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Ahhhh, wilderness! (?)

The reasons we go fishing are many and varied.  I’m sure your reasons may differ from mine, but I’ll bet high up on the list may be to ‘get away from it all’....especially for trout fishermen.  I’ve heard and read that trout live in beautiful places.  Well, fishing for said trout takes you to those places.  While this is generally true, on many streams you can unfortunately see houses tight along the banks as well as litter, sediment and other evidences of people and their “footprints” on the land.  Don’t get me wrong; I still enjoy fishing in all kinds of places.  But I’d rather be on a stream that at least seems wild and unspoiled.  Fishing wild places does more to help me relax; it’s more refreshing.

A quick Google search tells me that there’s over 307 Million folks living in the U.S., and almost 9.4 Million of them in my home state.  That is a mind-boggling number, budget numbers thrown around by the Federal government notwithstanding (exactly what is a quadrillion?), and all those people have to live somewhere.  My point is that it’s getting harder to find places where there’s even a feeling of remoteness.  The sad truth is that there’s not much actual wilderness left, especially in our part of the country.  Plus, to get to streams that are fairly remote usually takes time, effort, and of course money.  I’m thinking at least along the lines of a multi-day trip to the Smokies and backpacking in to some stream for a few days of fishing.  Even then you may very well run into others in the backwoods who are there to ‘get away from it all’ themselves.  The good news is that there are still some streams….not far from home even…..that can give you that feeling of solitude and of being in a wild place.

Our faithful treasurer Bob Pearson and I fished in just such a place the other day.  There we were, virtually in the midst of dense population centers, major thoroughfares and shopping for about anything one might want.  And yet, no houses, just a small amount of litter washed downstream and stuck at the high water mark, and not another human being in sight the whole time.  Due to the wonders of mountain topography the only reminder that we were not in a truly wild place was an infrequent sound of a vehicle passing by above far us.  It reminded me quite a lot of being in a place like the Smokies and, in a way it was better since we didn’t drive 4 hours or even have to hike in.  Oh, and there were trout too!  Quite a few wild specimens were brought to hand in fact.  We had a great and relaxing day in a little piece of ‘wilderness’.  The point is that there are such places still out there, even some fairly close to home.  You just have to get out, ride the roads, explore and find them.  Sometimes just hunting for them is a big part of the fun too!

Home Water

“Familiarity breeds contempt.”  You’ve probably heard this old axiom before.  Like many quotes that have been around a long time, there’s usually a lot of truth to them.  However, this one doesn’t always apply.  Take the case of “home water” for instance.  For me, familiarity with my home water only results in good things. 

Before I go on, I should probably explain my definition of home water.  I am not fortunate enough to own any property that has any fishing water, much less moving water with trout (maybe some day).  But thanks to the many miles of public trout water in our state I, like you, have access to some really great streams.  Home water doesn’t have to be yours, except in a figurative sense.  Home water is simply some place to angle that you enjoy, and have become very familiar with; you consider yourself “at home” when you are there.  It can be big water or small; it could even be just one favorite pool or run you know of on So-And-So Creek.  Of course, it helps if this place has certain characteristics:  close proximity, great scenery, productivity…..the list could go on.  Additionally, even though I have no illusion that no one but me fishes my home water, I also like a stream where I don’t need to bring my own rock to fish off of.  But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a certain way.  I’m sure other folks’ home water is very different from mine, and that’s perfectly OK.

I really enjoy exploring and fishing an area or stream that is new to me.  That’s a big part of the fun-finding new places to fish!  Sometimes you can luck up on a real gem too.  But when you go on an exploratory trip, you usually don’t know quite what to expect.  Is the stream tight or wide-open?  What flies work best there?  Can I even find it and, if so, is it posted?  Answering all these questions can make for a great adventure, and there’s nothing wrong with adventure.  But when you want to just relax and just have a great time of fishing and enjoying creation, it’s hard to beat home water.

I have two stretches on two different streams that I think of in this way.  Why two?-Because I just can’t decide between them.  Last weekend I visited one of these places, and had a great day on the water.  I know exactly how long it takes to get there, and when I do, I know just where I’ll start.  I know which particular places usually hold fish and which I can fish through quickly….or skip altogether.  (I remember, too, where that really nice, bright trout hangs out that I have yet to bring to hand.)  I know what flies and tactics have worked well for me in the past so I don’t have to carry the whole catastrophe of gear, just a small fly box and a few other sundry items that will all fit in a shirt pocket or two.  All this helps me to relax and focus on and enjoy the fishing and my surroundings.

There’s something very satisfying about home water.  If you don’t have any water that you consider home, get out there and try some different places.  It may take several visits but, sooner or later, you’ll have your own familiar place.  After all, you know what they say:  “There’s no place like home!”

An Ode To Autumn, And Our Native Fish

Fall has long been my favorite time of year.  Along with many others, I love to see the bright colors on the trees as they begin to go dormant in preparation for winter, and to feel the crisp temperatures on a cool October morning.  But as a pursuer of trout I have another reason to love fall:  Salvelinus Fontinalis….loosely translated that’s trout of the fountain. 
Of course I’m talking about Brook Trout, or square tails, specks, natives, brookies.  Whatever you want to call them, they’re my favorite fish species bar none. There’s a myriad of reasons for this.  Wild Brook Trout (technically a species of Char, but let’s not split hairs) are the only trout that are indigenous to the Southeastern U.S.  According to scientists, they retreated to our area from colder northern climates around the time of the last ice age.  I like the fact that man had nothing to do with them being where you now still find them.  (Although big kudos go out to the TU volunteers and folks from GSMNP and NCWRC who worked many years to restore native Brook Trout to many of their traditional home waters in the Smokies!)  The Southeast has its own distinct sub-species as well, called Southern Appalachian Brook Trout…..so it’s kind of a thing we southern folks can be proud of!  I could go on, but finally I like that brookies generally live only in fairly cold and pristine water in the upper reaches of streams-above some natural barrier where introduced Brown and Rainbow trout cannot get to, and out-compete them for food.  Finding them usually involves some hiking, which luckily gets you away from most of man’s trappings into some beautiful wild places….not to mention the health benefits involved.  Naturally, you can fish for brook trout all year long, but it’s in the fall that brookies don their “Sunday best”, with colors so vivid and bright that they rival most any fish out there in the looks department.  Keith Cockerham and I recently had the good fortune to see some of those “fall colors”, and get some exercise, in pursuit of our native trout.  These images are from that trip.     
People sometimes see photos of brookies and make comments like, “What is that, bait?”  They just don’t get it.  Wild Brook Trout around here generally aren’t very big-a 10 incher in our area is so rare it would constitute a real trophy!  But if you look at their small, nutrient-poor environment you see that they’re as big as they’re supposed to be.  I have also heard other anglers describe Brook Trout as dumb or stupid, saying they’ll hit any fly you throw at them.  It’s true that brookies aren’t usually particular as to fly selection, but we’re not talking about spring creek or tailwater fish here, and those anglers don’t see them for what they are-fierce survivors that must eat anything even resembling food, just to stay alive.  Not that catching them is easy.  They’re exceptionally wary, so bring your A-Game in stalking and presentation skills if you hope to have success. 
Call them small or dumb if you like.  Brook Trout are precious jewels of the high mountain streams in our area of the country, and when it’s autumn they’re never far from my mind.

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