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.
This week, despite the greatest of efforts by so many, congress voted to "recalculate" the way in which they can sell off Federal Lands to either the states or private entities.
It was a truly horrific event.
You can read about what the Washington Post had to say on the specifics of the vote here.
When Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt became president in 1901 one of his main goals was conservation and therefore created the United States Forest Service. By doing this, Teddy erected 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments. By the end of his presidency, he had protected over 230 million acres of Public Land. These are 230 acres our deeply conservative president set aside so that all of us would have to opportunity and ability to enjoy them without the threat of industrialization and greed.
Today, those lands are not nearly as safe as they once were.
You can read more about the history of protected lands and President Teddy here.
I don't spend a lot of time writing about specifics and facts and "how-to's," mostly because I don't feel I'm very good at it. However, today it felt warranted.
A few months ago I published a post about Public Lands and how much they mean to me. I'm not sure if it impacted anyone, caused them to do some research, infuriated them, but I hope that it did, just as I hope this post does.
NPR did a wonderful story concerning the issue on Tuesday, you can listen to it here.
Yesterday, Chris Wood, of Trout Unlimited wrote an excellent piece on the peril that we're now facing. Please take the time to read it, found here.
Today I don't have any fun, heartfelt fishing stories. Nor do I have a plethora of beautiful trout pictures and bendy bamboo.
Today I only have words, words that I hope will have some impact.
However, I will leave you with one photo, of the tiniest of trouts, possibly insignificant to most, caught on Public Lands. I hope that you will find a fire inside of you to protect it just as I have.
There’s a brief moment in angling when everything comes together. It’s the moment where you meet the fish you’ve been dancing with for seconds or hours and then let him slip away. Truly, it is the briefest of encounters, but it is the most magical of the whole event.
I get a lot of flack from those around me who aren’t fly anglers about my stance on catch and release. To them, the trout is meat, a trophy, possibly both. The trout serves a “purpose” in life, nothing more, nothing less. This is ok, I suppose. I just like to think of myself as slightly more saintly than those others.
To me it’s that instant when you let him swim out of your hand, slap the water explicitly with his tail, possibly never to see him again, that is the defining moment. Because you see, it defines you as an angler in that flash. If you really think about it, it causes you to question why. Why wouldn’t you eat something you worked so hard for? You do have to eat. Why wouldn’t you want the fish hanging on your wall? You may never catch one this size again. Do you simply release the fish because that’s what the culture, the regulations tell you to do? Why?
You do it because that moment may happen again. And again.
It may happen in the same pool or possibly a completely different river. You may be able to meet this same fish in a different season of his life. In a different scenario where you’ve both grown. You may meet again on a number 14 dry fly, rather than a squirmy worm, both older and wiser, but still coming together.
And so, one day, this compassionate culture of pinching barbs, wetting hands, defiantly making sure that this paraphyletic creature with a brain the size of a pea is perfectly unharmed becomes who you are, totally and completely. There’s no questioning why or even considering another alternative, and that’s ok, that’s just who you’ve become. Because of those brief moments that changed everything, redefined life and generally made you a much more saintly person.
When I removed my Chacos for the first time in two weeks and washed the last remains of Colorado away in the cheap motel bathroom I felt my heart break, truly break for the first time in a long while.
A few months ago Jacob and I left our beloved Blue Ridge Mountains for a two-week adventure across the country to Colorado. This was supposed to just be an adventure, a vacation, an escape from the world for a little while. It turned out to be so much more for me. We spent the days fishing and the nights drinking local beer. We said "hello" and "goodbye" to more brook trout and cutthroat than I can count. We met people and had conversations I'll never forget.
But what happened to my soul far surpassed those brief encounters. There is a beauty there unlike anything I'd ever seen. A freedom that hit my heart like a shock. It made me start to question existence and life and all of those persistent existential problems. I started to remember every John Muir quote, thought, and it finally made sense. I understood it. It only took one brief second, standing on the side of a mountain and taking a moment to look at the country I was standing in. From then on, the rest of the trip, I couldn't focus on anything but soaking in all the beauty.
So, that's where the questions come in. Have I been so busy all these years with a “goal”, with stress, with a distraction that I wasn't truly seeing everything that's around me? Have I actually been missing out all these years? Seeing the beauty, but never actually absorbing it? Society has conditioned us into believing you must travel a certain path, with a certain “job,” a certain “title,” and a certain amount of “income.” When we don’t meet those societal expectations, we’re told that we have failed at life. I have spent all of my thirty years agreeing with that, making myself completely mad trying to be and have and do what I was “supposed” to. I never paid attention to what I wanted to do, only about hitting that mark that would somehow earn me a place at the successful table.
The drive home was absolutely depressing. Loathing the impeding normalcy that was to follow. The routine.
Honestly, I'm sick of "being an adult." I'm sick of getting up everyday with no purpose or passion.
Colorado changed me. I pray for the better. To be braver, to pursue my passion, to not fear to fail.
Because I may fail. I may return to the "real world," tail between my legs in shame searching out a 9-5 once again.
But for now, I think I may just want to try being a trout bum for a while.
You know that special creek? That one you go to time and time again because it seems like there’s something magical about it? It isn’t a particularly popular body of water, in fact most people don’t know about it, and you really like it that way. You aren’t going to catch a 27 inch brown trout out of it and you probably aren’t going to catch hundreds of fish a day either. It’s not the absolute most beautiful creek that has ever been and hopefully it’ll never end up in the “top 100 streams to fish.” It’s a creek that doesn’t ever seem to fail me. A place where I feel like I know every brook trout personally, and maybe by now I do.
I know that every year, mid September, I get to go visit my brook trout, all decorated for the season. I know that during this time their fins will almost perfectly match the color of the maple trees in the distance. Their yellows will burn so bright they match the golden light that fall brings with it every year. I know that I only have a few short weeks to visit them before I have to leave them alone for a while to work their magic and bring me a whole new generation of trout to meet next year. I know that because this is my creek.
In reality it isn’t just my creek, I don’t own it, no one does. It’s a part of one of our National Parks in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Every year hundreds of people come to visit her and see all that she has to offer, especially in the fall. We all have the chance to get to see the proud and glorious native brook trout, small as he may be, all painted up for the upcoming spawn. It’s a gift they give us every year, getting to see them that way.
I often wonder what I’d do if I didn’t get to experience that every year. Or what I’d do if I couldn’t go visit them in the spring or summer either. I’m not sure I’d be the same. You see, this creek is where I go to forget about the world. It’s where I go to find myself when I've forgotten who I am. It’s where I get to connect to the very heart of nature, hold him in my hand, thank him for all he has taught me, and return him to his creek he so graciously shares with me. This creek flows through my veins every bit as much as my own blood.
This creek is my public land.
If I tried to describe some of the places we were able to witness it would simply be an effort in futility. You have to see and feel these places for yourself, let them touch your heart without anyone else's interference.
After a long, hot summer at home with few adventures comparatively; I was full of excitement and apprehension to get into the backcountry. I was worried if my legs would carry my as far as I wanted to go. I was terrified that my lack of "practice" this summer would render me a failure as an angler. I hoped I would not disappoint or be considered a burden.
I spent most of the days observing. I kept hearing "Jillian, fish!" But, I just couldn't. It's not that I didn't want to catch fish, but I wanted to really experience where I was. Memorize what the water felt like in my fingers, the way the air smelled rushing through the valley, how the yellow of the flowers matched the yellow on the cutthroat and brook trout.
We came back to a few spots more than once, each time just as special as the last.
The trout, just as eager and beautiful, we came to know.
The path down and around and back up again became familiar.
Observing the flowers, and noticing where they were in their life span compared to the last time.
This is a place one cannot simply recount to another; this is a place that needs to be felt, a world that will earn a place in your heart and change your soul.
A place I will carry with me the rest of my days.