It won’t ever be mistaken for the setting of “A River Runs Through It,” but Southern California has some prime fly-fishing waters close at hand.
Piru Creek, straddling Ventura and northern Los Angeles counties; Sespe Creek in Ventura County, and tributaries of the San Gabriel River in Angeles National Forest are all productive for fly anglers.
And just five hours away are the Eastern Sierra’s world-class trout streams and lakes, where trout season opens the last weekend of April.
Most any fish can be taken on a fly, but trout are the catch of choice. Local species consist mainly of rainbows and browns. They’re colorful, voracious eaters, easily spooked, tough to catch and tasty to eat.
Fishing with flies is considered by some a more natural way to fish. Live bait isn’t used--instead, fish are fooled with tiny artificial flies, which closely resemble the insects that make up a fish’s diet.
Fly-fishing is as much a science as a sport; learning the ways of the trout is essential. One way to get started or more involved in fly-fishing is to join a club. Sierra Pacific Fly Fishers, based in Van Nuys, holds classes and field trips and has even adopted Piru Creek, where it sponsors cleanup days and fishing outings.
Sierra Pacific president John Stevenson, of Chatsworth, denies that fly fishermen are elitist. “People think we look down on everyone else, but we were all bait fishermen at one time, and we’re all doing this [fly-fishing] because we enjoy the outdoors more than anything.”
* Range: Found in most states of the U.S., often stocked in waters throughout North America.
* Habitat: Prefer cool, clear water of roughly 55 to 60 degrees. Wild trout prefer cooler water than do stocked fish.
* Diet: Immature and adult insects, plankton, crustaceans, fish eggs, small fish.
* Size: Varies, but typical stream-dweller grows to about 1 pound in four years. Most caught locally are under a pound.
* Distinguishing features: Heavy spots on tail differentiate it from brown trout.
* A fish can detect sound through its lateral line, which runs the length of its body. Small bones along the lateral line pick up vibrations.
Trout can see objects on and above the surface of the water within a specific window of vision. Fly anglers need to stay out of that window in order not to spook the fish.
Trout sees reflection of underwater surroundings.
Refracted vision: Because light bends when it enters water, a trout can only see surface objects that are within a 96-degree window, which extends by another 32 degrees on each side for objects beyond the surface.
Flies should be aimed to fall within the 10-degree arc of the fish’s binocular vision.
Gear and tackle
Fly-fishing doesn’t have to be gear-intensive, but certain basic items are considered necessities. For example, a vest serves as the fly angler’s tackle box, with many pockets to hold a variety of gear.
* Vest (flies in box, fly floatant, leaders, extra line, clippers, first-aid kit, sunscreen, bug repellent).
* Hip boots or waders for entering water.
* Polarized glasses to reduce glare.
* Brimmed hat.
* Neutral-colored clothing to avoid attracting insects.
Where Fish Feed
Percent of diet found in each zone (see microfilm for chart illustration)
Trout mostly feed on the bottom, nosing under rocks and gravel for insect larvae (a behavior called grubbing or tailing), but they also keep an eye on the surface, especially during insect hatches. An angler who only fishes dry flies misses the vast area below the water where fish spend the most time feeding.
A cast of 15-35 feet is the most productive distance, especially on small streams like Piru Creek.
Fly line is weighted to carry when cast, unlike regular bait casting, in which the lure is the weight that carries the line.
Casting energy is transferred from forearm and wrist through the rod to the line, providing energy to drive leader and fly up to 90 feet away.
Pausing at start of backcast allows line to straighten out behind angler.
Rod, Reel and Line
Rod length and weight and type of line varies according to the flies used and where angler will be fishing. Matching line to rod is important. Shown are recommendations for someone starting out on small streams:
* Rod: 8-9 feet long; of bamboo, fiberglass or graphite.
* Reel: Single-action, meaning one complete turn of the spool is made for every full turn of the handle.
* Line: Lighter line (4-6-weight), for casting up to 40 feet using smaller flies. Double-tapered floating line is suitable for all-around casting.
What Fish Eat
The trout’s diet consists mainly of insects from larval stage to adult. Fly anglers keep on hand a mix of imitation insects of various life stages. The variety of tiny hooks covered with fur and feathers is vast. Shown below are a few of the staples of a trout’s diet and the flies that imitate them.
* Imitates adult insect.
* Treated with floatant, fished on surface and allowed to drift into fish’s feeding zone.
* Angler relies on sight when fish strikes.
* When to use: when fish are feeding at surface for adult insects (seen as pockets on water’s surface).
* Imitates insect emerging from larvae, or drowning adult.
* Fished just below surface or deeper toward bottom (use weight).
* Use strike indicator such as piece of yarn or tiny bobber to know when fish strikes.
* When to use: If fish aren’t rising, or when fish are “grubbing” (look for riffles where water surface is broken)
* Imitate tiny fish.
* Fished underwater and retrieved in a way that imitates swimming fish.
* When to use: works better in lakes, deeper water; in stream with undercut banks.
Matching the Hatch
Fly fishermen anxiously await insect hatches--the mass transformation of larvae emerging into adult form that sends trout into a feeding frenzy. Trout gulp at emerging caddis and mayflies as the bugs pulse from the bottom to the surface. Newly emerged adults dot the water’s surface. In an attempt to “match the hatch,” anglers pluck a few insects from the water for reference and tie on the appropriate fly.
The hooks used for catching trout locally are tiny. Hooks size 14 to 20 are commonly used on Piru Creek. Anglers who prefer to release fish they catch pinch down the hook’s barbs, making it easier to remove the hook.
Trout Tactics: Reading the River
* Trout stay in area of river where less energy is required, facing upstream, waiting for food to pass by.
* In order for angler to remain undetected, fly is usually cast upstream just above the area where fish are believed to be waiting. This allows fly to drift downstream at the speed of and under the control of the water’s flow.
* Undercut banks offer a safe spot for fish to watch for passing food.
* An effective method is to fish the bubble line (drift line): the path along which insects float along a stream.
* At bends in stream, current flows more quickly on outside and slower on inside. Fish like to hang in the areas between fast and slow currents.
* Obstructions such as logs and rocks are favorite hiding spots for fish. Shadows, dams and bridges are also popular.
* Fish feed on winged insects and nymphs in shallow riffles.
* Be careful not to scare fish when walking along the shoreline; they can detect footstep vibrations.
Fishing Piru Creek
Piru Creek links Pyramid Lake in Los Angeles County with Ventura County’s Lake Piru. It’s fishable year-round, and small trout (most 5-8 inches) are plentiful in its 14 miles of cool, clear water. Fly fishermen even have 1.5 miles of the creek set aside to catch and release wild trout.
Sierra Pacific Fly Fishers: (818) 998-1542
Sespe Fly Fishers Inc.: (805) 659-1254
Wilderness Fly Fishers: (310) 301-4210
Pasadena Casting Club: (626) 447-8141
UCLA Extension class The Sport and Science of Fly-Fishing, taught by Neal Taylor: (310) 825-9971
Sources: John Stevenson, president of Sierra Pacific Fly Fishers; “Flyfishing Taught by Neal Taylor”; the Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide; L.L. Bean Fly-Fishing Handbook, Reel Maps. Researched by JULIE SHEER/Los Angeles Times