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.
As I was fishing today at Ralph Clark Park Lake, an older gentleman walked up to me to ask me what I was doing (Like you can’t tell that I’m fishing). The thought crossed my mind, “How many fish have I missed out on, because I love talking to people so much”.
I’ve met so many fisherman, and usually as I walk past them, I shoot out a quick hello attached to something like “Any bites”. The normal response that I get is silence or a dirty look. Not in all situations, some of the people that I’ve met have been nice, and at times have even given some good fishing advice. Yet the majority of the times it seems to be people coming up to me, and I end up talking with them for about 30 minutes or so.
For example on this last trip out, I was only able to set aside about 2 hours to fish. Of those two hours I would say that about 1 1/2 hours were spent talking to people.
The first conversation was with a guy out fishing with his kid, and he looked like he had no idea what he was doing. I showed him how to rig up some Powerbait on a treble hook (as I mashed his barbs down, explaining the importance of doing it). By the time I had left, his son had caught his first fish, and the dad was one happy camper.
My second conversation was with an older Mexican guy that I spoke with en Espanol. He asked me what kind of fishing I was doing. So I explained to him what Fly Fishing was, and let him cast my rod for about 10 minutes. Hopefully adding one new person to the Fly Fishing Community!
Finally I moved on, and had a chance to wet my line. After about 10 minutes I was into an nice little stocker Rainbow Trout, that I had caught on a Bead Head Woolly Bugger. Immediately after, a guy who had been tossing around a Swim Bait (Trout Imitation) that had to weigh over a pound walked up to me and asked “What ya throwin”? I showed him my fly rod, as he continued to explain to me that he had no idea you could use a Fly Rod anywhere other than on a Trout Stream.
While I walked back to the car, he followed me as I showed him pictures of the different species that I catch on a fly rod. So I guess it’s a trade off, I may lose some time fishing, but every time I’m out I get to meet some really interesting person.
It guess that’s why we call it Urban Fly Venturing, a Disease Worth Catching!
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Court Dates, Hospital Visits, Long Work Days, the list goes on and on.
That sentence to preface the fact that I’ve been holding onto this great Urban fly Venturing story without the opportunity to actually sit down and get to write about it.
So here goes nothing.
About a month ago in between all that was swirling around me, I found myself with a Monday Morning free from anything on my calendar. It was just waiting there with a big empty circled space, waiting for me to write FISHING in all capital letters.
So guess what it did, that’s right I went FISHING.
Now my only regret is that I cannot share this location with you guys, due to a secret fishing spot swap. All that I’m aloud to say is that it’s a reservoir up in North Orange County, California.
This place definitely lived up to all the hype, and the back and forth emails about how big the Bluegills and Red Ear Sunfish are.
As I backed my truck up to the dead end dirt road. I pulled out my Okuma Guide Series 5 Weight Rod and SLV Fly reel. I laced them up with fly line and grabbed my streamer box.
That’s right I said streamers! Accord to the email bragging, my Hopper Dropper set up was better left in the truck.
I slid down the steep embankment of gravel onto an old cement boat launch, and cast out about 30 feet in front of me. Slowly stripping in line, checking the clear water for any signs of movement.
Strip, Strip, Strip, and all of the sudden I could see a striking flash right by my Minnow imitation. But for some reason there was no strike. This happened about 5 times, and I finally begrudgingly decide to change flies.
I pulled out a Rust colored Bead Head Flash-A-Bugger and started working the fly a little slower letting it sink farther to the bottom with a sudden jerk to imitate a Crayfish or leech moving across the gravel.
This time the flash went straight for my fly, and I was hooked into what I thought was a decent sized Largemouth Bass. But after getting the line within about 15 feet where I was standing, I could see that I was hooked into one of the largest Panfish that I’ve ever caught.
I pulled out my measuring net to land the fish, and picked it up to admire my catch.
Believe it or not (I have the pictures to prove it). I had just caught a 14 inch Red Ear Sunfish! That’s Right, 14 INCHES!
I sat there for a moment with a silly grin on my face, and then snapped back to reality. I still had the fish in hand, so back into the water he went.
Without skipping a beat I moved 10 feet down the bank and cast out. Smack another fish on the line. Then another, and another, and another.
When it was all said and done, I had caught about 13 Sunfish over 11 Inches.
Now that’s a good day fishing. I don’t care who you are, or where you live.
My Time for fishing was up.
So away I went. Back to the meetings, Hospital Visits, and Court Dates. But for a moment, just a moment. I was able to get away from it all, and focus my mind on only one thing.
And that’s why we call it Urban Fly Venturing, a Disease Worth Catching!
Smallmouth Bass have, over the past year become my favorite fish to catch on a fly rod.
Unfortunately Southern California is not really known for it’s Smallie destinations.
So the majority of my time is filled with Urban Fly Fishing for Largemouth Bass. They’re fun, they’re, ferocious, and they’re a very interesting fish in their own right.
But, there’s just something about catching their closely related cousin on the other end of a fly line , that makes my heart beat just a little faster!
Now there are a couple Smallmouth opportunities within 2-3 hours of where I live, and when I’m in the area you had better believe that I’m taking the opportunity to fish these waters.
I recently had one such day up on Big Bear Lake.
It was hot, windy, and in the afternoon. Which aren’t really the best conditions to be fishing.
We had just missed the spawn and the fish were coming off their beds, beginning a slow decent back to the deep water that they normally reside in.
So we put on the Sinking tip Fly Line and got into our kayaks to scope out any fish that were still holding in less than 10 feet of water.
It was slim pickins with only a few in sight, so we decided to change direction for the shoreline near a small drop off.
After about 5-10 minutes, I spotted a large Bass holding at the back end of a weed line in about 7 feet of water. It was skimming the bottom with it’s tail up and nose combing the vegetation.
So I tied on a Rust Colored Weighted Bead Head size 10 Flash-A-Bugger and after two casts and a couple of nervous twitches from the fish, he turned on my fly and I set the hook!
The fight was on, and this Bronzeback wasn’t about to give up anytime soon. With 5x Tippet on, I was careful not to put too much pressure on him. I have had my line snapped by a good shake of the head by many decent sized Bass.
After about 10 minutes of my reel screaming and a few jumps that made me think I was going to loose this beautiful fish, he was in my (measuring) net, all 19 & 1/2 inches of him.
The Lip Scale weighed him in at just under 4 pounds. That right there was the largest Smallmouth Bass I had ever, and probably will ever catch!
Which is a very good Smallie considering that the lake record is just over 5 pounds.
It doesn’t get much better than that, and that’s why we call it
Urban Fly Venturing, a Disease Worth Catching!
For me Urban Fly Fishing has never really been about catching fish.
It’s about the challenge. The Casting, The presentation, and well I guess it’s a little about catching fish.
Urban Fly Fishing has been the one activity in my life that has allowed my brain to completely focus in on what is going on at that exact moment.
It’s Peaceful, Serene, Relaxing. It’s just simply Fly Fishing, and that’s what makes it so special for me.
Every moment anticipating the next strike. Trying to figure out what the fish wants. It’s like a Chess Match that takes me outside the world that I currently reside in.
I had such a moment in Big Bear over Memorial Day Weekend with my fishing buddy Dan.
We had a chance to get away from the wives to get in a few casts over at Boulder Bay.
The Sun was starting to set over the mountains and the water glistening, as fish unloading on bugs skimming the surface.
Every cast produced a fish, and many to our surprise were decent sized Black Crappies. Or as a buddy of mine so affectionately refers to them “Stubbies”.
Beautiful fish, Beautiful Surroundings, and a Fly Rod. What more could a fisherman ask for.
It was truly one of those great life experiences.
I just pray that my next Fly Fishing “Adventure” is filled with such excitement.
That’s why we call it Urban Fly Venturing, a Disease Worth Catching!
So tonight as we finished the shut down and clean up of our work vehicle, and completed the multiple tasks necessary to bring about the end of our workday, a breeze kicked up with enough bite to it to make me reach for a light jacket.
A little later, as I sat at my desk, I distinctly overheard the weather report from the TV in the other room and the lovely blond weathercaster cautioned that tonight’s temps were going to drop into the 30’s and 40’s.
Now in all fairness, she also said that it was a fast moving front and the rest of the week would be quite pleasant but the psychological damage was already done.
I paused, glanced up at the framed, old style nautical chart of the Hawaiian Islands above my desk and sighed — What a difference a week makes.
Just seven days ago I was also outside when another breeze kicked up but the difference then was that I was standing on the white sands of Kaanapali Beach, Maui in swim trunks and a tee-shirt slowly getting sunburned and having the time of my life surf fishing with my trusty pen rod fishing rig (penfishingrods.com).
But, I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
Regular readers will recall that a couple of years ago I had the good fortune to stumble across the penfishingrods website and discovered the solution to a problem that had vexed me for a very long time – being in incredibly fish-able places but not having the gear to do anything about it.
Regular readers will also recall that not long after discovering pen rods I vowed to never travel again without at least one tucked away in my luggage.
So, this year when the opportunity to spend time over on Maui presented itself, you can bet that I had a compact rod and reel plus a few flies and tippet spools with me.
Now in years past, even if I had had the gear, I would have been a little apprehensive about standing on one of the best beaches in the world among the tanned and beautiful pitching little bits of fuzz and feathers into the near perfect waves.
This year however, after we settled into our home away from home for the week, I was very excited to see classes on surf fishing being offered along with classes on surfing, kayaking, tai chi and hula dancing.
I was on the phone to the reservations desk within seconds.
Unfortunately, the class was full and I was number seven on the waiting list. Slightly disappointed but ever optimistic we went ahead and planned out several hikes and snorkel trips and we choose dinner locations and settled on a whole list of other activities that would fill our week and refresh our spirits.
Then on about day three into our adventure, we came home from an incredible morning that included some short but exciting hikes as well as snorkeling amongst thousands of reef fish accompanied by the songs of humpback whales and I noticed that the red light was flashing on our room phone:
“Mr. Zambrano, we have opened up an additional class for surf fishing for 8 am tomorrow morning. If you are still interested please call the reservations desk to confirm your attendance. Mahalo.”
I was on the beach the next morning at 7:30.
I had no clue as to what to expect, especially since at every beach we drove past I had noticed most of the guys out there using ten to twelve foot poles with heavy sinkers cast out beyond the breaking surf. However, soon after I arrived at the designated meeting spot, a deeply tanned gentleman with a enormous straw lifeguard hat and bright red rash shirt appeared with a well-worn canvas creel slung over his shoulder and dragging a trashcan full of five–foot, basic spinning rigs.
Soon about a dozen of us were standing in the sand with the warm water gently lapping our feet while we received basic instructions on Hawaiian style surf fishing.
Much to my delight, the basic technique was very similar to a style of fishing I was already quite familiar with: a float was tied onto the main line with a swivel and then about three feet of leader was tied to that with another swivel. A small split shot was then pinched on about a foot above a stainless steel #6 circle hook. A small chunk of shrimp was then carefully threaded onto the circle hook.
The key difference was instead of using a clear plastic bubble-float, the preferred float in Hawaii is a tangerine-size bright orange or white balsa wood version.
The final instructions were to cast out as far as possible but fish the rig all the way back to the beach since many of the reef species take small crabs right in the trough just off the beach. The other caution was to set the hook lightly as soon as the float disappeared beneath the waves or, as the instructor put it, “No Booyah hook sets here, keep arms down and set da’ hook firm but soft.”
We spread ourselves out along the beach and cast out into the swell just past the breaking surf. On my first cast, I barely had time to close the bail on the reel when I saw the orange float disappear beneath the swell. I set the hook about like you would if you were fishing for Crappie and sure enough there was a fish on.
Now, I could say that my professionalism kicked in and I quietly fought my first Hawaiian fish all the way into the beach where I posed for pictures and then gently released it back into the clear blue waters.
I could say that but it would be a lie.
The truth of the matter is, I screamed like a little girl and whooped and hollered like I had just hooked on to a Marlin.
The instructor trotted down the beach and hovered over me as I landed a brightly colored Wrasse. He encouraged my to handle it as little as possible and to release it back into the water as gently as I could after the obligatory pictures – all things I planned on doing anyway, but I admired his conservation ethic.
Needless to say, I was hooked.
The next two hours were spent in a constant but thoroughly engaging ballet of baiting the hook, casting beyond the breakers, watching the float disappear and occasionally fighting small reef fish in to the beach. In all honesty, I lost more than I landed. In all honesty, I didn’t really care.
The two-hour class flew by. I was having a blast, as were all the other participants. With each cast, I felt as though I was getting better and better at reading the water, spotting the take and keeping the fish on.
Towards the end of the second hour, one of the participants hooked on to something fairly large but it managed to make a decent run and it ended up wrapping the line around a submerged rock. After a minute or two of trying to free the line, and after giving some very handy advice for dealing with such situations, the instructor decided to break it off and re-rig the pole.
The bright orange float remained about fifteen-feet out from the shore bouncing in the surf.
When the class officially ended, I asked the instructor if I could have the lost float if I was willing to swim out and retrieve it. He was only more than happy to let me do that and even threw in a cupful of shrimp bait to sweeten the deal.
I plunged into the water, swam out to the float and followed the line down to where it was snagged on a rock. The hook popped free with just a little twisting and lo and behold, I had myself a Hawaiian style surf rig plus bait.
Well, you can only imagine how I spent the rest of our early mornings on Kaanapali Beach.
The Pen Rod got a workout. It handled the large float with ease and it made catching the smallish reef fish very exciting. As my confidence grew, I even experimented with some of the saltwater flies I had brought with me.
I caught a wide variety of reef species. Each one, fought differently and presented new challenges, which made each cast a rather exciting proposition.
Ultimately, the shrimp bait beat out the flies as far as catching fish went, but it didn’t matter – I got to stand on the beaches of Maui and surf fish.
The definition of recreation is: to re-create. To restore and refresh the body, mind and soul to allow us to carry on the daily tasks with renewed vigor and purpose.
Been there, done that. Highly recommend it.
I love this addiction called Maui surf-fishin’.
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