At first glance, the notion of the first-ever LA River Fishing Derby -- name: Off Tha' Hook -- sounded like a set-up for a joke. Would an old boot be caught? Would a disappointed fisherman reel in a hubcap?
And aren't forests, not freeways, supposed to serve as the backdrop to relaxing fly-fishing expeditions?
It's not a joke now: The Saturday, Sept. 6 derby was a success, and the most sizable, much-photographed catch of the day? It was a carp pulled in by Matus Sobolic. The Altadena fisherman, who was outfitted for the day in grand fishing gear and togs, held the plump 6-pounder, 3-ouncer before returning the 23-inch fish to the waters from which it sprang.
That's because the derby was not only catch-and-release but a serious study, too: Friends of the LA River and researchers who keep a keen eye on our urban waterway want to watch for steelhead trout, which haven't been spied within its shallow waves since the 1940s.
Just over two dozen pole-carrying people -- kids and grown-ups alike -- turned out to participate. Both bass and carp were caught, but the steelhead? It remained elusive during the mid-morning line-drop.
A scale sat nearby so everyone who caught a fish could get weight verification before the river denizen was promptly returned to the waves. Biologists Rosi Dagit and Sabrina Drill were on the banks to catalog the catches, adding their findings to the 2008 Fish Study, while Jim Burns of LA River Flyfishing -- the blog that keeps tabs on all urban line-casting -- served as the day's consultant.
"This was a fantastic derby," said Mr. Burns. "The number of people who came out to fish, the rise in bass compared to carp, and the overall recreational and scientific importance made it clear that fishing the Los Angeles River is here to stay."
Will the derby grow in size or frequency? Once people get past the idea that only hubcaps and old boots'll be on the hooks, you bet. The recreational character of the LA River is on the rise, and it boasts a bucolic, come-fish feel, even with the busy 5 Freeway buzzing in the distance.