The crunch of the gravel under my wading boots is a sound I love. Familiar paths from the truck, through the parking lots, onto the trail, and down to the stream bank are etched into my mind at the four or five streams where I like to fish. Hearing the sound of the crunch while closing my eyes can lead me down all these familiar paths. There is always something new to learn with each fly fishing trip, even in familiar streams, but I’m realizing the value in seeking new streams to explore and to learn.
American author and journalist William Langewiesche said, “So much of who we are is where we have been.” Likewise, the more places I go, the more I can become. I have been wanting to learn about the waters near me that hold trout. Learning those waters may unlock new skills or thought processes that will allow me to become a better angler.
Yesterday, I fished two smaller streams in Southern Pennsylvania. I researched the streams and spoke to my friend Mark about access points, areas to park, and the general description of the streams. The first challenge of fishing a new stream is finding the access points. Google Earth and other applications have replaced standard maps for many people. Oscillating between aerial photographs, planimetric, and topographic maps helps to identify streams and access points quickly. The Pennsylvania FIsh and Boat Commision mapping is a great head start for finding trout waters throughout the state. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources online resources are also helpful to identify stocked trout locations. There are several individual state focused books that provide guidance on access points and descriptions of stream conditions for trout anglers. These resources provide a literal road map to find and explore fishing sites.
If knowing where to go and how to get there is the first step, one needs to know what to do immediately after getting there. Exploration while fishing often leads to private property. Each state maintains different laws regarding access to Waters of the United States, and each private property owner has different tolerances and responses to uninvited guests on their properties. It is important to know the local laws and regulations and to avoid trespassing, especially on posted land or waters.
The fishing component of knowing what to do when you get there can be determined from the information you gathered while researching your trip, the size of the stream, and the location of the stream in the watershed. In Pennsylvania and Maryland, the higher the elevation, the more likely it is that you will find brook trout in streams. Generally, if trout naturally inhabit a stream, brown trout will be the dominant trout species. The time of the year and the weather will dictate different hatches and conditions relative to the food available for the trout, helping you to select your fishing approach.
Experientially, not knowing what awaits around each meander bend is thrilling. Yesterday, I explored a rural stream with a narrow but vibrant riparian corridor where a bald eagle flew over my head. I also ventured through a secluded park that felt high in the mountains, far from civilization. I walked along stream banks where the only footprints in the snow besides mine were of deer, fox, rabbits, and raccoons. Their footprints created stories in my head of the struggle and survival of these animals during the cold of winter. I could see their paths and wondered…who was chasing whom and who was seeking out what?
The water in the streams was cold and clear. Without the sound of flow over cobbles and logs and the crunch of frozen edges of the water under my feet, I could almost convince myself there was a dry stream bed and not a living, flowing stream. Against the white of the snow and with the clarity of the water, the flash of a trout chasing a small streamer stops your heart a second. The yellow, brown, and red of the trout are magnified, and it seems as if a door to some hidden world below the water was opened by this magical animal, and I get a quick glimpse inside. Bringing the fish to my net, my breath comes back to normal, and my heart settles. Trout are such beautiful creatures, able to slip in and out of currents and use the cobbles and water surface reverberations to hide their colors in plain sight.
The process of finding where to go and what to do when I get there has many practical and time consuming elements, as does life in general. Shoveling the snow, filling the car with gas, checking your gear, and so many other things help us to keep moving. Yesterday I was struck by what I discovered when I let my mind wander while I was wandering along the streams. J.R.R. Tolkien famously stated, ”Not all who wander are lost.” My wandering yesterday took me fishing, but it also took my imagination to the magical and beautiful world of trout, bald eagles, rabbits, foxes, and raccoons. Go explore.