The 35 fishermen scattered along the banks of the West Fork of the San Gabriel River last Saturday found the chilly, rainy weather perfect for their sport.
But they had traveled to the small stream to cast rocks, not fishing lines.
The fishermen spent the morning breaking up man-made stone dams built by visitors to create pools in which they could swim. Although the pools are perfect for wading and floating, they can spell disaster for the trout that live and spawn in the river, which is one of the few breeding grounds for trout in Southern California and one of the area's most heavily fished streams.
The dams, about 15 of which spanned a 1 1/2-mile stretch of the West Fork at intervals of about 10 to 15 feet, create a number of problems, said Tim Bolling of Glendale, conservation chairman for the 300-member Pasadena Casting Club, which sponsored the cleanup.
Interrupting Food Chain
They block the water flow, allowing silt to accumulate in the pools and smothering the tiny aquatic insects the fish feed on, destroying a link in the stream's natural food chain, Bolling said.
Ingesting the silt also tears the trouts' gills, inhibiting their ability to breathe and sometimes killing them, said Jim Edmondson, a former conservation chairman of the casting club and a member of California Trout, a group that works to protect trout resources in the state.
"It's the equivalent of sandblasting our lungs," Edmondson said. "They can die of asphyxiation."
The dams also slow the flow of water, allowing debris to accumulate on the bottom, depriving the trout of the clean-gravel spawning grounds they will move to in February.
"Wild trout have a highly migratory instinct," Bolling said. "They go down to the San Gabriel Reservoir to live for awhile, but they come upstream to spawn."
This is the third year the club has picked up trash and broken up the dams along the seven-mile-long stream that starts at Rincon Flats at the top of the San Gabriel Reservoir and stretches west past Glen Camp in Angeles National Forest.
Members began gathering at 7:45 a.m. at the foot of the California 39 bridge. Standing in the drizzling rain, the anglers, wearing waders and rubber gloves and carrying rakes and garbage bags, sloshed through the hip-deep water.
"I'm selfish," declared Ken Deakins of Studio City as he tugged at a 10-pound rock. "I fish here, so it's important to clean it up. It's nice to look at natural stuff instead of the artificial."
A certified public accountant, Deakins, 35, a member of the casting club, fishes in the area once a month but set aside this day to help keep the waters clear and pick up trash along the West Fork's banks.
Henry F. Palmer, president of the club, said he has cast his line in the stream for about 10 years. Pointing at a beer can, twisted under several rocks, he shook his head.
"It bothers me that people can destroy what is so pretty," said Palmer, a retired engineer from West Covina, as he picked up the can and put it in a bag.
"You look at the grass and trees and clear water, and then you see the bottles, plastic bags and other trash," he said. "People don't appreciate what beauty they have. If they keep it up, they won't even have that."
Mel Krause, a member of the San Gabriel Fly Fishers, one of several clubs that participated in the cleanup, agreed.
"I've fished here long enough to know almost every fish by its first name," boasted Krause, a physician from West Covina. "I like to see children grow up enjoying the stream as well."
Wiping the sweat from her face, Lynn Cable, a member of the Orange County Fly Fishers, kept a close eye on her son Seth, 7, as she picked up a rock and tossed it to the side.
"The cleanup is something worthwhile for the stream," said Cable, who drove up from Orange County to help out. "Besides, it's good exercise."
Building Dams Again
Hours later, as the day began to warm up, families could be seen setting up picnics along the banks downstream and children leaped across rocks. A group of boys piled small rocks together, attempting to make dams similar to the ones the conservationists had just torn down.
However, because the fishermen had taken pains to scatter the rocks far and wide to prevent easy reconstruction of the dams, the task was difficult.
"There's some places here that seem untouched by anybody," said Palmer, as he picked up a cantaloupe-size boulder from one of the dams and threw it as far as he could into the stream. "But sometimes it's discouraging," he said.
"We have to educate people," said Ross Marigold, a member of the Pasadena club and a licensed outfitter and guide from Temple City who concentrated on picking up litter.
Home to 8,000 Trout
Upstream, a 5.35-mile stretch of the West Fork is home to an estimated 8,000 wild trout. Fishing in that portion of the stream, which begins about a mile and a half upstream from the bridge, is limited to "catch and release only," meaning that any fish caught must be thrown back into the stream.