We weren't supposed to go fishing today.
We weren't supposed to catch a 16-inch wild brown on a small brookie stream.
All Mondays should be like this.
Lesson of the day:
ALWAYS bring a net, even when you "know" you won't need it.
If you were to give me the option between fishing a large, glorious river filled with honey holes and packed with giant, hungry brown trout or a small backcountry creek, I'd probably pick the creek. I'm not opposed to the first, in fact, brown trout may arguably be my favorite. But, there's a different kind of magic found back in the mountains amongst tiny, blue ridge beauties.
For many months now, if not years, Jacob and I have been discouraged by both the population and size of the wild water trout. Most of the time you're going to catch a tiny rainbow, if you're having an exceptional day you'll get to meet an even smaller brook trout, but probably only one or two.
We make it a point to try and fish known brook trout streams, making sure to climb high enough to reach them. We leave these streams having caught fish, but not as many, not the right species. The rivers are warmer, the bug life is not as plentiful. While there's still fish, it is discouraging to recognize that it has changed, that it's not what it once was.
We headed out this weekend with a friend in hopes of finding the elusive Southern Brook Trout. The filled parking lot in the wee hours of the morning was not an encouraging sight. Being good anglers, we scoured the cars for evidence of the tell-tale fishing stickers. None were found and we determined it was in our best interest to brave the hikers and campers for the fish.
And, fish we did find!
Pools, runs, slicks, filled to the brim with large beautiful brook trout, not one rainbow or brown was even sighted. The bright orange fins with stark white borders were noticeable a mile away.
Plenty of time was spent "resting" a pool, but really we were just admiring something that's so scarce.
I spend a lot of time on a healthy brook trout stream just savoring the artistry of it because around here, it's a rare thing.
I hope that maybe one day this will become the norm.
I hope that perhaps our past efforts and future efforts will pay off.
I hope that we will learn to conserve, to keep clean, and to treasure all of our streams.
But really, I hope that we, as anglers, will be better than we were before.
Man, Oh man is it getting hot in these here hills.
It's swept over us with such a heavy, humid force that it's hard to escape.
I hate to think what July and August will be like.
Yesterday, Jacob and I decided to let out beloved wild streams go until the weekend and try some bigger water with big ole hoppers.
To say that I'm stubborn is the understatement of the century and I'm mostly ok with it. Very soon into the trip I determined that if a larger hopper could catch fish then so could a very large Royal Wulff.
I mean who doesn't like strawberry shortcake, am I right?
Possibly not right...
But, I was determined and I had confidence in this fly and I was sure that it was going to attract something.
Thank god for brook trout, even stocked ones.
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!
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!
Yesterday was the beginning of the Winter Solstice and mother nature knew it. Her light shone bright and glaring for the few hours she had. The wind was harsh and bitter, but the sun warmed you quickly. It was a perfect combination for the first day of winter.
We were lucky enough to feel tugs often, but few made it to the net. The fish seemed to be aware of the trick nature was playing. Good enough to keep you there, but with just a touch of bitter discomfort to round it all out.
Winter makes you tougher as an angler.
When you're surrounded by the "comforts" of life it's good to get away from that. To remember that life is not always comfortable. You will not always win, you will not always land 60 fish in a day. Your feet will not always be warm and you will not always enjoy your entire day outdoors.
But, you will learn to enjoy different things.
The way the sun warms your face and you leave the stream with new freckles.
Multitudes of bugs floating off the surface in appreciation of the contradicting weather.
How tough your hands become, but still able to tie on a size 20 dry fly.
The way the birds sing and how much more crisp it sounds.
Healthy, happy, firm trout. No longer fatigued by the warm weather, lack of water and minimal bug life.
If you look hard enough you'll find that the winter solstice offers just as much as any other season, if not more. For it creates you and may teach you more than any other time of the year.
So, enjoy it, learn from it, come away better because of it.
Now, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
You wake up, it's still pitch black out. You can hear the rain pouring down outside.
Drink coffee. Grab fishing gear. Bundle up. Make sure you are as waterproof as you can be.
You leave the house and head out. Sure it's wet and cold, but the fish are already wet and cold, so it really doesn't matter.
You arrive at a soft, still, run; bubbling from what appears to be rain. The closer you get, the subtle differences between a raindrop hitting the surface and trout feeding on the surface becomes apparent. Every so often you can see bright, yellow tails break the surface, taunting you and making you even more aware of their presence.
Every cast is an effort in futility. Size 24 dry flys are no match for the mighty raindrop.
It's an excruciating process, one you only participate in if you are truly, certifiably crazy. But you will be rewarded for your mad routine, with gold, in the form of a brown trout or two. So, you continue this crazy pattern until your hands are so cold and wet you can no longer set the hook. You warm yourself with good conversation and beer and go at it again, only to repeat this pattern as well.
Eventually, you decide that you're soaked and good conversation can only go so far to warm you, the car heater does a much better job. You make your sojourn back to the car, soaked and tired and slightly buzzed. You may look broken down and smell like a wet dog, but you leave knowing that you are worth your weight in gold.
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.