We weren't supposed to go fishing today.
We weren't supposed to catch a 16-inch wild brown on a small brookie stream.
All Mondays should be like this.
Lesson of the day:
ALWAYS bring a net, even when you "know" you won't need it.
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.
"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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.