Some still catch fish in the San Gabriel River. But without stocking, the trout are harder to find.
|September 23, 2017 - There are not many trout still in the San Gabriel, but local fisherman are there expectantly, hoping for a bite.|
Fisheries Biology Technician Thomas Coleman, of the U.S. Forest Service, looks for aquatic invertebrates on rocks, an indicator of stream health depending on if the invertebrates are tolerant or intolerant to pollution, at Vogel Flats in the Angeles National Forest on Thursday, April 20, 2017. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)
I always carried my black transistor radio whenever my father would ask me and my brother to go fishing with him. I’d snap in a fresh, 9-volt battery and roll the corrugated dial with my thumb to a Top 40 station.
The rhythms of the Beatles and the harmonies of the Beach Boys would echo in my head, surging through my earphones, vibrating down to my sneakers tapping out the beat on the floor board of my dad’s Chevy Impala.
It was the late ’60s, and I was 11 years old. The tinny, pop music overtook me during those trips to the Atlantic off Long Island, much more than the flounder jerking on the end of my brother’s line. I daydreamed, hoping the music would soothe my upset stomach as the waves from the passing charters tossed our rowboat and mixed us around like a twister ride at the church fair.
My dad would come home with a bucket of flounders. He was reliving his boyhood when he and his buddies would skim eels out of the East River.
I’ve tried fishing as an adult. With similar fleets of revolt. Rods, boats, baiting hooks never seemed to send me into a zen-like solace like it does to those who actually enjoy fishing.
Barrett H. Wetherby’s ancestors started the Pasadena Bait Club in 1890. At 86, he still lives in the family cabin on the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, a meandering stream once full of trout and men casting poles with spinning reels and thin lines into the clear stream.
The stories of trout, yes even steelhead trout that would return to the ocean to spawn, coming out of the San Gabriel River were no fish tales during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Stories persisted of anglers hiking high into the San Gabriel Mountains and catching dozens, even hundreds of fish. So many were caught that the state put a limit on the number you could catch and then turned the West Fork into a catch-and-release stream.
Overfishing didn’t help. But what really killed fishing in the San Gabriel River was progress.
Specifically, three dams built to control flooding: Cogswell, San Gabriel and Morris. The steelhead were trapped like music in my radio without a battery. Later, state agencies stocked the San Gabriel River with nonnative fish. This eventually crowded out the native fish and hurt the endangered yellow-legged frog, so stocking by the California Department of Fish and Game (now Department of Fish and Wildlife) ended around 2005 to 2010, depending on the river, lake or stream.
A trail runs through the West Fork area of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. (Photo by Steve Scauzillo)
Today, the anglers still come. They lower their rods into the West Fork water and wait. But nothing much happens, Wetherby said.
“It’s tough fishing now. It is not like the good old days,” he added.
Oh sure, Wetherby knows some secret spots. For instance, there’s a remote part of the river above Cogswell Dam that fishermen love. He’s heard of some coming away with 18-inch trout. “But that’s rare, maybe one a year,” he said.
Heaton Flats at the eastern end of East Fork Road is a place where some trout still swim in the stream, he said. “I’d say that is about the only place.”
Adam Samrah, who owns Crystal Lake Cafe and Cabins, said Crystal Lake, about 22 miles north of Azusa, is no longer stocked. But he still sees fisherman in his store who’ve caught some fish. “Yeah, there are still fish there. Last week, somebody caught two. But they stopped stocking it at least two years ago,” said the store owner. With the roads open, he sees more hikers, motorcycle riders and day-trippers these days, as well as those who rent his cabins.
Wetherby would like to see trout stocked again in the San Gabriel Mountains streams. But he has not had much luck convincing state authorities.
No, not for him. He doesn’t fish anymore. But for the Valley dwellers who love fishing and come up with the next generation filled with anticipation.
“Those grandfathers would be very happy. They want to hear their grandkids say: ‘Grandpa! Look what I got!’ ” he said.
Steve Scauzillo covers transportation and the environment for the Southern California News Group. He’s a recipient of the Aldo Leopold Award for Distinguished Editorial Writing from The Wilderness Society. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram @stevscaz or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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