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!
It had been a week since our last fishing trip. We decided that we were not going to squander the day and rather spend it back in the woods creating a great adventure. What better way than finding an East Coast canyon stream?
We headed out in hopes of large browns and beautiful views.
The trail was straight down and all I could think about was heading back out, if going down was this bad coming back out was going to be worse. Especially given my sore muscles from a week of building a deck and other various projects. I kept reminding myself that the browns would be worth it.
This body of water literally took my breath away.
It is truly one of the most amazing places I've ever been able to fish.
We set right to it, starting with nymphing large pools and switching to tiny drys with the hopes of a hatch. Eventually, we even tied on some streamers after catching one fish, a small bluegill.
We've all used the term "even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while." That term was all too true on this trip. Despite our best efforts and all our hoping, the only brown trout we managed was quite literally a blind squirrel.
It was still an adventure, still a day I wouldn't trade for anything.
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.
The to-do lists have gotten longer. I've been trying to fit everything in. Finding time to get outside, be free.
This means fishing in places that are "easily accessible." I hate easy access.
There are generally too many people and sore lipped fish.
Yesterday, Jacob and I visited one of those streams and the day began with that easy feeling. We met disfigured hatchery trout and saw catalog fishermen. It was time to wander off the beaten path.We headed downstream, further and further away from the recreation area.
The reward was great.
Sometimes life will get hectic, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, for me, it's good; but, you have to find a balance. Some days it's going somewhere close to home, but taking the time to find your own way. Understanding that the moments you're taking to "get away" are just as important as everything on your calendar.
So, travel off the beaten path.
Seek out the trout you haven't met.
Get away from the masses.
Smell the earth and stay up late to howl at the moon.
Your soul will be filled and the reward will be great.
I've been feeling creatively burnt out. The idea that I'm squandering my time and my days has been looming overhead. And so, I try too hard. Which inevitably leads to sloppy work, a forced product, I'm not proud of and am forced to throw out and start over. It's a vicious cycle.
Luckily, I have an escape, a place to go, forget and come back inspired. We associate water with cleansing, a fresh start. Whether it be in a typical daily ritual or in a spiritual sense.
Evey time I'm able to stand in the middle of the river and just be in that moment, I feel renewed. Even the sound of a running river is cleansing to the soul.
The waters have been here longer than we have. They have been teaching, growing, and adapting forever; and their inhabitants with them.
They persevere despite man's best efforts. They continue to renew us and sustain us.
I carry the river with me long after I leave. I remember her sound and smell and feel. I allow her to infiltrate my mind and renew my soul. I am of the waters and am haunted by her nightly.
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”
― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories
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.
"The upper Davidson along the hatchery resembles a deeply shaded ditch. That said, every lie holds browns and rainbows, and they're all huge. ... This is fly-fishing-only, catch-and-release water - only you ain't doing the releasing."
-John Ross, Trout Unlimited's Guide To America's 100 Best Trout Streams
Thanks, John, no truer words have been spoken about the hallowed Davidson.
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.
Yesterday I noticed the details. I often get wrapped up with the end result, the goal, so much so that I forget to pay attention to the little things along the journey.
When fishing I often get so consumed with getting the "money shot" of a fish that I neglect all the artistry that's found in between. I often don't notice how delicately beautiful a dry fly is on a strand of fly line, the eruption of a release, or the peaceful water droplets that appear when a trout is feeding on the surface. I get caught up, as a lot of us do, with catching the fish that's "slurping" and not notice how beautiful that act is, in and of itself.
We overlook so much, not just in fishing, but in life when we become all consumed with an outcome.
I've been consumed. So focused on one thing that I've overlooked all of the amazing things that are happening all around me. And, when I started paying attention, the journey became that much sweeter.
So here's to watching that fish, not just trying to catch it.