Sitting in front of my vise at my fly tying desk, I am distracted. The majority of my brain is focused on tying the black stimulator. A small part of my brain is running through other things I need to do in the day. Another part of my brain is daydreaming about using the fly on the river and imagining how this effort will help me catch more and bigger fish. My daydream yesterday was clearly focused on one particular reach of a stream I’ve fished frequently, where I know some large fish are lurking. I decided to set this daydream up to occur and planned on fishing my imagined reach in real life this morning.
Thankfully, we’ve had a bit of rain this past week after a long hot spell and drought conditions. As I mentioned in Some Don’t Like It Hot! prolonged periods of heat create low water, high temperature conditions that are dangerous for trout.
The ritual of pulling on the waders, hearing the sound of the fabric move around my leg and foot, pulling on the boot, and tying the frayed laces helps me to set my mind for fishing. I mentally prepare to be flexible and develop good strategies for the day.
Walking to the stream, I try to move quickly to maximize my time on the water and bring my daydream to life. Crossing the bridge to access the stream, I finally see the water. It’s not the greenish tinted clear water of my experiences and my daydream; it’s light brown and opaque. My happiness for the recent rain suddenly vanishes. Unfortunately, significant precipitation and the force of its water also caused some erosion. Turbid water looks more like chocolate milk than an angler’s dream.
The water didn’t seem very high or fast, so rather than move to another location, I stayed the course. Flood conditions can be incredibly dangerous, and any high water conditions should be given space. Assessing that I would be safe, I immediately switched to fishing tactics in my head. I would not use the dry-dropper rig I had planned to use. I was thinking streamers or larger nymphs would be the way to go, and I kept moving forward.
Turbidity is defined as the measure of relative clarity of a liquid. Turbid water appears murky and dirty, with lots of debris, like leaves, branches, and unfortunately trash following a storm. Materials such as clay, silt, organic material, microorganisms, and plankton are dislodged from areas outside of the stream, suspended into the water, and carried until they settle out onto a new surface. If there are areas of exposed soil, especially eroding stream banks, the color of the soil can stain the water for an extended period of time after a storm.
Fishing in turbid waters is challenging. You can’t see the bottom of the stream, which makes wading more difficult, and the water is typically moving faster at a higher flow rate. The addition of fine particles in the water column also stresses the fish. Excessive fine particles in a water body can have significant consequences for the health of the plants and animals that live in the water. The particles can hold additional pollutants and pathogens, which can injure or kill the organisms. Blocking the light from reaching deeper into the water column, fine particles can reduce photosynthesis and prevent UV light from disinfecting harmful pathogens in the water. If the concentrations of sediments are excessive and fine particles settle out in portions of the channel bed, it can coat the gravels and cobbles of the channel, sealing off and suffocating the areas in between the rounded stones. These areas between stones are “interstitial” spaces where macroinvertebrates and other organisms can live, protected from the flow of the stream while still being supplied with oxygen and food from the flowing water. When these spaces are filled, the stream ecosystem suffers.
The particles also can adhere to the gills of fish and reduce their ability to breathe. Turbidity changes fish behaviors too. Holding and feeding locations can change, with fish moving to areas outside of stronger flows that can carry more debris. Fish can move behind larger rocks or near stream banks that help provide shelter. Feeding may slow, and fish become stressed with prolonged exposure to the dirty water.
I went through my bag of tricks fishing in the less-than-ideal conditions, using streamers and nymphs of different sizes, profiles, and colors. In the three hours I had on the stream, I didn’t get a single strike from a fish. In hindsight, I probably should’ve tried another location. I think I was drawn to the challenge, stuck to the idea of pursuing my daydream, and understanding that I may have to drive far to find a stream not impacted by recent storms. I found it interesting how negotiating the murky conditions of the stream paralleled how I sometimes struggle with stress at work.
There are moments at work when I feel like my path ahead is obstructed by debris floating at me and conditions outside my control. I have felt like I’ve accepted the challenge and worked hard to set a strategy to achieve a goal, only to have been thwarted by misunderstandings, changes in funding, or differences in perspective. The past few weeks have felt like I’ve been swimming blind, struggling with changes around me that I didn’t prepare for or see coming.
Much like the fish in the stream, I have been dislodged from my patterns of behavior and anticipated conditions around me. Areas of my life where I have some erosion or past scars contribute additional energy to my stress at work as they get accessed or triggered by my confusion and fear. I get faced with decisions to hunker down, look for safer refuge, or to flee. I revert to mental states of self-preservation that lack creativity and positive energy. Much like the hydrograph of a storm, I know there is a rising limb, a peak, and then relief as things begin to slow and flow cleaner again. My brain works the same way, but at the moment of the peak, not knowing if you’ve reached the top is scary.
My time on the river today didn’t produce any fish to the net, but it helped my mind settle in its storm. I saw how things adjust to stress and find ways to return to a new condition. Thinking of my life as a watershed helps me to see the dynamic nature of what’s around me, both in space and time. Certain storms can reach different levels and begin to contribute more erosion, but knowing the storms will pass and create something new to see helps me to stay connected to all the parts of myself.