I took a quick trek up the East Fork of the San Gabriel Rive last week. I threaded my fly rod, tied on a 6X tippet and mottled minnow fly and started hiking up the river from the parking lot beyond the East Fork Ranger Station.
Fall on the east fork is one of my favorite times to fish. Mornings are just cold enough to help lower stream temps, the smattering of wild oaks are beginning to color up, and the river flow is down enough to make fording this still clear stream a simple task.
In fact I was able to make two crossings by walking across river stones. By early October rainbows get really spooky. I make my approaches as quietly as possible and use high spots on the trail besides this stream to looking for moving shapes facing upstream, tail fins ghosting just enough for the fish to maintain steerage as they wait for prey to come scooting out of stone strewn rills.
The great thing about this fishery in the fall, is that the fish are hungry and as long as you don’t scare them by splashing through the water like a crazed water buffalo, the rainbows can be teased into biting. I counted 10 fish before I rolled my fly into a pool at the base of a rill about two miles upstream from the Ranger Station. No joy, and the trout sortied to safety through water that unfortunately was slightly muddy.
By this time of the year, much of the upper East Fork runs clear, although the water level seems down this year.
I tied on a tiny midge fly and smiled as I saw it land upstream and float over the pond. The flash of silver with a stripe came off the bottom of the pool like lightning and gulped my fly in an instant. I gently coaxed the fish streamside and scooped it up in my net. This fish was destined for my memory bank, not the pan, so I took a quick moment to look it over. Its scales were clean but the fish wasn’t very active. I unhooked it, cradled it in the water and felt it surging back to vibrancy. But there was one more thing I wanted to see, so I gently pried open its gill cheeks and looked at inside. Damn, they seemed to be loaded with fine sediment, which interferes with the fish’s ability to get oxygen from the water.
I put the fish back in the stream, let him recover and with a flick of his tail, he was gone, none the worse for his encounter with me.
I gathered my net, rod and reel, had a quick pull of water from my canteen and walked another half-mile up the stream. The noise coming from around a bend in the stream confirmed my guess; gold dredgers, sucking up gravel and recirculating dirty waste water back to the stream.
Approaching the bend in the East Fork I instinctively glanced down to the side of the stream, where I saw 13-inch trout fins up and very dead, caught in some weeds. I picked up the fish, looked at its gills and saw that they were muddy. I placed the native one-foot rain bow in my creel and shouted up the canyon, hoping my voice would carry over the noise of a small muffled four-stroke engine chugging away.
While most gold seekers seem to enjoy being alerted of a third parties’ presence, I don’t take a lot of chances when I’m travelling alone. Better to be heard than surprise a lock jawed 30-year-old prospector with pin wheel eyes who suspects someone is out to rob them of a few hundreths of a gram of flower gold they’ve taken from a stream.
I asked how they were doing and gave them the fish. They didn’t want to talk so I ambled on, making 10 to 20 more casts before I beat feet for my car and the 95-minute drive back home to Escondido.
I’ve grown up realizing that the Angeles National Forest and the East Fork of the San Gabriel River are multi-use recreational areas. I fundamentally understand that my love of fishing does not overrule some else’s enjoyment of gold prospecting.
But when I find dead native rainbow breeding stock asphyxiated by amateur gold dredgers, I get a little pissed off.—Jim Forbes on 10/06/2008.