I began being vocal about Public Lands a few months ago in this post. I wasn't sure if it was a good idea to bring up "political ideas" in such a heated environment. People feels very strongly these days about their opinions and aren't afraid to voice them.
I didn't want to bring negativity into this space. My wish was for it to be a light hearted, inspired blog focused around fishing.
But here's the thing, if we don't have any more rivers there won't be any more fishing.
My hope is that people of all persuasions realize how special these lands are, how truly unique and American. I hope that more people will speak up. I hope that I will be able to live out my days on Public Lands and so will many generations to come.
As of yesterday, the Department of the Interior began accepting and considering comments regarding the size and impact of national monuments and the effects of the Antiquities Act. President Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke have both said that local input is essential to land management. Let our government know that these lands are important to you and to future generations. Go HERE and entering “DOI-2017-0002.
This industry has grown fast, remarkably fast. When I first dipped my toes in the water of this sport there were far fewer anglers then there is today.
I'm selfish with my river time, I admit it. I'm a creative and my soul is filled with hours and days spent on the water. I'm left with words and images that pour out of me and keep me up nights. The solitude of the sport is my favorite thing about it. There's a quiet, peacefulness that resonates within you and you're left with a soul that's filled up. But, it's hard to find solitude on the river now. Some days you go out and are left with all the holes occupied, squeezing in where you can when you meet a gracious angler. You drive for miles to get to your favorite backcountry stream only to be greeted by four other cars sporting the dreaded fly fishing sticker collection stamped on the rear window.
I keep trying to remind myself that this is actually a good thing. The more people participating in the sport means more people advocating for clean water, public lands, etc... But more often than not, that's not actually the case.
In the past month, I've witnessed angler neglect that is heartbreaking.
I've caught fish that bore the scathing dry handprint.
I've found dead trout with barbed squirmy worms hooked down deep in their gill plates.
There've been wads of leader and tippet, paired with wounded flies laying on stream banks.
I've seen anglers and guides alike purposefully snagging fish, just to say they "caught" something.
Not to mention the ridiculous amount of trash found not only on the banks but floating downstream.
None of these occurrences have been a one-time thing, in fact, it's become more the rule than the exception.
I'd like to hope that this is ignorance and not purposeful, but either way, it's harmful.
After a few weeks of being pent up, I'm ready to spend some quality time on the river.
I hope to walk away full and not heartbroken.
That's right, folks, my countdown is officially over! Spring has sprung!
To welcome in the season Jacob and I hit our favorite stretch of water, proudly sporting t-shirts, and tossing the flannels away. The water was cold and clear, and bugs of all shapes and sizes flew all around us. It was truly a perfect spring day.
And, best of all, the curse of the rainbow has also ended!
Bring on the Browns!!
This river trip, as all river trips, was much needed. I've spent a considerable amount of time emailing and calling my state representatives. I work from home, so in a sense, it's consumed my days and honestly caused me to become a bit slack in my duties.
Full disclosure, this is probably not healthy.
Spending my time on the water was healing, as always, but especially more so yesterday.
As always, the river showed me what I needed to see.
While the majority of the country is arguing about "Russia" and "wiretapping," I've been concerned with my rivers. Overturning the Stream Protection Rule and rescinding the Clean Water Rule are harmful acts, ultimately resulting in devastation. Damage, which will happen rapidly and take far longer to repair.
We've had problems with companies in North Carolina dumping chemicals into our water systems even when it was illegal; it scares me to think what's going to happen when the regulations are lifted.
Will the French Broad still house smallmouth for me to catch in the summer?
How many miles of trout water will become extinct?
Will I still have clean water to drink?
Does the next generation even have a shot at living a life like I do?
We have a curious little creature here in Western North Carolina that is said to determine the "healthiness" of a river system, the hellbender.
It's a peculiar river being, and their very existence has been in decline for quite some time. You see, a hellbender cannot survive in a polluted, damed, or even over harvested river systems. Basically, they don't play well with irresponsible humans.
Finding this guy reminded me that all my worry may just be legitimate. That cold, clean water is something worth fighting for, it's something that needs protecting, something that deserves a voice.
Because I'd like to spend the rest of my life looking forward to spring fishing.
Summer came early.
I woke up yesterday to 68 degrees by eight o'clock in the morning.
The birds were awake and singing their songs.
The bugs seemed to be exploding to life everywhere.
The sun shone bright and warm.
I can't lie, it was pretty nice.
But then reality set in. It's February! It's winter. There should be ice and snow, nature should be hibernating. The frozen earth should be healing herself and preparing for spring.
Yesterday, basking in the warmth of the day I began to wonder how much.
How much can we take from nature before there's nothing left to give?
We dam up her rivers, telling her we know better than she does.
We cut down her trees, convincing the world that there are so many it doesn't really matter.
Chemicals are pumped into the air and trash dumped wherever it's convenient.
Fish are taken out by the multitudes and replaced with hatchery grown biology experiments to make up for it.
We inject high pressure water into her very core, hoping to gain some oil or gas.
But one day the dams break, certain trees become extinct, the water is no longer safe, there are no more naturally occurring fish, and she literally starts breaking apart.
This isn't an environmental protest, per say, but a legitimate question I'll ask again.
How much can we take before there's nothing left?
Better yet, how much longer can we afford to take this earth for granted until we wake the hell up?
If you've read my blog you know that the chance of losing our Public Lands has weighed heavy on me for several months now. When you spend the majority of your time in them, the fear is almost all consuming.
Earlier this week Jacob and I headed into Pisgah National Forest, as we often do, to find some productive trout water. As we wound our way around the mountains, parallel to The Davidson, I started to picture what they might do to this land. I saw little fracking huts everywhere with bare forests, stumps of trees everywhere. I saw the river, almost dried up, dead trout floating downstream. I envisioned abandoned trails and "keep out" signs. My mind travelled to "The Lorax," I saw Pisgah National Forest as the valley of the Truffula trees.
(Parents read this book to your children, it will stick with them always.)
This morning I woke up to news that Congressman Jason Chaffetz, Utah, had decided to withdraw HR621.
This morning was a small victory for all those in the Public Lands fight.
Early into our fishing trip I hooked up. The trout immediately swam straight upstream. When I got close enough to almost see him, he raced downstream, me running right after him. Then back up, then back down. I was sure the thing had to be at least sixteen inches.
He wasn't, no where close, maybe 10 if I'm measuring in fisherman standards.
This little trout had put up such a fight, in an impossible situation. If I was going to land him, I was going to have to fight just as hard as he was. It was then that I realized that it's not your size, it's the size of your fight that counts.
We didn't get nearly as much media coverage as many other groups with concerns. We didn't really have any celebrities or mighty voices shouting on our behalf, that's probably a good thing. I don't even know if we had the same numbers, but we had fight.
We had something to fight for.
Dear Mr. President,
Congratulations on becoming the 45th President of the United States. May you guide our country with wisdom and courage. You won the democratic election and I pray that you succeed, for if you fail we all fail.
I'm writing this letter for one cause, one concern, that means a great deal not just to me, but to many Americans. Public Lands.
In our great country, we have some of the most vast and diverse lands that any country or continent has ever seen. We currently have the right to get out and explore these environs; whether it be hiking mountains, fishing rivers, exploring beaches, biking the parkways or even standing in awe at the greatness that is the Grand Canyon. These lands are also currently under attack.
I am aware that you are a business man, that your sense of self is rooted in prosperity and development, but my hope is that you recognize the fragile balance between conservation and industrialization. I believe that was President Rosevelt's thought process when designating many of these lands. While he understood the need for development, he also understood the importance of conserving nature. The importance of having an escape. Whether it be for the physical endurance of climbing Half Dome or the solitude that comes from fly fishing in the great Henrys Fork. Perhaps it's the conversation you have with God after seeing Niagara Falls or the wonder you experience when you've reached the top of Snowmass Mountains.
Public Lands, the outdoors, have the ability to accomplish a great undertaking, especially in today's politically aggressive climate. They have the ability to bring people together, to heal divides. Regardless of ethnicity, religious beliefs, political affiliations, we all escape to nature for the same reason, simply because we love it. We are so unique in this country that we have lands designated to us, that we do not have to buy overpriced permits or seek out a small corner of the world that isn't considered "private land." Here, we all own these lands, and that, in itself, is unique and special.
You've made a promise that you will make America great again, may I urge you, in this specific case, to perhaps KEEP America great.
Sincerely and respectfully,
This week, despite the greatest of efforts by so many, congress voted to "recalculate" the way in which they can sell off Federal Lands to either the states or private entities.
It was a truly horrific event.
You can read about what the Washington Post had to say on the specifics of the vote here.
When Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt became president in 1901 one of his main goals was conservation and therefore created the United States Forest Service. By doing this, Teddy erected 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments. By the end of his presidency, he had protected over 230 million acres of Public Land. These are 230 acres our deeply conservative president set aside so that all of us would have to opportunity and ability to enjoy them without the threat of industrialization and greed.
Today, those lands are not nearly as safe as they once were.
You can read more about the history of protected lands and President Teddy here.
I don't spend a lot of time writing about specifics and facts and "how-to's," mostly because I don't feel I'm very good at it. However, today it felt warranted.
A few months ago I published a post about Public Lands and how much they mean to me. I'm not sure if it impacted anyone, caused them to do some research, infuriated them, but I hope that it did, just as I hope this post does.
NPR did a wonderful story concerning the issue on Tuesday, you can listen to it here.
Yesterday, Chris Wood, of Trout Unlimited wrote an excellent piece on the peril that we're now facing. Please take the time to read it, found here.
Today I don't have any fun, heartfelt fishing stories. Nor do I have a plethora of beautiful trout pictures and bendy bamboo.
Today I only have words, words that I hope will have some impact.
However, I will leave you with one photo, of the tiniest of trouts, possibly insignificant to most, caught on Public Lands. I hope that you will find a fire inside of you to protect it just as I have.
"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.
The first time I ever heard about Eddie Pinkston was probably my second date with Jacob. My conclusion was that this man is probably part god, part degenerate. Seriously. My first time meeting Eddie, I had the same conclusion. I spent the better part of two hours listening to this man, swinging a Bud Light can around, trying to convince me that he had “spoken” a 32-inch brown trout into swimming right into his hands. Oh, and where he wanted his ashes spread. But, this was Eddie, for better or worse, he was who he was.
I was given the opportunity to work for Eddie’s family for the better part of three years, and it was a true privilege. There was never a shortage of Eddie stories around the plant, from his mother to daughter to other employees. As soon as anyone at work found out that I fly fished, a story was soon to follow, and they were always welcome, especially the ones concerning carp. Amazingly, the stories continued from every fly fisherman in the Western North Carolina area as soon as they found out I worked for the Pinkston’s. You see, Eddie was a bit of a “local hero” around here, or at the very least he was incredibly infamous.
My journey of fishing with Eddie started about five months ago, well sort of. You see, Eddie passed away winter of last year. He was cremated and parts of him went here there and yonder. One of his daughters sent a little piece of Ed our way so that he could continue fishing, even after he had left our world. And so, Eddie goes fishing every time Jacob and I do.
To say that my perspective on fishing changed a little when I started fishing with Eddie is a bit of an understatement. If I was going to fish with the man’s ashes, I was certainly going to learn about him, to know him as best I could. I read books written about him, got even more stories and tried to replay the so few conversations I’d ever had with him. And slowly, I think I’m starting to grasp him, and not him the world saw, but the angler.
I hope to one day take Eddie back to Pennsylvania to catch much more steelhead. I hope to return him to the Henry’s Fork and catch so many trout that my right arm won’t work. I hope that on our journey I’ll be able to take him to Patagonia again and see that wonderful country through his eyes. But for now, we’ll keep on going to the Davidson, the place where Avery’s creek comes into it, and we’ll keep fishing it. And just maybe, one day, I’ll be able to coax a 32-inch brown into my hands, too.
Photo courtesy of John Crane - 2007
Today I am thankful. Yesterday was a full, rich day filled with being outside and fishing for trouts. Jacob and I continued our quest to be able to catch stocked fish on dry flys. We succeeded, again. I suppose that due to the lack of rain these fish have become wise awful quick, adapting to their surroundings and no longer being fooled by "junk food." This makes my heart happy, as I loathe catching fish on eggs and worms, it just feels too much like bait fishing. Although, I'm sure that just comes back to quality of excuses anyhow.
But, I digress...
The air and the light was warm yesterday. There was a silence that filled the air and a calm that grabbed you. It was wonderful!
And then this happened...
Yup, that's the river we were fishing. Nope, that's not a photoshop trick.
A semi truck containing gallons and gallons of glass cleaner flipped over and crashed right into the middle of the Laurel River, which flows into the French Broad. A semi truck that was not even supposed to be on the road it was on. A truck driver that was traveling at unsafe speeds because he was too "experienced" to have to follow the laws that everyone else must observe. And so, we have a totally contaminated river. A healthy and prosperous fishery is no more. A popular kayaking watershed is now unsafe for people or animals to come in contact with. Oh, and we're in the middle of an "extreme drought," so nature is not going to be able to heal herself from this for a while.
But, I am thankful. I am thankful because I am not the first to become outraged over this, not even the second or third. People all over Western North Carolina are screaming out about this event and others like it.
In fact, people are doing something all over our country to speak for those who don't have a voice.
Let's Stand Together on this and be thankful for what we've got and not let it go.
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.