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.
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.
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.