We weren't supposed to go fishing today.
We weren't supposed to catch a 16-inch wild brown on a small brookie stream.
All Mondays should be like this.
Lesson of the day:
ALWAYS bring a net, even when you "know" you won't need it.
If you were to give me the option between fishing a large, glorious river filled with honey holes and packed with giant, hungry brown trout or a small backcountry creek, I'd probably pick the creek. I'm not opposed to the first, in fact, brown trout may arguably be my favorite. But, there's a different kind of magic found back in the mountains amongst tiny, blue ridge beauties.
For many months now, if not years, Jacob and I have been discouraged by both the population and size of the wild water trout. Most of the time you're going to catch a tiny rainbow, if you're having an exceptional day you'll get to meet an even smaller brook trout, but probably only one or two.
We make it a point to try and fish known brook trout streams, making sure to climb high enough to reach them. We leave these streams having caught fish, but not as many, not the right species. The rivers are warmer, the bug life is not as plentiful. While there's still fish, it is discouraging to recognize that it has changed, that it's not what it once was.
We headed out this weekend with a friend in hopes of finding the elusive Southern Brook Trout. The filled parking lot in the wee hours of the morning was not an encouraging sight. Being good anglers, we scoured the cars for evidence of the tell-tale fishing stickers. None were found and we determined it was in our best interest to brave the hikers and campers for the fish.
And, fish we did find!
Pools, runs, slicks, filled to the brim with large beautiful brook trout, not one rainbow or brown was even sighted. The bright orange fins with stark white borders were noticeable a mile away.
Plenty of time was spent "resting" a pool, but really we were just admiring something that's so scarce.
I spend a lot of time on a healthy brook trout stream just savoring the artistry of it because around here, it's a rare thing.
I hope that maybe one day this will become the norm.
I hope that perhaps our past efforts and future efforts will pay off.
I hope that we will learn to conserve, to keep clean, and to treasure all of our streams.
But really, I hope that we, as anglers, will be better than we were before.
Every year a certain ritual takes place, where we return back to the wild.
The larger, more accessible bodies of water turn into swimming holes and tubing streams, rather than the glorious rivers that house 30-inch brown trout. Those cold winter days of peace and solitude are over.
And so, you search it out.
You wash out your waders, hang them in storage for the next few months.
You dig out your wading socks and booties.
You accept the fact that your car now always smells of wet feet.
The 9' 5 weights have been safely tucked away and the 7' 3 weights take their place. Your fly boxes go from housing large nymphs and streamers to the smallest of dry flies, in every color and pattern imaginable.
You don't need to tote around three, four or even 5x anymore, so the spools are stacked neatly in a soft sided tackle box, probably in your garage or basement.
The reel you carry with you, only one, is needed just to hold the line, the drag system is not a concern anymore.
Trophy fish go from being in the high 20's to maybe eight or ten inches.
It's time to hike into the great beyond. Find streams where you make or may not be able to even cast. Get used to laurels and rhododendrons eating more of your flies than the trout.
Hey summer, nice to see you again.
I can't wait to see what adventures you have planned for me this year!
There are three major indulgences I permit in my life: fly fishing, excellent beverages, and books.
I've refused for many years now to permit television in my home. Other than the occasional Netflix series (full disclosure, I binge watch) there is no form of television. In fact, I don't even own one.
I'd rather spend my nights decompressing over a good drink and a great book.
One of the first things Jacob did to get me really excited about fly fishing all those years ago, was to buy me all of John Gierach's books.
I poured over every one of them, again and again.
Last month I received a copy of A Fly Rod of Your Own. It happens to be autographed and Jacob happened to speak with Mike Clark, win, win.
I binged this book as bad as any Netflix series, the book was devoured within a day. A full, rich day of sitting in the sunshine and reading a book; nothing more, nothing less.
It's typical Gierach. There are stories you laugh out loud at, stories you shake your head about, but most of all they're all stories that you identify with. I'd be willing to bet that besides being wildly entertaining, Gierach's finest quality is relatability. We've all been on that trip. Maybe we haven't fished in Alaska, Labrador or the notorious St. Vrain, but we've all been on those fishing trips.
And, you can't help but feel a sense of comradery when you read about his "bad days."
This isn't a review, I have no business to review a John Gierach book any more than Jacob can comment on a Mike Clark rod, but I will tell you to buy it. And, I will tell you to read it, because as always it won't disappoint.
"I went down to the river myself and stood there wondering how I could so dearly love something that's really just an example of water obeying the laws of physics. But a river running too high muddy to catch trout on dry flies isn't the worst that can happen, and, like everyone else I know, I had plenty of things to do besides go fishing I just couldn't think of any of them at the moment."
-John Gierach, A Fly Rod of Your Own
I was starting to grow frustrated. I wanted to move on, hurry up, stop wasting time in holes where the fish weren't biting. You're not going to coax them into eating, we've been in this one hole for an hour. You caught the blind squirrel, now let's move on.
I knew that I needed content, photos, something, anything. And so far, I wasn't getting it. All I was doing was sitting around waiting.
Eventually, we started moving upstream, but nothing was going on up there either.
Another hour passed.
I was in desperate need of something to peak my imagination, some beautiful trout to get the creative juices flowing.
The day became all about catching something. Kind of like novice anglers are, the catch being more important than the experience.
With time spent on the water, you begin to figure out that it isn't all about catching that trophy trout or crazy amounts of fish that made it to the net.
You calm down, attain confidence and acceptance.
You learn that all days spent on the water are good days, 3o inch brown or not.
We moved up into a section of small wild water. I was sure that this was going to make the creative genius poor out of me, but as always, mother nature had other plans.
I saw so many feisty, wild rainbows jumping and splashing around I couldn't believe it. Spring had found them and they were enjoying every second of it.
A soon as your fly hit the water up popped a little trout just to roll all over it, jump right behind it or delicately execute any number of acrobatic tricks. And it wasn't just with our humble creations, but with the actual mayfly's that were swarming about everywhere.
It's as if they had filled themselves as much as they could stand and now it was time to play. They were truly enjoying every minute of the day.
So, why wasn't I?
At the end of this particular stretch, you reach a large waterfall, one that even I wouldn't want to venture to try to climb over.
The pool below is large and full of happy trout.
When we arrived it all finally hit me. My frustrations over not landing "enough" trout started to fade and I took in the comedy of these jumping four to eight-inch trout. Every cast, up popped a fish and out flew a fly, one that either ended up tangled around 6x fluoro (spider webbing) or one that you had to dodge out of the way to miss.
Comical is truly an understatement.
So there we stood, only a few trout under our belts for the day, but watching all these tiny trout literally play with their food.
I can't think of a more perfect day; thank god it finally hit me.
You should work here.
You should wear these clothes.
You should hang out with these people.
You should look this way.
Your hair should look like this.
You shouldn't wear those sandals.
You shouldn't have those tattoos.
You shouldn't be so loud.
You shouldn't wear those hiking shorts all the time.
You should be prettier.
You shouldn't care so much.
You should be this way.
Should, should, should, should...
Well, guess what, I'm not.
Thanks for continuing to call society out on their crap.
Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone and empowering all of us to be who we are, embrace it, and support each other's journeys.
And thanks for being a company I can truly believe it!
A Force of Nature
The thermostat read 78 degrees; we checked the water, it read 58 degrees. I'd already removed most of my layers and was regretting the choice of waders. The air felt heavy and wet.
It was the second day in April.
We'd made a choice to escape early and head into the wild in search of small trouts and no people, little did we know that this may be a necessity already.
My wrist watch read 3:30, and the water was getting dangerously close to being too warm.
It was the second day in April.
The warm smell of honeysuckle, pine, and decaying bark filled the air, only every so often could you smell the crisp, clean smell of wild water. The sun was high and bright, not a cloud in the sky, and the richest blue you've ever seen. We took turns crouching in the little shade the laurels provided. It felt like the dead of summer.
If we're lucky, we may get another month of trout fishing if the weather continues the way it has been.
I'm hoping for a long, wet spring. Today is dark and gray, rain falling and I feel hopeful.
I've already set my sights on bass bugs and a six weight, just in case.
Many people find comfort in the familiar, the routine, what's known. They enjoy feeling safe.
There's nothing wrong with this mindset; perhaps it's the smarter mindset to have. If you're like this, then you have a sense of what's ahead. You have a plan for the today and the tomorrow. You've even got a safety net, just in case something pops up.
I'm not like this.
I've felt a constant pull to seek out what's unknown to me. I want to be in the realm of unfamiliar and unsafe. I don't have any idea of what's ahead. I make my plans day by day, not year by year. Some would argue that this is risky and even possibly immature. They may be right.
If you're a genuine anger, you're always on the lookout for new water, a different species of fish, even new fishing companions.
This week Jacob and I had the opportunity to accomplish two-thirds of those goals. We set out up the mountain and then back down, searching out a piece of river that was completely foreign. We'd heard about it, but never really committed to the long drive until someone invited us along.
When you stumble upon these places, they remain with you. They invite you back and encourage you to keep searching.
Experiences keep drawing me towards the unknown, keep pushing me to live spontaneously and surround myself with the new and different. Every gamble rewards me with a memory far more precious than safety. So I believe I'll keep searching out that next mountain and trying to find that unknown path. Maybe one day I'll succumb to the know, but for now, I'll keep seeking out the unknown, it's far more rewarding.
Fishing was out of the question this weekend. There was too much to do. Jacob had a guide trip. Winter had finally hit Western North Carolina after months of being in the 60s. There was no point and no time anyway. I had geared myself for being stir crazy and bored. This is life, and you don't always get to go fishing, unfortunately.
I got the call at 10:30 to pack on the layers, we were going fishing.
Jacob's clients were unable to get out of the B&B where they were staying. There was snow on the ground, a whopping 2 inches, but in the south, those are grounds to stay in and out of the blizzard.
We arrived to find no one else in sight, despite the fact that it was nearly 12:30 by the time we found our way to the river and most of the snow was already history.
The gin clear water called for long leaders and short casts, but the trout were stacked up everywhere and on fire.
My weekend of "great un-expectations" turned into an unforgettable one.
Like fishing, you never know what life is going to throw your way. Whether it's good or bad, and so you take it in stride because you know right upstream something great is waiting for you.
Jacob is a fly fishing guide with a passion for conservation and brook trout. He is an accomplished rod builder and restorationist.
Jillian is an outdoor photographer and blogger, using her voice for Public Lands and Cold Water Conservation. She specializes in trying to out fish jacob whenever she puts the camera down.