Postcards From L.A.: Fly-casting in the shadow of the Rose Bowl. Of all places, right?
Los Angeles Times columnist Chris Erskine learns to fly-fish in Pasadena.
Does it surprise you that there’s a giant casting pond in the long, lush shadow of the Rose Bowl? Technically, it lies in the Arroyo Seco, which means “dry creek,” of course. It’s one of those contradictions I traffic in — unexpected pleasures in surprising and convenient places. That’s part of my Postcards mission — to surprise you a little, with options not too far from your beloved couch. To get you out and about.
In this case, we’re trying out this free Pasadena casting pond, surrounded by eucalyptus and cottonwoods, hiking trails and even an archery range.
Welcome to my Walden Pond.
As you know, fly-fishing is probably our quietest sport. The giggle of the stream is usually the loudest sound … like kids kibitzing over candy.
Here at this hidden-gem casting pond, it’s even quieter.
Shallow as a wading pool, the pond is bigger than you’d probably expect — roughly the size of eight tennis courts stitched together, roomy enough that you don’t trip over the sprinkling of other anglers out on this moody weekend afternoon.
By the way, great spot to take Dad or Grandpa this Father’s Day (tip: Dads don’t really like stuffy brunches). Or take Mom for her birthday. Moms often excel at fly-fishing, a sport that benefits from their trademark patience.
(That’s a joke, if you’d like it to be. Otherwise, please move on.)
During my recent casting session with a couple of members of the Pasadena Casting Club, there was only the rip-rip-rip of the line leaving the water, then the romantic whirl of it curling behind me. To cast merely requires the flick of the arm, and the line unfurls and does (in my case) exactly what you don’t want it to do.
I don’t care. Keep your lightsabers and silly sci-fi cafes. I’d rather throw lovely arcs of line, in one of the most rustic and alluring settings you’ll find in any major American city.
To think this big bowl of milk is only 30 minutes from the rotting belly of L.A.
Not that fly-fishing doesn’t have its issues: so louche, so lousy with overtones of boomer doctors and their $3,000 Orvis rods.
I keep reading that “perception is reality,” an easy cliché. If perception is reality, that means there are no false impressions.
Perception is not reality — not at all. And fly-fishing is not the exclusive domain of wealthy male retirees, though you are bound to spot a few.
In fact, the president of the casting club is a Gen-Xer (Adrian Uribe, 40). The past two presidents have been women, and the club’s fly-tying guru is Naomi Okamoto, so good that certain flies are named for her.
The casting club, founded in 1947, appears to be doing well, with 350 members sharing demos and events, including the prestigious National Casting Championships starting here July 31.
“Fishing is in my blood,” explains club president Uribe. “It is a passion of mine handed down through the men on my mom’s side of the family. It is something I really love doing; my great-uncles did it, my uncles did it, and now I do it.”
Uribe, a criminal defense attorney, likes to tout the environmental advantages to fly-fishing, in which participants often release their catch rather than saving it for the frying pan.
“Fishing any other way is like hitting the ‘easy’ button,” he says. “We are not fishing to keep the fish, either. I would also say there is a more sportsman appeal to fly-fishing.”
“When we add a new fly fisherman, we add a conservationist,” says Eric Callow, a past casting club president.
Though there are dozens of fishing clubs across California, this Pasadena unit is one of only three with its own casting pond (Long Beach and San Francisco are the other two).
It’s a good place to shake the rust off. I’m kind of a novice at everything, this included, and have only fly-fished a few times, with modest results.
Note to newcomers that you’re throwing the weighted line, not the fly itself, which is mostly along for the ride till it tickles the water. The line comes off the reel like Silly String. In the best casts, it comes flat and straight, rather than loopy.
Callow, a certified instructor, offers a few more suggestions:
- Not much wrist to the cast — almost none.
- The casting arc is minimal, and should come from the shoulder rather than your precious drinking elbow.
- The practice cast is called a “false cast.” It’s that cursive, lyrical back-and-forth seen in “A River Runs Through It” and is used to establish distance and direction before “presenting” the fly to the fish in the exact spot you desire.
At first, I don’t get it. In fact, I hardly get it at all. The cast demands finesse and touch; more of a putt than a long drive. As you might guess, delicate gestures are not my nature. I have the jawline of a giraffe and the impulses of a demented cheetah.
Maybe this brilliantly nuanced sport isn’t for me?
But I sense we have a future. I suspect that fly-fishing and I will spend a lot of quality time in the next decade or two, at Hot Creek Ranch in the Sierra, or at nearby Lake Mary, as I catch and release a few sly and beautiful rainbows.
Fly-fishing can be spiritual — like Mozart, like Patrick Taylor, a gentle hammock for my turbulent cheetah mind.
Look, we don’t pick our demons, do we? Or even the little stuff that stresses us out. We can only pick the ways we deal with it all.
For me, fishing is one way. Writing is another.
Both with tiny hooks and delicate serifs, almost too thin to see.
Erskine will discuss “Daditude,” his collection of Times columns, at Pages bookstore in Manhattan Beach on June 13 at 7 p.m. Tickets required. Info: pagesabookstore.com.
The casting pond, at 415 S. Arroyo Blvd., is run by the city of Pasadena and is free and open to the public every day, dawn to dusk.
The Pasadena Casting Club has a clubhouse next to the pond. It is open Sundays, 1-5 p.m., and visitors are welcome. Individual memberships start at $60 a year. Info: pasadenacastingclub.org
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