New Waters

New Waters

Walk up to the window of any car snared in Los Angeles traffic, ask the driver where they’re heading, and you’ll probably hear a laundry list of answers: work, In-N-Out, a Dodgers game that’s already in the 3rd inning, or perhaps a therapy appointment. Since relocating to SoCal, however, I’ve found there’s only one good reason to brave the basin’s tangled mess of concrete freeways: to catch some trout. From where I live on the west side, it’s an easy commute. I simply hop on the 10 past DTLA, fight thirteen lanes of traffic to merge onto the 60, speed east to the 605, crawl north to the 210, pray the freight train isn’t blocking traffic near Azusa, and then make a beeline for the large mountains that are just beginning to emerge from a cloud of smog.

Once off the highway, a road of hairpin curves that hug steep slopes offers a refreshing reprieve from the mass of humanity that exists between these hills and the coast. Sure, there are still signs that you’re within a day drive from L.A., but if you’re not afraid to put some mileage on your shoes, you’ll soon stop seeing rocks tagged with graffiti and instead find pristine waters rushing past mossy stones. Here, large boulders are the gatekeepers of tumbling pocket water and form excellent structure for my main interest: rainbow trout.

In many of the waters that tumble through L.A.’s neighboring mountain ranges, the trout are wild. Despite fire, drought, a building bonanza of (now mostly useless) dams, and proximity to one of the largest metro areas in the world, these fish remain steadfast in their native waters. Like most wild fish, they are wily and require careful casts and stealthy movements to catch. They will also willingly take a dry fly and fight like hell once hooked.

In some select headwaters, the hearty rainbow populations hold even greater significance due to a striking biological distinction: anadromous DNA. Now landlocked, these fish once had access to the mighty Pacific, spending most of their adult lives in saltwater. Their ancestors were proud members of a rare and dying breed – the Southern steelhead. Recently, I caught a nice buck with a protruding jaw and a thick stripe of muscle bulging along its side. I’d like to think that a fish like that in a place like this might someday – once again – have a chance to run for the open ocean.

In the last few months, I’ve spent days exploring a wilderness area with no trails, lots of fish, and even more poison oak. The water is clear, and the canyons are quiet. Although I mainly venture out during the week, I’ve been surprised by the lack of fellow anglers. I almost always see someone gearing up next to their car but have yet to cross paths with a human once I’m tucked a few miles up on a tributary. This area has been the primary playground for our first production run of Thorofare nets and is quickly becoming a favorite spot of mine.

Living in L.A. has caused me to re-learn a valuable lesson that every backcountry angler knows by heart: no matter where you are, if you’re willing to go where others won’t, you can almost always find both solitude and good fishing. While my daydreams tend to lean towards upcoming summer adventures in remote fisheries scattered across the West, I’m currently content with exploring my own backyard. Or at least until I catch wind of the nearest salmonfly hatch.

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