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Fly Fishing the Los Angeles River

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Fly fishing for carp | Photo: Dean Endress

Where there's water, there will always be fishermen wondering if they can hook a fish on their line. The Los Angeles River is no exception. Despite being mostly armored with cement throughout its almost 52-mile stretch, the waterway is a favorite spot among local fly fishermen, looking to spend time practicing their skills.

Unlike our traditional view of fishing is a great way to spend a lazy weekend floating on a boat, fly fishing is a different sport, says Dean Endress of Fishermen's Spot in Van Nuys. (The only fly-fishing exclusive shop in Los Angeles, Endress points out.) "It's not just bait and wait," says Endress, "Even if you're not catching fish, you're throwing, you're casting, you're manipulating the fly, you're controlling the line. You stay active."

Endress and his fellow fly fishermen often wake up early in the morning, when the weather is cooler and the sun doesn't cast a glare on the water, so they actually see the fish moving around the water. With the use of polarized glasses, fishermen can see how their handmade bait fares in the eyes of their prey.

Instead of worms or other live bait, fly fishermen use crafted baits made of string and beats, which mimic the colors of smaller fish. Once fly fishermen cast their constructed bait just further upstream of their prey, they often allow the water flow to lead their bait right into their prey's waiting mouths. "People who have intelligence tend to like fly fishing," says Endress, who has been hooked on the sport since he was a lad of 12.

One of the greatest joys of fly-fishing is perhaps simply being in the outdoors. In Los Angeles, the closest a fly fisherman can get is the Los Angeles River. Down in the Glendale Narrows, the soft-bottom reach takes on a very natural look. "Most people think that it's a dam, but when you go in the water early in the morning, you don't notice that as much." Down in this portion of the river, the roar of the 5 freeway and occasional honk of the Metrolink trains melt away to be replaced by a surreal serenity.

Carp from the L.A. River | Photo: Dean Endress
Carp from the L.A. River | Photo: Dean Endress

When fly-fishing, people normally assume that trout is the prey, says Endress, not so for Los Angeles. The Holy Grail it appears is the carp. "It's not so easy to fool them," says Endress, whose voice takes on a predatory excitement at the prospect, "They'll inspect what you have to offer very well. They're also quite strong fish. You can sometimes get a very good fight out of them." The thrill of catching that elusive carp is what keeps a fly fisherman on. Other fish like tilapia and blue gill can also be found in the river.

"Carp sees the world in the water much like we do in the air," explains Endress, "Trout, on the other hand, don't see the way we do." Fooling the carp into taking the handmade bait sounds like a well-earned triumph that offers a sweeter reward, if Endress is to be believed. "Catching trout can be challenging, but in some ways, carp is even more challenging."

The Los Angeles fly fisherman may get flak from fellow fishermen for going after carp instead of trout, ("some people look down on their noses at us for doing this," explains Endress) but he says it's not the fish that's important, it's the chance to get away from it all. Endress returns all his caught fish back into the Los Angeles River, pausing only to take a photo as proof of his efforts. Fishing the Los Angeles River offers an easy, convenient way to do that.

"You can sit here and complain that you aren't in the Eastern Sierras looking for trout or you can embrace what you have here." For an avid fly fisherman, there's no losing scenario. He's able to enjoy the outdoors, while practicing his skills for a few hours.

Endress leads tours and teaches others fly fishing on the surf or the Los Angeles River at Fishermen's Spot at 14411 Burbank Boulevard, Van Nuys. More information here.

Carp swimming | Photo: Dean Endress
Carp swimming | Photo: Dean Endress

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