Joey Penades, a 31-year-old general contractor from Granada Hills, spent all Saturday morning flycasting without getting so much as a nibble. Small wonder, since he wasn't within sight of water. Still, he considered the morning a perfect success.
Penades was one of 45 members of the Sierra Pacific Flyfishers club devoting the day to a free fly-fishing workshop that familiarized some 250 interested people with the pleasures of the sport.
In groups of about eight, the audience watched, fascinated as Penades cast his tapered line in precise, graceful arcs on the lawn of the William O. Douglas Outdoor Classroom, an environmental center that its executive director, Walt Parker, calls "one of Southern California's best-kept secrets."
The "classroom" covers 600 acres of mostly unimproved city, state, county and federal land in Franklin Canyon north of Beverly Hills. It is funded by public and private grants, and devoted to environmental education.
Environmentalism and fly-fishing are as integrated as rods and reels. "Fly-fishermen care a lot about good environment because that's what makes our sport possible," said John Schubert, conservation chair of the 275-member Sierra Pacific club.
"We've adopted Piru Creek near Castaic," continued the 35-year-old photographer from Van Nuys. "We pick up trash and build trails near the stream, we remove little dams people build in the water, and we're conducting a two-year study to see how the creek can best be managed for all kinds of recreation."
Flycasters' dedication to ecology extends to the fish they catch. They seldom use barbed hooks, and almost always throw fish back after hooking them. Throw is a misnomer; the fish are carefully released, often being hand-held to orient and rest them before they swim back into their own environment.
"For almost all fly-fishermen, the pleasure is not in keeping or eating the fish. The pleasure is in the stalking, the casting, the presentation (having the fly land in the water gently, like an insect), the hook-up, the fight, the landing and finally releasing the fish," said Jeff Ellis, 32, a founder of Sierra Pacific Flyfishers and co-owner of the Fishermen's Spot, a fishing supply store in Van Nuys that serves as headquarters for the club.
Hooking the Fish
Unlike fish caught on baited hooks, which usually lodge in the throat or occasionally even the stomach, a fly generally hooks a fish's lip. The fly is in a fish's mouth for just a split second, before the fish realizes it hasn't caught a real insect. Then it tries to spit out the fly, and that's when the hook catches in the fish's lip.
A fishing fly is just what its name implies: an imitation insect. The most imitated insect is the mayfly. Like many other flies, mayflies develop under water. Then they rise to the surface where their wings dry, they fly away and, within about 18 hours, they return to the water's surface where they mate, lay their eggs and die. Their natural life lasts only 18 hours, but even that brief span is often abbreviated by hungry trout.
The workshop was divided into nine "stations." At the station dealing with what trout eat, Mas Okui, 54, a high school history teacher from Woodland Hills who has been "fly-fishing seriously for at least 35 years," explained that some fishing flies are designed to look and act like insects developing under water, while others look and act like mature flies on the surface.
Moreover, Okui said, living flies--especially mayflies--tend to be larger when trout season begins in April than they are when it ends in October. So flycasters buy or make bigger fishing flies for the beginning of the season than the end.
The size of insects on which fish feed at a given time and in a given place is just one of many factors successful fly-fishers must consider. Different streams require different flies that mimic different kinds of insects, small fish and even little frogs. Every stream must be "read" to divulge the most likely location of fish.
Anyone can buy fishing flies for between 75 cents and $1.50. But most dedicated fly-fishers prefer to tie their own.
Basically, there are five kinds of flies: Dry flies represent insects on the water's surface, wet flies imitate insects emerging underwater from their larval forms, streamers copy tiny fish beneath the surface, nymphs portray larval forms of insects under water, and poppers mimic animals like tiny frogs that jump on the surface.
"Every fly represents a different type of insect or animal," said Jordan Lagman, 54, who demonstrated fly tying at the workshop. "If you have the wrong type of fly, you reduce your chances of catching fish quite a bit.
"It takes five minutes to tie a fly if you're in a real hurry," continued the medical equipment company administrator from North Hollywood, noting that he usually takes 10 or 15 minutes, and uses a fly to catch about a dozen fish before it "starts looking kind of raggedy" and is replaced.