Bike the heart of Los Angeles

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Word and photos by Brian Ohlen A.K.A. Spoke'n'Fly

Video by Brian Verner

When dreaming of the next big trip or adventure, the destination is often the first thing to decide upon. More often than not, exotic and distant locales pique the interest before local ones. We're all explorers, and what’s more exciting than going somewhere you’ve never been? While there will always be that destination bike trip in the back of the mind, it’s the local, unplanned ones that keep us sane between trips. It’s with this sentiment that I’ve come to seek out and revel in mini bike-fishing rides and tours. Due to time and distance constraints, these often take place closer to home, or closer to wherever I’m sleeping that night. On my recent tour down the Pacific coast, I had such an opportunity in the most unsuspecting of locations; Los Angeles. I was planning to stay with a friend in Silver Lake and for the few days leading up to my arrival he suggested fishing the Los Angeles River. Being a man of small towns and quiet streams, I was pretty skeptical of the fishing opportunities L.A. had to offer. My perception of the poor water quality provided many opportunities for ‘brown trout’ jokes to my constant amusement.

At this point of my tour, the West Coast had seen one of the wettest winters in recent memory, L.A. included. I was warned that the river was particularly messy due to the deluge of water that swept all manner of garbage downstream. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but also wasn’t too surprised to find trash 20 feet up in trees as well as homeless camps lining the river (true of everywhere I looked in L.A.). I felt pretty out of place, far from my natural habitat...until I saw rising fish. The fish that call these waters home were not the trout and steelhead of my dreams, rather carp and bass. Despite this fact, my heart still raced at the site of a stirring fish and the prospect of a tug.  

We rose early to catch an L.A. sunrise over mountains, skyscrapers, and palms. City streets and bike paths led to the river which flows through concrete walls yet still lined with bushes and trees that found purchase in the cracks. The carp were not hard to find, but proved hard to catch. A point made painfully apparent by my lack of experience with this species and the fact that I was throwing steelhead flies with a heavy rod and line. A local fishing report recommended using tortillas. I left all my tortilla fly patterns back at home.

Despite coming up empty handed for the fish, the morning was not a total loss. Pedaling back home, we stopped at a Cuban cafe for the best cup of coffee of the trip, and void filling egg and bacon croissants. While I’m not convinced L.A. is in my future, it was pretty novel to indulge all my obsessions in one unlikely spot. Who can argue with a morning filled with fishing and breakfasting all within a bike ride of home? 

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