A week ago the L.A. basin sat under a thick, brown layer of smoke and ash due to the massive and deadly Station and Morris fires burning wildly out of control just to the north of Los Angeles and, in fact threatening some of the foothill communities. Maps posted on the website, inciweb.org, (one of the best sites for quick, factual fire info. for the western U.S.) showed ugly, ragged fire lines encompassing some of the most rugged and heavily vegetated terrain in SoCal. At the time of this posting, those same maps show that the fires have eaten through an area larger than the city of Chicago…and they are still burning.
A week ago I stood on the lawn of the Griffith Park Observatory along with my buddy, Sean, and we watched through telescopes as the fire exploded entire trees in its ravenous march down the hillsides of not so distant canyons.
But that was last week.
Yesterday, Sean and I stood on the banks of the L.A. River, just a couple of miles from the observatory, beneath a startling clear blue sky with a fresh cooling breeze in our faces.
And while all of California is in a severe drought, down in the River the water flowed fast and strong and clear.
We had made the drive back up from the O.C. to “La Reever” because in my quest to learn more about the fires I thought I might have stumbled upon a new fishing spot via Google aerial maps.
Sure enough, tucked away in a highly industrialized neighborhood of sheet metal fabricators, welding shops and dubious import companies and nestled between freeway bridges, railroad trestles and high tension power line towers there is a little slice of paradise – at least by L.A. urban standards. And the best part of it was that no one was there. Not a soul.
There we were, in the middle of roughly 11 million people and we actually had a sizeable stretch of moving water all to ourselves.
We backed Sean’s tan Toyota about a quarter-mile down a service road (every successful guy from the “barrio” learns to drive with equal facility backwards and forwards – it’s a useful skill for avoiding stray bullets) where it blended in nicely with the decomposed granite roadway and the tall bushes trying to hold on ‘til the winter rains.
We geared up and walked another couple of hundred yards to a breach in the chainlink and barbed wire and began our decent down the steep concrete banks. I did a quick scan of the local graffiti to see if I could detect any active “dissing” going on which would raise the keep-looking-over-your-shoulder factor, but found none. In fact, we did not even find any piles of empty beer bottles or food wrappers or any signs that anybody had been down there in the recent past.
As we moved down the embankment, I started to get excited because I could see dozens of fat, torpedo shapes resting in a large pool at the bottom end of some riffles. Sean had forgotten his polarized glasses and could not see the fish so he just looked at me and nodded politely – the way one nods at the finger-pointing, rambling conspiracy theorist stationed on the steps outside the main Post Office.
I began muttering about needing light colored sinking flies and desperately tried to remember if I had any white Wooly Buggers left in my fly box. Sean was already rigging up a Wooly Bugger with a salmon egg imitation as a dropper rig and, again, just nodded politely in my direction.
We positioned ourselves at opposite ends of the pool and began working toward the middle. I cast carefully in front of the shadowy shapes beneath the surface. There was very little conversation, no drama, no people and it just felt great being out on the water, casting with my favorite rod and enjoying the peace and quiet murmuring of the River. Anyone, I repeat, anyone who tells you that Carp are not worth the water they swim in has not fished for them in earnest.
The next several hours were spent casting and crawling and kneeling amongst the bushes and pleading and grumbling along the banks of this section of water in an effort to entice these fish to strike. Time and time again I watched two-foot long Carp follow my flies only to turn away abruptly and inexplicably.
When I finally did get a strike, the fish immediately dove into the rocks and broke me off before I could turn its head around. Based on the unhappy groans coming from over Sean’s way, I surmised that he was having similar woes.
After thoroughly working about a quarter-mile of the River we decided to head over to Atwater Village and fish below the Hyperion Bridge – a well-known and commonly fished location. We were disappointed that we hadn’t landed any fish but we were thrilled with the number and wariness of the fish we had stumbled upon in this new location.
As we crested the hill on the path leading to the Hyperion Bridge section of the River, our first image was that of a lone fisherman sitting in the middle of the flats in a folding lawn chair. He was using two rods and even from a couple of hundred yards away, we could tell that he probably had them both rigged with 40-pound test or more. By the time we got to the bottom of the embankment, he was busy landing a foot-long fish.
There was a backpack on the shore and after Lawn-chair-guy had let his catch go he waded over to the backpack, sizing us up as we drew near to it. He took a cigarette from out of the front pocket and lit up as Sean asked him how he was doing. He smiled and said it had been a very good day. Sean asked him what he was using for bait and the guy replied, “tortilla”.
We looked at each other, wished him well and then somewhat frantically started digging around in our respective fly boxes as we walked toward a favored pool. Despite a plethora of flies for practically every location we fish, neither of us had any approximation of a tortilla. After some hard thinking, I considered snipping off a corner of my boxer shorts and using some tippet to tie it onto a #10 hook but then, aside from the obvious logistical problem of dropping ‘trow in the middle of the River, I remembered that it was Sunday and I had on the plaid ones anyway.
So, we fished until near dark but did not have the success of our lawn chair friend. The ride home was a mixture of contentment over our new-found location and amazement that we had been out-fished by tortillas. I could tell, though, from the animated way Sean was speaking that a fire had been started in him and we would probably be using a very interesting pattern the next time we hit the flats at Glendale Narrows.