The Los Angeles River is one of the largest waterways and tributaries in Southern California. And contrary to its original pragmatic intent at the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers as a controlled concrete basin, the once alluvial river has become a source of inspiration and opportunity amongst local communities living along the waterway’s route. With news about big name revitalization projects in its near futire, the river has garnered public attention, and in the process the Los Angeles River seems to be teeming with civic life as a prelude to its upcoming reincarnation as a public feature of pride.
Los Angeles River fishing enthusiast sites like lariverflyfishing.com reveal there is a surprising population of fish living in the river…except none are currently native species. Photo by Jim Burns/lariverflyfishing.com
In Chuan Ding’s post titled, Discovering Where Los Angeles Begins and Ends, she discussed how the Los Angeles River has become a popular destination for many visitors from all across the city, offering visitors an opportunity to kayak, hike, bicycle, or to simply observe wildlife along its more wild sections.
Although there are many opportunities to interact with urban wildlife along the Los Angeles River shoreline, most residents do not consider the waterway a prime fishing spot, or even know several fish species can be found living within its depths and shallows. Although a majority of the river is controlled through concrete channels, there are still sections along the Los Angeles River that feature rocky banks, a soil bottom, and naturalized vegetation along its waterway that allow for several species of fish to survive (and some large specimens too).
Unfortunately the native fish species that were once original and/or endemic to the river prior to the engineered channelization in 1938 did not survive (nor did the grizzly bears which once roamed its shores). Historical Los Angeles River fish species included: Steelheads/Rainbow Trout, Arroyo Chub, River Shrimp, species of Salmon, Three-Spined Stickleback, and several other native fish species.
The organization California Trout notes a recent study – the SOS: California’s Native Fish Crisis by Dr. Peter Moyle, a UC Davis professor and renowned expert on California’s water systems and the fish that inhabit them – indicate the state’s native salmonids are in unprecedented decline, including Steelhead (top) and Chinook Salmon (below). Images: California Trout
The last recorded catch of the elusive endangered Southern California Steelhead was recorded in 1948 by a local fisherman near the Glendale Bridge. Although the native fish species are gone, there are still fish living within the river, largely invasive and transplanted fish species (even so, it is a testament to the potential for life within the river, and the possibility original species could be reintroduced).
A study conducted by FoLAR (Friends of the Los Angeles River) in 2008 recorded catching various fish species within the Los Angeles River, including mosquitofish, tilapia, green sunfish, fathead minnow, carp, black bullhead, Amazon sailfin catfish, and largemouth bass. The majority of fish caught during the study were tilapia and mosquitofish.
Although there are still a dedicated few who roam the river in hopes of hooking a California Steelhead, many recreational fishing spots have become popular with locals for fly-fishing (as local fishing enthusiast blog lariverflyfishing.com puts it, “Fishing for carp, waiting for steelhead”). Still, there is also a sense of urgency tempered with hope that the once densely populated Los Angeles River can again potentially become a habitat for the native species again with planning and rehabilitation of the ecosystem. With efforts along tributaries for habitat restoration and the upcoming Los Angeles Revitalization Plan bringing more public attention, the river greenway offers the possibility not only to fulfill its role as an urban revitalization project for the people, but also a wildlife refuge for California’s earlier aquatic natives.