LA Casting

By John Vogel

Heraclitus once wrote that no man can stand in the same river twice, but I’m trying to figure out why I stepped in this river once. The water is up to my chest, and I’m struggling to pull my sinking feet from the muddy river bottom. When I do manage to free my foot, bubbles of methane float to the surface. Looking forward I can see I’m not any closer to the next bank than I was 15 minutes ago. Alas, my shin hits a hard yet moveable object and I manage to stand on top of it while balancing my 5-weight in one hand. Through the rushing water, I can see it clearly. It’s a shopping cart.

Pretty commonplace when you fish the Los Angeles River.

The river runs for 51 miles, starting in the Simi hills running all the way to Long Beach. Cutting straight through downtown LA, you can imagine the amount of trash, cars, animals and bodies that make it into the river each day. Residents of the Southland spend rainy days inside watching news footage of people or cars getting pulled out of the raging rapids. During normal weather patterns, like today, the water level is manageable.

I’m in a portion of the river known as the Glendale Flats, and down here, forget about 10 and 2, this is all about the 2 and the 5 (Freeways) that intersect directly over the river. Though it might not seem ideal, the roar of traffic tends to cover the sound of the homeless people screaming at each other just upstream.

Urban fishing is a sport within itself. Whether you target country club water hazards, decorative HOA ponds or even the rare goldfish-laden reservoir filled by rowdy high school seniors who received them as good riddance gifts from the school (what’s up class of 2010), the fishing is only a small piece of the battle. The majority of the fun belongs to the craft of navigating to your spot without getting caught and ending the night talking to the cops.

High School and college had been filled with midnight raids on local watering holes, where the uniform is black or camouflage clothing, red filtered headlamps and shoes you can both run and climb fences in. Grip and grins would only give away your location, but anyone with one would never have to prove their bravery again. The LA River though posed a different kind of challenge.

I now stand suspended above the river, perched on top of a 99-cent store shopping cart, smelling like a porta potty at Burning Man, scanning the darkest areas for any sort of outline. Your brain may be dredging up images of concrete walls and racing scenes from Grease or Rebel Without a Cause, but those were shot way north of me. Where I am now is densely covered with shrubs, palms and every overgrown weed imaginable, all focused on small islands of dirt and trash. Historically, the river was home to beavers, steelhead, catfish and all the birds and mammals that feed on them. Now, the river is home to meth heads, trash and carp.

Even with polarized sunglasses, my vision struggles to pierce the surface of the green-hued water. After a few minutes of scanning, I think what the hell. I Hail Mary a San Juan Worm to a spot just below a large palm frond and next to a Ralphs bag filled with trash. The San Juan has proven attractive to most urban fish, but in the past, I’ve relied on flies resembling Cheetos or Corn Flakes. Every cast before now has resulted in hooking up with massive clumps of algae, trash, the occasional used diaper, random articles of clothing, and one Joe Biden yard sign.

I begin working the spot, until finally the sun catches the gold reflection of a fish hitting my fly like it owed it money. Hook set, shopping cart shifting, I begin fighting a bowling ball with fins. It’s dragging line deep into the brush, reel screaming, river water ripping into my face. It takes 20 minutes of fighting to haul it in. A typical Golden Carp, native to every shithole body of water, is staring at me wondering if this is Valhalla. Hoisted by the gill plate, the thing weighs about 8 lb, and you’d never know it came from a place as exotic as this.

Considering the amount of work it’s taken to land this thing, I’ve decided to carry it home, if for nothing more than to add it to the garden bed for fertilizer. Rod and fish lifted above my head, I make it back to the bank and start my trek back to the car. The band of homeless upstream can only stare at the rare sight of me.

“You gonna eat that?” one yells out.

 “You want it?”

“Hell no. That water is dis-gustin. You’ll probably catch AIDS from that thing”

From the FE Films Archive

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