This year, spring carries a special meaning, and as an angler, I couldn’t wait to get back on the river. Driving up to the mountains yesterday and then hiking along the lower stretches of one of my favorite Southern Appalachian trout streams gave me a welcomed sense of relief and anticipation.
Spring had already come to mountains. The dogwoods were in full bloom, the birds were singing, the rhododendrons were starting to bud, and there was plenty of water in the river. I had hoped the fishing would be good, and looking back on the day, it certainly was. Of course, there were fish that I missed and situations that I could have handled a little better – times when one of the small trout would splash at the fly and miss it, or I wouldn’t clearly see a subtle take and be too slow to set the hook, or in one case the fly moved out of my line of sight behind a small rock, just as the fish took it.
But as many times as the fish got away, there were just as many times when it worked – with the splashing water all around me, feeling the coolness of the air chilled by the water in the canyon, seeing early season bugs dancing on the water, and knowing that the fish would eat.
Every angler has a way they like to fish, and for me, it is fly fishing with dry flies. It’s a quiet process – Zen-like, where everything condenses down to one thing – and the best moment is when out of complete hiding, unseen in his perfect, undetectable camouflage, one of these beautiful wild trout slowly lifts himself to take the fly. Of all the time on the water, 99.9% is spent getting ready for that moment, and when it happens, it’s that half-second that you remember. He angles up in the current and opens his mouth, the fly is gone, and the game is on.
The “fight”, if that’s the right word, will only take a few seconds before he’s back in the water, lost into the stream that hides him so well. But the thrill of that moment, wrapped in the anticipation that had led to it – whether all year, all winter, all day or just that moment – is what sticks with me. It feels so good to be back on the river.
People ask me why I fish, and I’ve always said how it’s full of hope and optimism. Every time I come to the river, every time I make a cast, there’s that chance that something magical can happen. It’s like opening a new birthday present every time I catch a trout.
Likewise, people ask why I work in river conservation, and it’s the same thing. Rivers are magical, wonderful places. They offer each of us peace and joy and maybe even a sense of relief or escape when times have been tough. For me it’s through fishing; for others it might be paddling or birding or resting or something else – it really doesn’t matter. It’s the river that matters. And like fishing is a hopeful act, so is saving rivers. They are some of the most resilient things in nature. So many times, after they’ve been damaged or abused, rivers have come back to their former, beautiful selves. Ask the Cuyahoga or the Penobscot or the Elwha. If we give them a chance, most times, that’s all they need – and by giving them a chance, we’re giving back to them in hopeful ways.
After all, hope springs eternal.