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.
That dreaded, annoying sound started pinging at 4:30 in the morning. That awful repetitive sound that wakes you from your sleep, getting you on your way. I hate that sound. It was 4:30 in the morning when Jacob and I crowded into our little Subaru and headed west.
We didn't know what to expect, we didn't understand what we were in for. More than anything we didn't know the impact this trip would have. All we knew was that it was 4:30 in the morning and we were headed to Durango for the next two weeks.
We've always been "backcountry" fishermen. Sure the big trout are exciting, but I'd rather catch the little guys any day of the week. And so, we sought them out in Colorado, just as we do at home. One of these smaller, wild streams we were able to fish was Lime Creek.
It's not a particularly "special" section of water. It's not one of those sacred "no name" creeks that we all have. People spoke openly about it at the fly shops and we saw a few people out and about during our days spent there. So, I don't think I'm breaking any code by talking about it.
You can read my full post on Lime Creek, here.
In the weeks and months that followed I was convinced that this little body of water had changed me. I was more sure of that than anything. This creek was the catalyst to a total and complete life change.
I quit my job, because it was no longer enhancing me, but rather making me worse.
I gave away, threw away, donated anything that I didn't feel served me anymore.
I began to spend more time worried about everything and less time worried about myself.
I've recently discovered that Lime Creek didn't change me, who I am, but it did change my perception, of everything.
On our way back east we stopped in Lexington, Kentucky to visit Jacob's mentor. He gifted us a book, Lime Creek Odyssey, by Steven J Meyers.
(you can read more about Steven Meyers, here)
In a way, that book impacted me just as much as the actual place. To say it has become one of my favorite books is an understatement. I've read the book about six times by now, sometimes reading from cover to cover other times jumping chapters, reading my favorites first.
There are two reasons I've latched on to this book the way I have. One, it reminds me of that creek any time it starts to get foggy. Two, it reminds me that my odyssey on this creek is not unique, nor is it necessary to revisit this place to have another one, perhaps life itself is an extended odyssey. And more importantly, life in your own backyard.
Oddly enough, my favorite part of the book is the Introduction, what I found to be the intention for the rest of the book. It's an intention that I now try to set for myself daily, almost a mantra if you will. It begins by questioning The Odyssey, the differences and parallels between Homer and Penelope, while also introducing the geography and history of this sublime little creek.
"It seems appropriate for me to wander this little valley while others, more heroic, journey to Nepal, the Arctic, the tropical rain forest. This personal odyssey of place, this exploration of a mountain stream, is also a journey in the discovery of self, and a search for an appropriate definitions of man's place in the broader reality of nature. I stay at home, like Penelope, believing that ones home is the proper place for such an odyssey."
- Lime Creek Odyssey
The book moves beautifully from hiking Engineer Mountain to fishing the creek itself, moving through life, being human, and even death.
If you've never been to this special place, that's ok, the book is still very much worth the read and should be found on any fly angler's bookshelf.
I'm glad that a vacation landed me and my fly rod in Lime Creek.
I'm glad that a copy of Lime Creek Odyssey fell into my lap.
And, I'm glad to have gone on my own odyssey, small and unheroic as it may be.
"I have been in Lime Creek long enough now to have seen a child born while I hiked it's woods, to have seen a loved one die while I fished its waters. I have seen a generation pass and another begin to flower. I know the creek will outlast me and my memory. I know further that there will come a time when all human impact on the creek will be gone. For now, however, we share a place in nature. And I have named that place with my names."
- Lime Creek Odyssey
Here's a recent essay written by the author, highlighting Lime Creek Odyssey, conservation, and the responsibility we have to our home.
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!
This industry has grown fast, remarkably fast. When I first dipped my toes in the water of this sport there were far fewer anglers then there is today.
I'm selfish with my river time, I admit it. I'm a creative and my soul is filled with hours and days spent on the water. I'm left with words and images that pour out of me and keep me up nights. The solitude of the sport is my favorite thing about it. There's a quiet, peacefulness that resonates within you and you're left with a soul that's filled up. But, it's hard to find solitude on the river now. Some days you go out and are left with all the holes occupied, squeezing in where you can when you meet a gracious angler. You drive for miles to get to your favorite backcountry stream only to be greeted by four other cars sporting the dreaded fly fishing sticker collection stamped on the rear window.
I keep trying to remind myself that this is actually a good thing. The more people participating in the sport means more people advocating for clean water, public lands, etc... But more often than not, that's not actually the case.
In the past month, I've witnessed angler neglect that is heartbreaking.
I've caught fish that bore the scathing dry handprint.
I've found dead trout with barbed squirmy worms hooked down deep in their gill plates.
There've been wads of leader and tippet, paired with wounded flies laying on stream banks.
I've seen anglers and guides alike purposefully snagging fish, just to say they "caught" something.
Not to mention the ridiculous amount of trash found not only on the banks but floating downstream.
None of these occurrences have been a one-time thing, in fact, it's become more the rule than the exception.
I'd like to hope that this is ignorance and not purposeful, but either way, it's harmful.
After a few weeks of being pent up, I'm ready to spend some quality time on the river.
I hope to walk away full and not heartbroken.
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.
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.
Is it warm enough to wet wade?
Do you think it's going to rain or not?
Where's the trail?
No seriously, where the hell is the trail?
Hey Wild Water, nice to see you again, it's been too long!
It had been a week since our last fishing trip. We decided that we were not going to squander the day and rather spend it back in the woods creating a great adventure. What better way than finding an East Coast canyon stream?
We headed out in hopes of large browns and beautiful views.
The trail was straight down and all I could think about was heading back out, if going down was this bad coming back out was going to be worse. Especially given my sore muscles from a week of building a deck and other various projects. I kept reminding myself that the browns would be worth it.
This body of water literally took my breath away.
It is truly one of the most amazing places I've ever been able to fish.
We set right to it, starting with nymphing large pools and switching to tiny drys with the hopes of a hatch. Eventually, we even tied on some streamers after catching one fish, a small bluegill.
We've all used the term "even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while." That term was all too true on this trip. Despite our best efforts and all our hoping, the only brown trout we managed was quite literally a blind squirrel.
It was still an adventure, still a day I wouldn't trade for anything.
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.