Looking for trout in Upper Arroyo Seco, he’s thinking of politics: Larry Wilson
|August 29, 2017 - Larry Wilson of the Star-News heads up to Switzer's Cam in the upper Arroyo Seco to scout for trout. The native trout are still there, Larry. Keep looking, but you're more likely to find them when there is more flow.|
|Tadpoles in the Upper Arroyo Seco stream. (Photo by Larry Wilson/Southern California News Group)|
Not to be just all fishing, all the time. But fishing is a metaphor. Richard Brautigan’s wonderfully meandering 1967 hippie novella “Trout Fishing in America” is ... not about trout fishing. And as I mentioned last week, the aspirational work many are doing to return steelhead to Southern California streams is more about restoring clean waterways than about bringing back a particularly fascinating fish.
But when Tim Brick mentioned at our recent Altadena confab — water, again, in Hahamongna and in a proposed, now happily doomed, pipeline to Eaton Canyon — that there were still wild trout in the upper reaches of the Arroyo Seco, it piqued my interest. The state stopped stocking the Arroyo stream just above JPL with hatchery fish decades ago; surely their progeny are still somewhere, though I’ve put a dry fly in occasionally and never got a hit.
In this awful heat wave, I got a notion Monday to finish some work early and head for the mountains, and tried to get Tim, chair of the Arroyo Seco Foundation, to come with. He demurred, citing obligations, but agreed my plan for heading to Switzer’s Camp was a good one. But: “Keep in mind that this is the driest time of the year, and the streamflow is very low, less than .5 cubic feet per second. While the rainfall last winter got everyone excited, it was only 7 percent above normal in the mountains, and it’s been very dry since then on top of five severe drought years before that. So we might have to wait for more flow next winter. But it’s fun to trout scout, so I encourage people to do it at various times of the year. They are there, hiding in pools. We did get a report of trout fry in March ...”
It was 103 degrees when I left La Canada for the 10-mile drive up the Angeles Crest Highway. Seeing the first Angeles National Forest sign, of course the mind turned from nature to politics. Last week, those of us involved in the lobbying to keep the West’s national monuments saw our efforts put in the suspense file when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sent his recommendations, as promised, to his, shudder, boss, so that a man who has presumably never spent a single night out under the stars knows what they are, but the rest of us who care about wild America don’t.
And then my thinking turned to the fact that the front range I was tooling through was mysteriously removed from the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument a day or two before President Barack Obama signed it into law three years ago, even though Mt. Wilson and the Arroyo Seco are two of the most historic parts of the region.
Arriving at Switzer’s on a hot weekday is a treat, parkingwise, as I was able to leave the highway and descend half a mile down to the Arroyo floor and grab one of the few stream-close, shaded places, jammed on weekends. There were just three or four other vehicles. It had cooled to 99 degrees up at 3,500 feet. I grabbed my fishing vest and license, collapsible rod and two bottles of cold water and headed down the trail, quickly seeing that, as the stream, partly spring-fed, was just a trickle,
I was unlikely to see any trout. The only wildlife in evidence was copious poison oak. The only other walkers — a frequent occurrence these days — were Korean immigrants, including two nuns in gray habits, who are just mad for a mountain stroll, creating a new Great Hiking Era 140 years after our Pasadena ancestors’ first one.
Switzer’s Camp was started by Pasadena carpenter Perry Switzer in 1884, with a lodge and eatery for back when hikers could meander down from Mt. Lowe on a several-day journey and find a bed. There eventually was a stone chapel with stained-glass windows and room for 200. Though only the foundations remain, the history of the area clearly calls for expansion and protection of the monument, not shrinking of it, and someday a sane administration in Washington will return and it will be done.
Half an hour down canyon, I took a rest by a pool large enough to hold trout, if there were any. I stayed very still, as did author Charles Francis Saunders in 1923 at the same spot: “I lay in the shadow of a shrub, surrendering myself to the view and the breeze, in a blessed silence unbroken save by the bees among the pompons of the wild buckwheat bloom.”
Then, a flash in the pool. Water bugs. But beneath them were a dozen tadpoles. Not exactly trout fry, but swimmers nonetheless. I’ll go back when the rains come, and get a line wet.
Larry Wilson is on the Southern California News Group editorial board. Twitter: @publiceditor
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