There's something about driving down a gravel road. For some reason it makes you feel like you're going somewhere out of the way, somewhere "inconvenient" for the masses. I've always associated gravel roads with leading you to the woods.
On Wednesday, we headed down a pot-hole infested, washed away gravel road just as the sun was coming up. It curved around and back, over tiny bridges, narrowing and widening throughout the drive. The fog was still hung heavy on the mountains in the distance.
The water was still cold. There were no bugs yet, the sun hadn't hit the water, it was still moving into her place overhead. And yet, ambitiously, a small rainbow crept from the bottom of its deep protective pool to eat my fly, twice the size of its mouth. As the day persisted, in the same fashion, rainbows and brook trout of all sizes consumed flies the whole day. Many of these tiny creatures outsmarted us, more than once, taking the fly only to shake free from it before we could hold them in our hands for just a minute.
The heat of the day had just started to set in, along with the growling of my stomach, when we came upon a large pool, decorated with laurels on either side. Jacob fished this pool, tricking a few trout and being outplayed by others. I sat on a rock, observing all of it. Watching the bugs dancing on the top of the water, listening to the creek as it traveled over and under the obstacles in her way, and watching the nine-inch trout leap out of the water with such ferocity you have to admire it.
That's when I realized that this love I have for this place makes it mine to care for, to ensure that what I love about it so much remains.
This morning, while admiring others adventures and fishes, I came across a photo and comment that stuck with me, it read:
"While it's yours, while it's in your care, do your best to make it more beautiful."
-Jillian Lukiwski, The Noisy Plume
This creek, this little mountain, and many others are mine and in my care, for now at least. And, luckily, not mine alone.
There are many that don't believe it is their responsibility to care for the creeks, mountains, deserts, forests, and waters, but I believe that there are far more of us that do. I believe that we will take up this battle, each in our own individual way, in our own parts of the world, and make them more beautiful, more fruitful, more prosperous than we found them.
Because make no mistake, it is up to us and it is our responsibility.
"This was the best day I've had in a really long time."
Jacob and I frequent a bar regularly. It's not a particularly impressive establishment, but it is the most unique place I've every been.
The gas station bar.
That's right, folks, it's a bar right in the middle of a gas station. I don't know of anything more quintessentially redneck than that.
As with all good bar goers and bar backs a friendship was born. Steven, the bartender, has known about our fly fishing lifestyle for some time now. This weekend, after a few pints of locally brewed beer, we decided it was time he joined us on one of our adventures.
We caught fish.
We discussed sustainability, conservation, and ethical river practices.
We fished some more and caught more fish.
We drank beer.
We examined climate change, river ecology, and the preservation of nature.
It was a good day, and the best Steven's had in a while, he told us so.
That's what this whole fly fishing business is really all about, isn't it?
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.
I began being vocal about Public Lands a few months ago in this post. I wasn't sure if it was a good idea to bring up "political ideas" in such a heated environment. People feels very strongly these days about their opinions and aren't afraid to voice them.
I didn't want to bring negativity into this space. My wish was for it to be a light hearted, inspired blog focused around fishing.
But here's the thing, if we don't have any more rivers there won't be any more fishing.
My hope is that people of all persuasions realize how special these lands are, how truly unique and American. I hope that more people will speak up. I hope that I will be able to live out my days on Public Lands and so will many generations to come.
As of yesterday, the Department of the Interior began accepting and considering comments regarding the size and impact of national monuments and the effects of the Antiquities Act. President Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke have both said that local input is essential to land management. Let our government know that these lands are important to you and to future generations. Go HERE and entering “DOI-2017-0002.
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.
A couple of weeks ago I received a Instagram message from She On The Fly. It came after a blog post I did for the Public Lands fight, An Open Letter to President Trump.
I was hesitant to open it. That day had brought out all sorts of emotions from a multitude of anglers, all across the board. When you write on subjects like politics, you have to be prepared for that, but I was tired and just didn't want any more negative energy.
I opened it anyway and I'm so glad I did.
It was the exact opposite of negative energy.
I'd been following She On The Fly for a few months on IG and liked the premise of featuring lady anglers and cool fishy pictures, but I found out it's so much more than that.
SOTF is on a mission to not just promote females in the world of fly fishing, but to bring them together.
There's no set "type" or category you have to fit into to be in the Collective, all these ladies are totally different. The only commonality is "living life on the fly" and the conservation of the waters and fish we love.
This appealed to me in such a deep way. There's a real sense of community and acceptance, no pressure to fit into a mold, just be you. Make lasting connections with other ladies, create memories, encourage them, teach them what you know and learn what you don't.
Basically, it's what being an angler is all about.
Image credit She On The Fly
Dear Mr. President,
Congratulations on becoming the 45th President of the United States. May you guide our country with wisdom and courage. You won the democratic election and I pray that you succeed, for if you fail we all fail.
I'm writing this letter for one cause, one concern, that means a great deal not just to me, but to many Americans. Public Lands.
In our great country, we have some of the most vast and diverse lands that any country or continent has ever seen. We currently have the right to get out and explore these environs; whether it be hiking mountains, fishing rivers, exploring beaches, biking the parkways or even standing in awe at the greatness that is the Grand Canyon. These lands are also currently under attack.
I am aware that you are a business man, that your sense of self is rooted in prosperity and development, but my hope is that you recognize the fragile balance between conservation and industrialization. I believe that was President Rosevelt's thought process when designating many of these lands. While he understood the need for development, he also understood the importance of conserving nature. The importance of having an escape. Whether it be for the physical endurance of climbing Half Dome or the solitude that comes from fly fishing in the great Henrys Fork. Perhaps it's the conversation you have with God after seeing Niagara Falls or the wonder you experience when you've reached the top of Snowmass Mountains.
Public Lands, the outdoors, have the ability to accomplish a great undertaking, especially in today's politically aggressive climate. They have the ability to bring people together, to heal divides. Regardless of ethnicity, religious beliefs, political affiliations, we all escape to nature for the same reason, simply because we love it. We are so unique in this country that we have lands designated to us, that we do not have to buy overpriced permits or seek out a small corner of the world that isn't considered "private land." Here, we all own these lands, and that, in itself, is unique and special.
You've made a promise that you will make America great again, may I urge you, in this specific case, to perhaps KEEP America great.
Sincerely and respectfully,
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.