"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 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.
Fishing was out of the question this weekend. There was too much to do. Jacob had a guide trip. Winter had finally hit Western North Carolina after months of being in the 60s. There was no point and no time anyway. I had geared myself for being stir crazy and bored. This is life, and you don't always get to go fishing, unfortunately.
I got the call at 10:30 to pack on the layers, we were going fishing.
Jacob's clients were unable to get out of the B&B where they were staying. There was snow on the ground, a whopping 2 inches, but in the south, those are grounds to stay in and out of the blizzard.
We arrived to find no one else in sight, despite the fact that it was nearly 12:30 by the time we found our way to the river and most of the snow was already history.
The gin clear water called for long leaders and short casts, but the trout were stacked up everywhere and on fire.
My weekend of "great un-expectations" turned into an unforgettable one.
Like fishing, you never know what life is going to throw your way. Whether it's good or bad, and so you take it in stride because you know right upstream something great is waiting for you.
The past few weeks, months, have been loud. There's been a constant flow of changes, information, confrontation, and anxiety. Granted, I'm partly to blame for this noise due to my perpetual listening to NPR; although, I very much enjoyed the piece on eating a taco everyday.
It's been getting more difficult to "quiet the noises" with the influx of negative opinions and biases formed and executed through social media. The anxiety of life had start to become so crippling (probably self inflicted) that enjoying the little things began to get difficult.
Yesterday started out that way.
I just wanted to get away, find some quiet. The river was not particularly quiet. People were out and about fishing, hiking, riding their bikes, they seemed to be everywhere, and I'm so happy they were out enjoying our National Parks, but I just really wanted some peace.
And then, it happened, the quiet came.
When it snows, the whole world gets still. There's a silence that covers everything like a giant, soft, gray blanket.
Unfortunately, none of it stuck and it didn't last more than a few hours, but it gave me that peace that I so needed.
It's funny how what you need you always receive when in nature,
whether it be a "win" and adrenaline rush or just a few hours of peace.
"Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread."
By the way, yesterday was Edward Abbey's birthday.
If you you don't know him, you need to.
It was the best of days.
65 in January.
We literally chased trouts downstream all day.
Not one broke off.
Take note; to bend to life, chase it, and not break.
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 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.
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.