LOS ANGELES -- "It's my new therapy," Bryant Recinos says before raising his fishing rod and whipping a hook tipped with a single corn kernel -- plunk! -- into the swirling blue-brown water of the Los Angeles River on an early Saturday evening.
Recinos, 24, exudes calm and patience. At the beginning of the shutdown, he bought his first fishing rod and other gear, and started coming to Elysian Valley's verdant stretch of the 51-mile river a couple of times a week.
Despite its concrete casing, installed in the late 1930s to rein in once-frequent flooding, signs of the natural river persist. Besides birds of many feathers, it's home to beefy carp, small-mouth bass, tilapia and -- once upon a time -- steelhead trout. If you tilt your gaze in just the right way, away from the overpasses and concrete shores, it could be Georgia.
There are grander digs to fish -- rushing rivers with glittering trout in Mammoth Lakes and Kern County -- but they lack one of the L.A. River's greatest strengths: convenience. It takes less than 20 minutes for Recinos to trek from his Glendale home to his preferred spot under the 2 Freeway.
Recinos says he knows the world is a mess. "But for like two to three hours a day, I just don't want to hear about it."
Early in the pandemic, mass closures and fear of the coronavirus drove people to at-home hobbies, like gardening, working puzzles, baking and pouring one too many quarantinis. Just as Los Angeles began reopening, an alarming spike in virus cases and hospitalizations sent the city -- and much of the state -- back to an approximation of Square One.
After being inside for so long, "even the trees look cute," said Summer Yang, of the San Gabriel Valley. It was her first time at the river, and she looked on cheerfully as her fiance and some friends collected crayfish in a white bucket.
Some, like Recinos, have found fishing the L.A. River to be a peaceful respite from COVID-19, political and social turmoil and malaise of all flavors. Even those who have been fishing the river for years say it's a new experience amid the new normal.
-- The Reyes family
Destiny Reyes, 13, asks my colleague and me if we want a sizable carp. Maybe she pities us. We're both new to fishing and haven't caught a thing for hours. We open a plastic bag and she drops it in, still wriggling.