My loyal corps of fish scouts working the East Fork of the San Gabriel River have been calling this week with exciting messages. Although there’s no cotton grown anywhere near Azusa, CA<, the fish are jumping. Right from the water into the creels.
My two most reliable San Gabriel River fishing scouts checked in this week with very good news, near limit fishing from trips up the East Fork and to waters underneath the East Fork bridge off Highway 39.
Both of my buddies are pretty serious water whipping fly fishermen, but if you look in their creels closely you’ll find not only selections of backup flies, 4X and 6X tippet leaders but also split shot and—dare I reveal it—Pauztkes Balls of Fire premium salmon eggs.
When it comes to fishing both of my buddies are serious trout hunters.
Fishing high up on the East Fork “has ne’er been better, laddy” teased longtime east fork fisherman Scotsman Bill C.
“But you need to get up there before all the spring fatties are caught.” I think I’m already sorry I showed him my two super-secret spots on the East Fork, although I think I’ll make it up there this week to make sure that, like the legendary Dude, fat local rainbows still “abide.”
While it’s possible to take trout almost anywhere on the East Fork up river from the East Fork Ranger Station, there are two under fished sections I want to write about.
The first is a small pond that sits behind an old stone damn about two miles up from the Ranger Station. Over the last 40 years, this little pond has been my go-to-place to catch a few trout for the evening frying pan. This small pond is one of the few places on the river where you can cast a fly on a long tippet without worrying about adding fishing decorations to the oaks and other mountain hardwoods that are at stream side. Or best results, go upstream and float your fly into the deepest edges of the pond (on it’s right side, facing downstream, then work the fly up water through the series of rills that feed this pond. One of the reasons I really love this water is because every third or fourth fish appears to be a native East Fork trout with a flashy Chinese red stripe on its side.
Unsur whether the trout in your net is a hatchery raised stocker, or a native? If the colors seem bight, and it fights tooth and nail all the way to the side of the stream, it’s most likely a native. If it’s small, gently release it and maybe you’ll catch it as a two-pound adult next year.
I’m not always a catch and release fisherman on streams that produce limits, but if I think the fish can do the native gene pool some good, back it goes. It’s this philosophy that has lead me to carry two sets of flies when I fish the east Fork; barbed and barbless.
There is another great spot on the East Fork to whet your appetite for fly fishing that’s within 45 miles of downtown Los Angeles. That spot is approximately four.5 miles up the East Fork at the base of a stone formation locally known as “Swan Rock.”
Swan Rock is just downstream from the aptly named “Bridge to Nowhere” and it should be on the list of trout fishing destinations for all East Fork fishermen,] except those who are on the river at the same time as I am.
In my 61st year, I encourage everyone to fly fish, but, this stretch has yielded many fine fat rainbows on salmon eggs, floated down the side of the stream for members of my family as well as me.
With stream flows ebbing from yearly high flow, now is also the time to slog through the numerous crossings needed to trek up to Iron Fork and beyond. The nine-mile hike to Iron Fork isn’t for the feint hearted. It involves numerous stream crossings and a gain in elevation of more than 1,000 feet. But once you’re upstream of the “Bridge to Nowhere” the water is normally yours’ alone. There are several spots to hit near the confluence of the Iron Fork and the East Fork. The first: an icy stretch just north of the confluence of the two streams and the second; westerly up the Iron Fork. Hiking up the Iron Fork , as soon as you see a spot on this frigid creek that makes you dream of sliding down a boulder into the water, resist the temptation an take a moment to scout the water in the pool that caught your eye in the first place. That pool may be the best spot on all of the San Gabriel to tussle with a large native rainbow whose genetic heritage stretches back to ocean running steel heads trout that made this watershed their home before two dams blocked access to the Pacific.
Don’t’ believe me? Quietly cast a fly in this pond and see what happens! but don’t be surprised when something akin to a finned freight train snaps your tippet.
Don’t think you’re up to making a nine mile hike all the way up to Iron Fork? Then grb your rod, reel and kids, drive north on highway 39 to the East Fork bridge, par and pick your way down to the confluence of the San Gabriel Damn with the East and West Forks and toss a salmon egg weighted with a slit shot into the ageless flowing waters and patiently wait for a tug on your line. With Spring here, mature stockers aged in the dams waters wait anxiously to begin genetically imprinted spawning runs, upstream past sand babks where it’s still possible to catch a tasty limit of healthy rain bow trout. And it’s all within a short 90-minute drive of LA Civic Center. Even better, it’s a year–round fishery.—Jim Forbes, a second generation East For fisherman, on 03/25/2010.
Disclosure: A fishing license is required to take trout on the East and West Fork as well as in the actual San Gabriel River. A day use pass (which can be purchased at the US Forest Service kiosk at the beginning of Azusa Canyon Road) is also required.
If you park your car at the East Fork Ranger Station, or near the Bighorn Sheep or East Fork Bridges, make sure all valuables- are secured out of view and your car is securely locked. Moreover, do not leave snacks such as Winchell’s’ or Yum Yum donuts where black or brown bears can smell or see them. Unless you really want to see how a bear can disassemble a car in mere minutes in search of a tasty snack)