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.
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.
That's right, folks, my countdown is officially over! Spring has sprung!
To welcome in the season Jacob and I hit our favorite stretch of water, proudly sporting t-shirts, and tossing the flannels away. The water was cold and clear, and bugs of all shapes and sizes flew all around us. It was truly a perfect spring day.
And, best of all, the curse of the rainbow has also ended!
Bring on the Browns!!
This river trip, as all river trips, was much needed. I've spent a considerable amount of time emailing and calling my state representatives. I work from home, so in a sense, it's consumed my days and honestly caused me to become a bit slack in my duties.
Full disclosure, this is probably not healthy.
Spending my time on the water was healing, as always, but especially more so yesterday.
As always, the river showed me what I needed to see.
While the majority of the country is arguing about "Russia" and "wiretapping," I've been concerned with my rivers. Overturning the Stream Protection Rule and rescinding the Clean Water Rule are harmful acts, ultimately resulting in devastation. Damage, which will happen rapidly and take far longer to repair.
We've had problems with companies in North Carolina dumping chemicals into our water systems even when it was illegal; it scares me to think what's going to happen when the regulations are lifted.
Will the French Broad still house smallmouth for me to catch in the summer?
How many miles of trout water will become extinct?
Will I still have clean water to drink?
Does the next generation even have a shot at living a life like I do?
We have a curious little creature here in Western North Carolina that is said to determine the "healthiness" of a river system, the hellbender.
It's a peculiar river being, and their very existence has been in decline for quite some time. You see, a hellbender cannot survive in a polluted, damed, or even over harvested river systems. Basically, they don't play well with irresponsible humans.
Finding this guy reminded me that all my worry may just be legitimate. That cold, clean water is something worth fighting for, it's something that needs protecting, something that deserves a voice.
Because I'd like to spend the rest of my life looking forward to spring fishing.
Summer came early.
I woke up yesterday to 68 degrees by eight o'clock in the morning.
The birds were awake and singing their songs.
The bugs seemed to be exploding to life everywhere.
The sun shone bright and warm.
I can't lie, it was pretty nice.
But then reality set in. It's February! It's winter. There should be ice and snow, nature should be hibernating. The frozen earth should be healing herself and preparing for spring.
Yesterday, basking in the warmth of the day I began to wonder how much.
How much can we take from nature before there's nothing left to give?
We dam up her rivers, telling her we know better than she does.
We cut down her trees, convincing the world that there are so many it doesn't really matter.
Chemicals are pumped into the air and trash dumped wherever it's convenient.
Fish are taken out by the multitudes and replaced with hatchery grown biology experiments to make up for it.
We inject high pressure water into her very core, hoping to gain some oil or gas.
But one day the dams break, certain trees become extinct, the water is no longer safe, there are no more naturally occurring fish, and she literally starts breaking apart.
This isn't an environmental protest, per say, but a legitimate question I'll ask again.
How much can we take before there's nothing left?
Better yet, how much longer can we afford to take this earth for granted until we wake the hell up?
I never thought I'd be craving rain in December, let alone hoping to fish in it, but I am. I'm enjoying the way the rain hits your fingers and feels like hundreds of bees stinging you. Putting your hand in cold, running water while releasing a fish is glorious. Not having the sun there to warm you on 40 degree days is remarkable. Hanging up soaked waders in the evening and putting them on damp is sublime.
I sound crazy, I know.
But it's exciting because it's raining and hasn't been for so long.
So, here's to the rain and spending a day magnificently miserable.
Today I am thankful. Yesterday was a full, rich day filled with being outside and fishing for trouts. Jacob and I continued our quest to be able to catch stocked fish on dry flys. We succeeded, again. I suppose that due to the lack of rain these fish have become wise awful quick, adapting to their surroundings and no longer being fooled by "junk food." This makes my heart happy, as I loathe catching fish on eggs and worms, it just feels too much like bait fishing. Although, I'm sure that just comes back to quality of excuses anyhow.
But, I digress...
The air and the light was warm yesterday. There was a silence that filled the air and a calm that grabbed you. It was wonderful!
And then this happened...
Yup, that's the river we were fishing. Nope, that's not a photoshop trick.
A semi truck containing gallons and gallons of glass cleaner flipped over and crashed right into the middle of the Laurel River, which flows into the French Broad. A semi truck that was not even supposed to be on the road it was on. A truck driver that was traveling at unsafe speeds because he was too "experienced" to have to follow the laws that everyone else must observe. And so, we have a totally contaminated river. A healthy and prosperous fishery is no more. A popular kayaking watershed is now unsafe for people or animals to come in contact with. Oh, and we're in the middle of an "extreme drought," so nature is not going to be able to heal herself from this for a while.
But, I am thankful. I am thankful because I am not the first to become outraged over this, not even the second or third. People all over Western North Carolina are screaming out about this event and others like it.
In fact, people are doing something all over our country to speak for those who don't have a voice.
Let's Stand Together on this and be thankful for what we've got and not let it go.
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.