I Still Believe in a Fish Called Hope

In this blog, Steve White describes how a small trout’s survival of the California drought gives hope going forward.

A fish called hope | Steve White

This past week, our family took our yearly trip to visit the Feather River region of Northern California. Even in what are considered wet years, this is a dry and arid place. The tall grasses are crisp and easy to break as you walk through the meadows, and the air feels like it is drawing moisture right from your skin. It’s a nice break from the humidity of North Carolina that we always look forward to. But this year, we have been hearing from the news and our friends how tough the four-year drought has been on California and its rivers, and we were concerned what we might find.

As a microcosm of our concern, there’s one little fish that I had been worried about. Several years ago while exploring the area, I found a small Rainbow trout that lived in a very small pool within a very small stream (“stream” is too big of a word for this trickle of water) that drains a meadow and finds its way to the Middle Fork of the Feather River. The pool is only about 18 inches deep and no more than three feet wide. It is well protected by overhanging bushes and grass pods, and it looked like a place that a little trout might live. As a devoted fisherman, I wanted to see what might be there, so I crouched down, safely back from the pool. After quietly waiting for several minutes, I saw a small trout, only about 5 inches long, swimming on the edges of the shadows. It seemed perfectly happy and seemed to have all of its needs being met. The water runs clear through this little pool, and there must be enough bugs there to keep it going. It was a great little scene with nature’s cycle condensed down in this little pool on the edge of a California meadow. (Click here to learn more about our work to restore Sierra meadows.)

Each year since finding it, I have gone back to see how the little fish is doing. I sneak up on the pool, being careful to not spook the fish with my shadow or to make any noise that might cause it to swim for cover. When I find the fish there, I feel that all must be right with the world for this little trout to have survived another year. It has always been a little bigger than the year before and last year was right around 7 inches long – tiny by trout standards, but plenty big for this stream.

Being worried about what might have happened during these last few months, a few days ago I crept up to the pool and was thrilled to see that there was still some water there. I had envisioned that it would be completely dry and that the little trout would have lost its fight against the drought. But there the pool was, with its water level lower than normal by almost a foot, but still there. It wasn’t a lot of water, but perhaps enough for the trout to still be there, too. And as I crouched down, peering into the clear water, I saw what I had been hoping to see. The little trout was there on the edge of the shadows and seemed to be doing fine. Looking a little closer, I noticed another trout farther back in the pool and a few one-inch-long progeny that were holding their own, as well.

During Bill Clinton’s first campaign for the White House, he would wrap up his speeches by saying, “I still believe in a place called Hope.” With that in mind, I decided to name this little fish Hope. I was so pleased to see that she had made it thus far through one of the toughest droughts in memory, and though the water was way down, she and her family were holding on.

As I stepped back from this little stream with a smile on my face, I thought to myself that I still believe in a fish called Hope.

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