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.
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?
I can't remember the last time I was able to say that. Sure, we've had occasional rain bursts that caused the rivers to run high for a few hours, but we've had high water consistently for some time now.
I've been able to breathe a sigh of relief. Now I just hope it sticks around this summer and we aren't in the same mess we were last fall.
I'm looking out the window in my studio and I can see the sky getting darker.
The weather channel says to expect thunderstorms.
It's going to be a good day.
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.
You should work here.
You should wear these clothes.
You should hang out with these people.
You should look this way.
Your hair should look like this.
You shouldn't wear those sandals.
You shouldn't have those tattoos.
You shouldn't be so loud.
You shouldn't wear those hiking shorts all the time.
You should be prettier.
You shouldn't care so much.
You should be this way.
Should, should, should, should...
Well, guess what, I'm not.
Thanks for continuing to call society out on their crap.
Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone and empowering all of us to be who we are, embrace it, and support each other's journeys.
And thanks for being a company I can truly believe it!
A Force of Nature
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?
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.