Fishing the L.A. River – No Joke, SoCalWild, September 2014

Rosi Dagit was pleased. The environmental scientist was at the banks of the Los Angeles River near North Atwater Park in Atwater Village waiting for anglers to bring over their catches in large orange buckets. “This is the best citizen scientist program,” she said adding that often she’s the one wading in rivers and streams catching critters for surveys and research. “I have it easy today!”

Indeed, Dagit and her cadre were tasked with weighing, measuring and cataloging the fish that were caught as part of the first ever Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) “Off tha’ Hook” fishing derby.

The catch and release event took place on September 6 which was designated as one of the “free” fishing days (aka no license needed and therefore open to all) from California Fish and Wildlife the entity that governs fishing on the river.

FoLAR organizers say that the derby strengthens the vision that the river is a living, breathing entity worthy of recreation, wildlife viewing and, yes, fishing. Members of the Los Angeles Rod and Reed Club were on hand to show off their fly casting prowess– some actually hiked up the waders and make it an immersive experience.

THE WATER'S FINE -- Who needs hip waders?
THE WATER’S FINE — Who needs hip waders?

There was an official contest (most fish caught, biggest catch) but that was just an excuse for fishing folk to be out in the picture perfect postcard early morning. Anglers casted off amidst the lush river surroundings with horseback riders on the Griffith Park hills in the background. Birds swooped over the water – Canada geese, mallards, black-necked stilts along with assorted shorebirds and immature egrets.

Deep in the river bank, you could hardly tell you were in one of the world’s largest cities.

WHERE ARE WE? -- Oh yeah, right next to the 5 Freeway....
WHERE ARE WE? — Oh yeah, right next to the 5 Freeway….

Helping Dagit compiling the data was Sabrina Drill, Natural Resources Advisor for UC Cooperative Extensive who worked on the FoLAR 2008 fish study in the L.A. River. That study was eight days long and involved four locations. The fish most seen from that study? Mosquitofish, tilapia and green sunfish.

“Of course our methods for catching fish were different today,” she says describing how using a drag net yields different fish than using a rod and reel. Its bottom feeders vs fly catchers.

That was evident by the fish caught at this derby – one large carp and the rest were large-mouth bass, albeit on the small size.

CARPING AROUND -- The first official fish of the contest was a big ol' carp.
CARPING AROUND — The first official fish of the contest was a big ol’ carp.
OPEN WIDE - Big mouth bass was the fish most caught at FoLAR's Derby.
OPEN WIDE – Large mouth bass were the fish most caught at FoLAR’s Fish Derby.

“That was the first data that we have on the fish life in the Los Angeles River,” chimed in Dagit about the 2008 study. “How lame is that? The river is right here. We have to pay attention to what we have in our own backyards.”  (Note: another fishing derby is planned for Oct. 4 in the LA River near Long Beach.)

Dagit spends a lot of energy patrolling the coastal streams for the steelhead trout; that fish used to be found in the Los Angeles River along with arroyo chub, stickleback and maybe even speckled dace.

BACK YOU GO -- All fish caught at the derby were released back into the L.A. River.
BACK YOU GO — All fish caught at the derby were released back into the L.A. River.

Both Dagit and Drill are enthusiastic but realistic about seeing a bounty of fish return to the L.A. River. Right now, there are too many physical barriers (not to mention dam gates) that would prevent the ocean–swimming trout to make its way up freshwater streams for spawning. Still, that didn’t stop folks from sporting t-shirts that declared, “Fishing for carp, waiting for steelhead” in anticipation of the return of that historic trout.

On that day, one could imagine heading down to a river that could be alive with flapping fins and rainbow scales. Stay tuned. Stranger things have happened.

NOT EASY LIFE -- Fish in the L.A. River can survive, but it's not the optimal environment.
NOT EASY LIFE — Fish in the L.A. River can survive…but more work needs to be done to make it a better environment.

 — By Brenda Rees, photos by Martha Benedict

Posted in SoCal Wild.