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Fly Fishing & the Back Roads of Memory

I used to keep track of all the placed that I fished. In a black and white composition book, I’d jot down the name of the stream or pond. When I had the time, the species of fish I caught would also be noted. It never got to the point of writing down conditions or flies, let alone how many fish I was able to get into.

For whatever reason, I stopped the practice years ago. Laziness was undoubtedly a significant factor, but I was also fishing more. On a weekend fishing trip, I might bounce to four or five spots. I’d forget where I had been, and then the list seemed less legitimate. So for all intents and purposes, I can’t know for certain everywhere I have gone fly fishing.

So when I am driving down a back road and I get that I’ve fished here before sense, I generally assume that there is some credence to it. Especially if you live somewhere for a prolonged period of time, the chances that your angling travels will effectively canvas an area are great. You may only cast a fly in any given stream a handful of times, but you will have been there.

Without getting all whimsical, I can confidently assert that there is a lot of truth to the idea that we change a lot like rivers do. What you’re then left with is water that is constantly being altered while you are growing and changing as well.

All of that is to say this: it can be exciting to return to those waters that you may have fished a long time ago but have since forgotten.

A few weeks ago I spontaneously went fishing a few hours from my house. Throwing all my gear in the car, I had a plan for where I was going to spend the afternoon. Later, speeding down the highway I made another impulsive decision and passed by the exit I should have taken. I was going to head to a spot I hadn’t been to in nearly a decade.

I arrived and had the quarter-mile stretch all to myself. It was a shock, seeing as it was the weekend. Immediately, there was a familiarity in the scents, sights, and feeling of the creek. Walking to the bank I spotted a nice brook trout right off the bat. I watched it flit about in the current for a few minutes, and then I saw a few larger fish further out. Two rainbows, about 16-18 inches apiece, were bumping each other in the faster water.

Why hadn’t I been back here? This experience – three big trout laying right out in front of me – was common on this spring creek. What kept me away for so long? As I fished, I thought about those questions. I think the answers that I came to are probably applicable to those same questions for any stream we leave behind.

When I lived near that stream, it was the farthest of the three top-notch spring creeks in the county. Another fifteen minutes seemed like a trek back then. Additionally, when I was there I began to focus almost exclusively on another stream for a few summers. Lastly, and I’m pretty sure this is the weightiest excuse I made, this stream was challenging.

Being back on that water was a lot of fun. The creek had altered a bit in the years that I’d been gone, but there was also so much that had remained the same. Little things like eddies, logs, and precarious groundhog holes were familiar.

I made up my mind that day to try and revisit some places that I have forgotten. It isn’t that fly fishers necessarily forget waters completely. Certain creeks get supplanted by others for various reasons, many of which shouldn’t disqualify them from our consideration. Some ponds and rivers are just victims of circumstance. They don’t change nearly as much as our schedules and tastes do.

It is too bad that I don’t have my old composition book “fishing journal.” With smartphone location tagging on pictures, I’ll probably be able to assemble the data necessary to track my angling for the past five or six years. Before that it is a little murky. Mostly, because it depends on my memory. Thankfully, driving down back roads can be the best mechanism for recall we possess. Keeping a rod in the car and a little cushion in the schedule can go a long way to helping one figure things out.

And, if I can be permitted to be a little whimsical again: Fly fishing streams from the past can go a long way in helping one figure things out in all sorts of ways.

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