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.
Many people find comfort in the familiar, the routine, what's known. They enjoy feeling safe.
There's nothing wrong with this mindset; perhaps it's the smarter mindset to have. If you're like this, then you have a sense of what's ahead. You have a plan for the today and the tomorrow. You've even got a safety net, just in case something pops up.
I'm not like this.
I've felt a constant pull to seek out what's unknown to me. I want to be in the realm of unfamiliar and unsafe. I don't have any idea of what's ahead. I make my plans day by day, not year by year. Some would argue that this is risky and even possibly immature. They may be right.
If you're a genuine anger, you're always on the lookout for new water, a different species of fish, even new fishing companions.
This week Jacob and I had the opportunity to accomplish two-thirds of those goals. We set out up the mountain and then back down, searching out a piece of river that was completely foreign. We'd heard about it, but never really committed to the long drive until someone invited us along.
When you stumble upon these places, they remain with you. They invite you back and encourage you to keep searching.
Experiences keep drawing me towards the unknown, keep pushing me to live spontaneously and surround myself with the new and different. Every gamble rewards me with a memory far more precious than safety. So I believe I'll keep searching out that next mountain and trying to find that unknown path. Maybe one day I'll succumb to the know, but for now, I'll keep seeking out the unknown, it's far more rewarding.
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.
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.