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.
That dreaded, annoying sound started pinging at 4:30 in the morning. That awful repetitive sound that wakes you from your sleep, getting you on your way. I hate that sound. It was 4:30 in the morning when Jacob and I crowded into our little Subaru and headed west.
We didn't know what to expect, we didn't understand what we were in for. More than anything we didn't know the impact this trip would have. All we knew was that it was 4:30 in the morning and we were headed to Durango for the next two weeks.
We've always been "backcountry" fishermen. Sure the big trout are exciting, but I'd rather catch the little guys any day of the week. And so, we sought them out in Colorado, just as we do at home. One of these smaller, wild streams we were able to fish was Lime Creek.
It's not a particularly "special" section of water. It's not one of those sacred "no name" creeks that we all have. People spoke openly about it at the fly shops and we saw a few people out and about during our days spent there. So, I don't think I'm breaking any code by talking about it.
You can read my full post on Lime Creek, here.
In the weeks and months that followed I was convinced that this little body of water had changed me. I was more sure of that than anything. This creek was the catalyst to a total and complete life change.
I quit my job, because it was no longer enhancing me, but rather making me worse.
I gave away, threw away, donated anything that I didn't feel served me anymore.
I began to spend more time worried about everything and less time worried about myself.
I've recently discovered that Lime Creek didn't change me, who I am, but it did change my perception, of everything.
On our way back east we stopped in Lexington, Kentucky to visit Jacob's mentor. He gifted us a book, Lime Creek Odyssey, by Steven J Meyers.
(you can read more about Steven Meyers, here)
In a way, that book impacted me just as much as the actual place. To say it has become one of my favorite books is an understatement. I've read the book about six times by now, sometimes reading from cover to cover other times jumping chapters, reading my favorites first.
There are two reasons I've latched on to this book the way I have. One, it reminds me of that creek any time it starts to get foggy. Two, it reminds me that my odyssey on this creek is not unique, nor is it necessary to revisit this place to have another one, perhaps life itself is an extended odyssey. And more importantly, life in your own backyard.
Oddly enough, my favorite part of the book is the Introduction, what I found to be the intention for the rest of the book. It's an intention that I now try to set for myself daily, almost a mantra if you will. It begins by questioning The Odyssey, the differences and parallels between Homer and Penelope, while also introducing the geography and history of this sublime little creek.
"It seems appropriate for me to wander this little valley while others, more heroic, journey to Nepal, the Arctic, the tropical rain forest. This personal odyssey of place, this exploration of a mountain stream, is also a journey in the discovery of self, and a search for an appropriate definitions of man's place in the broader reality of nature. I stay at home, like Penelope, believing that ones home is the proper place for such an odyssey."
- Lime Creek Odyssey
The book moves beautifully from hiking Engineer Mountain to fishing the creek itself, moving through life, being human, and even death.
If you've never been to this special place, that's ok, the book is still very much worth the read and should be found on any fly angler's bookshelf.
I'm glad that a vacation landed me and my fly rod in Lime Creek.
I'm glad that a copy of Lime Creek Odyssey fell into my lap.
And, I'm glad to have gone on my own odyssey, small and unheroic as it may be.
"I have been in Lime Creek long enough now to have seen a child born while I hiked it's woods, to have seen a loved one die while I fished its waters. I have seen a generation pass and another begin to flower. I know the creek will outlast me and my memory. I know further that there will come a time when all human impact on the creek will be gone. For now, however, we share a place in nature. And I have named that place with my names."
- Lime Creek Odyssey
Here's a recent essay written by the author, highlighting Lime Creek Odyssey, conservation, and the responsibility we have to our home.
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 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.
There are three major indulgences I permit in my life: fly fishing, excellent beverages, and books.
I've refused for many years now to permit television in my home. Other than the occasional Netflix series (full disclosure, I binge watch) there is no form of television. In fact, I don't even own one.
I'd rather spend my nights decompressing over a good drink and a great book.
One of the first things Jacob did to get me really excited about fly fishing all those years ago, was to buy me all of John Gierach's books.
I poured over every one of them, again and again.
Last month I received a copy of A Fly Rod of Your Own. It happens to be autographed and Jacob happened to speak with Mike Clark, win, win.
I binged this book as bad as any Netflix series, the book was devoured within a day. A full, rich day of sitting in the sunshine and reading a book; nothing more, nothing less.
It's typical Gierach. There are stories you laugh out loud at, stories you shake your head about, but most of all they're all stories that you identify with. I'd be willing to bet that besides being wildly entertaining, Gierach's finest quality is relatability. We've all been on that trip. Maybe we haven't fished in Alaska, Labrador or the notorious St. Vrain, but we've all been on those fishing trips.
And, you can't help but feel a sense of comradery when you read about his "bad days."
This isn't a review, I have no business to review a John Gierach book any more than Jacob can comment on a Mike Clark rod, but I will tell you to buy it. And, I will tell you to read it, because as always it won't disappoint.
"I went down to the river myself and stood there wondering how I could so dearly love something that's really just an example of water obeying the laws of physics. But a river running too high muddy to catch trout on dry flies isn't the worst that can happen, and, like everyone else I know, I had plenty of things to do besides go fishing I just couldn't think of any of them at the moment."
-John Gierach, A Fly Rod of Your Own
For quite some time now I've been surrounded and, by association, completely immersed in the world of bamboo rods.
Many, if not most, of Jacob's friends are also builders or at least bamboo collectors and aficionados. Thus, I hear about this craft a lot. A LOT!
This week Jacob and I attended the Carolina Cane Gathering which gathers once a year to talk, fish, cast etc... bamboo.
One of the presenters, a good friend of ours, Aaron, spoke about a mill that he's spent a good portion of his time over the past year building and perfecting. He asked me if I would take some photos for the talk as it is far too large to move and in far too small of a room to gather a group of people.
Since the presentation has been made and the event was over I found it appropriate to share a few of these photos as well as a short video of the mll operating.
I am by no means a builder, have no desire to be, but I'm still amazed by the craftsmanship that goes into creating a fly rod, grass or glass.
I highly encourage anyone who is able to purchase a fly rod from and independent builder. The time, effort and artistry that's put into these rods are unparalleled by any mass produced company.
Dogwood winter. It's a thing here, happens every year. Just when you've really gotten geared up for spring, the sunshine welcomes your face every morning, those sweet little flowers make their appearance, and the dogwood trees begin to bloom. Bam! It's winter again, and it'll happen again when the blackberry bushes start to bloom.
This week has been filled with unproductive days on the water and busy days spent in the shop. Which means few moments spent with trouts, but I can't blame them, water levels and temperatures fluctuating to such extremes, I wouldn't want to play either.
Sunday we were able to escape for just a few hours. You see, the guiding season has also kicked into high gear here, which means less time spent on the water with my favorite angling model and therefore fewer photos. I'm not so into selfies.
For only a few hours, it was wildly productive, other than only silver fish being caught... Damn silver fish!
Jacob and I have had a longstanding rivalry, a house divided if you will.
Glass vs. Grass.
He's a diehard bamboo angler and I'm pretty partial to fiberglass. We've both retired all of our graphite rods into "the guide business" and moved on to more classy equipment.
We have this funny way of talking about our rods like they're doing the fishing.
"oh, looks like the glass beat out the grass today"
"Seems like the grass has more fish in her today"
Recently I purchased a new fiberglass rod. I'm not one to make purchases lightly, I have to research, reading and watching everything I can find on the product. I have to know all of the reviews, compare those reviews and specs in pie charts and diagrams. It's taken me months to commit to buying something. Even then, in the case of a fly rod, I have to cast it multiple times to find out if it "speaks" to me or not.
For being as free spirited as I am, I suppose this is my one grounding quality.
When I began looking for another glass rod, one that could hold more weight, but have a little more reach, I kept finding these incredible casting videos of a man, Tim Rajeff.
That's what put Echo Fly Fishing on my radar. I started the process, reading retailer reviews, looking up the threads on The Fiberglass Flyrodders, and finding an older post on The Fiberglass Manifesto.
Two months later, I was ready to commit.
The Echo Glass is truly an amazing rod! I love it!
I purchased the FG-690 (9', 6wt), as previously stated, for reach and larger nymph rigs/streamers. But, I've fished also used it for teeny, tiny midge fishing as well, when I need that extra length or when casting distance in the wind.
The first thing I noticed about this rod is that it is deadly accurate! In about every situation imaginable. I've chosen to underline it with a 5wt, Intouch Rio Perception line, for the smaller midge rigs and use the Royal Wulff - Bamboo Special 6wt for larger flies.
In addition to matching my casting style superbly, the rod also offers an incredibly sensitive tip, even in the 6wt. I fish primarily based on feel. I can't see indicators, so I don't even mess with them, rather spending my day's tight line nymphing when dry flies just aren't getting it done. This rod gives me the extra sensitivity that I desperately need, but with a strong butt section, handling a 20" brown I caught a few weeks ago with ease.
Almost everything about this rod is spectacular. It's an excellent price point, comes with a lifetime warranty, and is a lovely honey, orange color. Seriously, all around great! The only thing I dislike about it is the reel seat, but I'm sure that comes from living with a rod builder, which leads to my wish that this rod was available as a blank.
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.
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.