It’s 4:30am. My insulated travel french press is sitting sullenly on the counter. It’s been there all night, steely throat agape, hungrily awaiting its morning meal of coffee grounds and scalding water. If the little fucker had fingers I’m sure they’d be tapping impatiently.
“Flyfishing.” The word typically conjures images of freestone rivers, pristine landscapes, and trout flashing like living jewels in a crystal current.
“Los Angeles.” The name is reminiscent of palm trees, botoxed celebrities, and urban sprawl pocking the landscape beneath the seasonless glare of a perpetual sun. It may be the last place that comes to mind when someone says “flyfishing.”
But here I am in Los Angeles at 4:47am, travel french press nestled contently in my cup holder, rolling North on the 710 towards Pasadena to flyfish the LA River with my brother.
By 6am we’re on the river. We will find no trout here. Once upon a time, before the concrete shackles that now bind its banks were installed in the name of flood control, this river held a run of wild steelhead. But they haven’t been seen in these parts since the 1940s. No, we’re on the hunt for the carp that thrive in the warm, dirty water that runs the 50-mile gauntlet of concrete and freeway overpasses, down to the Pacific Ocean.
Despite the knowledge of this unfortunate history, I find myself surprised by the strange beauty of the river. The soft hues of an LA sunrise cast scraps of foliage struggling through cracked concrete in a charming light. In certain sections, where the river bottom is intact, where the reeds and willows grow thickest, there still lingers a hint of what once was; the last remnants of that river magic all fishermen know. It still clings to the crevices and hollows of this river. You’ll catch its shimmer out of the corner of your eye.
My brother and I didn’t catch any fish this day. Our plan was to fish here regularly, until we cracked the code on the carp that scour the slimy river bottom. But life had other plans and I found myself moving to Idaho before we had a chance to return. Instead, I’m left with a memory of our lone encounter with this crippled river. And perhaps too, a sliver of hope. Maybe even a river as damaged and broken as this isn’t beyond hope. Maybe it just needs half a chance. That river magic lies dormant, but not dead. I’ve seen it. It is waiting for a chance to bloom once more.