For fly fishermen, “sense of place” is defined as much by rivers as it is by any other cultural or personal aspects. A town might be where an aunt lives, but there is also a stretch of special regulation water close by. Your wife’s favorite antiquing may be in a particular region, but it is also streaked with tiny blue lines on a topographic map. On such a trip your stated mission might be to procure a vintage mirror, but your eyes and heart wander because you’ve chased brook trout in the streams you’re crossing.
Living in an area for a time can create a very strong sense of place, where the personal, professional, and (excuse me) piscatorial come together. We develop home waters. These places fluctuate between serving as the backdrop and starring in the succession of life events and milestones. We fish as a reprieve from stress and burdens, and we fish as a celebration of the occasions that warrant it. Often we fish whenever we can, hours put in on the stream serving as the time between the rest of life.
I’ve moved a lot since my teenage years. Not nearly as much as some, but enough that I’ve developed a knack for loading U-Haul trucks in such a way that my fishing gear is readily accessible. A dish or two might get broken, but I know where my fly rods are (safely) stored. It has been a transient time of life: college, graduate school, the first steps in my career. There is a lot to consider when thinking about each and every place that I’ve been in the past fifteen years. Marriage, children, degrees, jobs, mistakes, successes, friendships, and, in the midst of all of it, the moments spent fishing. This isn’t to say that a bass is on par with a relationship. But those moments are, for a number of reasons, intrinsically linked. They happened in the context of one another. I love to fish, but I can’t – and shouldn’t – turn my mind off to the more important matters of my life when I’m on the water.
Although flowing water is one of the most dynamic features of our world, the rivers and streams that we return to have the ability to become one of life’s constants. Admittedly, ecosystems are fragile and subject to significant change from internal and external forces. We are by no means at a time where we can lower our guard on environmental concerns, but there is also much more stability today in fisheries that are protected. Returning to a place might be jarring once you realize that the people that you left had lives that went on while you were gone, but there is a very good chance that the river and the trout will be the same.
Just this week I’ve firmed up plans to relocate my family. It is back to the Mid Atlantic, where I’ve already spent nearly half of my life. There are a lot of emotions that come with leaving a place, and there are a lot of uncertainties that come with returning to someplace I’ve already been. Faith, family, and a sense of purpose are the overarching and truly anchoring factors at play. Those things will be what navigate me through the highs and the lows of the coming months and years.
I also have the water. Fishing ought not be an escape, per se, but those places will be woven in to my routine. The rivers and streams that I cut my teeth on as a teenager and then as a true trout bum in my 20’s will be back in play for this season of life. I will step into them a very different man, but they will be the same. When I return to creeks where I learned to cast a fly rod, it will be with a son in tow that I need to teach. Spring creeks that tried my patience as a younger man will hopefully be approached in a more measured fashion. Most of all, I hope to appreciate what I have taken for granted in the past. On and off the water.
The notion of “the fly fishing lifestyle” is nearing the point of cliché in marketing, but the underlying sentiment is real. There are those who integrate this passion in to most other parts of life, not just a recreation to be picked up from time to time. For such fly fishers or lovers of the outdoors, those wild places that flow through the day to day of life take on a special significance. The destinations and excursions have their romance and thrills. The charm and identity that is developed at home is irreplaceable, because it becomes part of us.