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.
I spent the last week cooped up, worrying and being anxious about life in general. I spent hours upon hours looking back through work from weeks, months, even years ago trying to draw some inspiration from it. But, it’s hard to draw inspiration from something twice. For me anyway.
Sunday I escaped. Jacob and I battled low, clear water and burning mountains in hopes to find some semblance of nature. Something that would speak clearly to my burnt out and troubled spirit.
As always, nature seldom disappoints. Spending a day outdoors, knee deep in a river and learning from everything around you can do you a world of good. Catching more trout than you can count on both dry and wet flys can leave you feeling accomplished and connected. Watching others on the river, primarily children, learn the art of fly fishing gives you hope. And sometimes that’s all you need is a little bit of hope.
To be completely honest, I’d been running quite low in the hope department as of late. Ultimately, it’s my own fault. Putting too much stock into what’s going on around one's self and not what’s going on within can be catastrophic. Trust me on this, it is. Sometimes it’s best to just Let.It.Go.
I’m working on that. I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to master that art, but until then, the mountains will be there to climb and the trout will be there to learn from.
There's been a chill in the air for a few weeks now. The leaves had started changing from green to gold. The light in the evening has a new, warmer glow to it. It's the final days of summer.
Our Indian summer started a day or two ago and is expected to last a week. It's the last, final fight that summer is putting up.
But we're all sick of her.
We're sick of the rivers reaching the 70s.
We're sick of watching lethargic and dead trout.
We're mostly sick of her starving us of rain.
We're sick of summer.
We took a day to catch our brownies all colored up before the real chill in the air and the spawn begins. It was nice to visit them and notice their decorative colors and feel their feisty spirit at the end of your rod.
There’s something special to me about the brown trout. I’ve always found them more fascinating than the other species. I don’t really know why. There’s just something about them.
I hope they get a good, cold fall. I hope they are undisturbed during the spawn. I hope people take the time to look where they’re walking. I hope that next year I’ll have a whole new generation of browns to be infatuated with.
I hope summer leaves us be so all the magic fall has to offer can finally take over.
You know that special creek? That one you go to time and time again because it seems like there’s something magical about it? It isn’t a particularly popular body of water, in fact most people don’t know about it, and you really like it that way. You aren’t going to catch a 27 inch brown trout out of it and you probably aren’t going to catch hundreds of fish a day either. It’s not the absolute most beautiful creek that has ever been and hopefully it’ll never end up in the “top 100 streams to fish.” It’s a creek that doesn’t ever seem to fail me. A place where I feel like I know every brook trout personally, and maybe by now I do.
I know that every year, mid September, I get to go visit my brook trout, all decorated for the season. I know that during this time their fins will almost perfectly match the color of the maple trees in the distance. Their yellows will burn so bright they match the golden light that fall brings with it every year. I know that I only have a few short weeks to visit them before I have to leave them alone for a while to work their magic and bring me a whole new generation of trout to meet next year. I know that because this is my creek.
In reality it isn’t just my creek, I don’t own it, no one does. It’s a part of one of our National Parks in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Every year hundreds of people come to visit her and see all that she has to offer, especially in the fall. We all have the chance to get to see the proud and glorious native brook trout, small as he may be, all painted up for the upcoming spawn. It’s a gift they give us every year, getting to see them that way.
I often wonder what I’d do if I didn’t get to experience that every year. Or what I’d do if I couldn’t go visit them in the spring or summer either. I’m not sure I’d be the same. You see, this creek is where I go to forget about the world. It’s where I go to find myself when I've forgotten who I am. It’s where I get to connect to the very heart of nature, hold him in my hand, thank him for all he has taught me, and return him to his creek he so graciously shares with me. This creek flows through my veins every bit as much as my own blood.
This creek is my public land.
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.