as potential clues as to how local urban anglers can use that info to catch more trout.
My internet searching has found documents mentioning heavy predation by bass and sunfish on these native fish but little on trout predation. However, since trout are known to be efficient piscivores, especially as they grow to adult size, I am surmising that suckers, dace and chub are, in fact, part of the diet of rainbow trout in the San Gabriel River.
Armed with this hypothesis, I’ve decided to test it by carefully selecting some fly patterns resembling these fish for my next foray into the Angeles Forest.
I’ll keep you posted on how these patterns work…but I won’t be giving away any info on our secret spots.
I love this addiction called urban fly fishing.
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