Fishing for L.A. River fans

September 4, 2014 

Ansel Trevino, 12, recently reeled in a 10 pound carp on the L.A. River. Photo/Roland Trevino

It may not rival TV’s Bassmasters, but Los Angeles is about to get a small taste of fishing glory.

This Saturday, advocacy group Friends of the L.A. River will host the river’s first-ever fishing competition. Anglers will test their skills at traditional and fly fishing at 9 a.m. before handing things over for a family fishing session at 10 a.m. Rods and reels will be provided. All fish will be released, but not before conservation biologist Rosi Dagit categorizes, weighs and measures each one.

“I have no idea what these folks are going to pull out,” said Dagit, who works for the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains. “Not much biological study has been done since the river was concrete-lined.”

The competition offers a chance to expand on a 2008 study that took the first look at the river’s aquatic life in decades, Dagit said. She expects to see species including carp, tilapia, black bullhead catfish and largemouth bass. Almost all are invasive, she said—native trout living upstream in tributaries haven’t been found in the waterway since the 1940s.

Fishing in the river was prohibited before 2011, when changes in state law opened up the activity to people with a fishing license. Saturday, however, is a “free fishing day”—meaning no license will be required to fish.

Jim Burns, a local fisherman who runs an L.A. River fly fishing blog, remembers being chased out by law enforcement when he first started dropping his lines. He said things have come a long way in the past four years. “When I started, it took me like an hour to actually find the river and find a way to get access to it,” Burns said.

These days, Burns sees more fish and more people. Plastic bag bans and cleanup efforts have made the water cleaner, and that’s been good for all species. He’s recently found reptiles, crayfish and plenty of fish, including an increasing number of white-sided bass, the exact identity of which remain a mystery to him.

That’s where Dagit comes in. As the river’s health continues to improve, she said there’s a good chance that what’s hooked Saturday will be different from what she found in 2008.

“It’s an enormous watershed and it has the potential to support a large population of all kinds of native fishes if we clean up things, restore banks and improve water quality,” Dagit said. “Fish are a touchstone to see how we are doing. They need cool, clean, oxygenated water. We’ve done a masterful job, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

More than anything, Dagit and Burns hope the competition gets people out to enjoy the river with their families. That, they said, is critical to the waterway’s future.

“People take care of things that they love, and they tend to love places that are special to them for one reason or another,” Dagit said. “It doesn’t get much more special than catching a fish with your kid on a Saturday morning in a beautiful place on the river.”

To join the fun, head to North Atwater Park, 3900 West Chevy Chase Drive, at 8:30 a.m. this Saturday, September 6.

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