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.
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.
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.