Fall stocking season has begun in Maryland. Several handfuls of attentive anglers will appear at a stocked stream within an hour of the DNR fishery scientists hitting send. By chance, not by email, I was one of those anglers this week. Seeing a clear pool full of brown trout is on one hand wonderful and beautiful, and on the other hand it’s an unnatural abnormality.
Walking to the stream I see movement in the water – not the slow stealthy stalking or darting motions of a wild trout. This stream was stocked in the last few hours. In the first couple hours after a stocking the fish tend to pod up and dart in short bursts around each other. Sometimes stocked trout are disoriented enough that they have no interest in feeding. Tight-lipped brown trout are apparently what the Maryland DNR had stocked! After a little coercion and the switching of about 15 flies, I was able to fool a larger trout to strike, of all flies, a pink woolly bugger. Happy to catch a trout when I was staring at dozens of them swimming near me, I left the stream and headed home to make dinner.
Fishing to fresh stockies has a large element of site fishing and reminds me of throwing bread balls to bluegill at the local pond as a kid. My attempts at strategy for catching the stockies is limited to an occasional streamer to induce a chase, but primarily revolves around repeatedly changing our “gimmick” fly patterns such as squirmy worms, mop flies, and egg patterns. It becomes part knot tying exercise and part trying to match the size and color of the fish pellets they are fed at the hatchery. The fish haven’t adapted to naturally produced foods found in streams and need some time to adjust. Bad habits come back to me when I fish too much for fresh stockies, particularly with my casting and presentation skills. It’s fun, but I threaten to regress in my skills for wild fish.
Sunday afternoon, I found myself having some unoccupied time and I decided to take advantage of the overcast day to spend some time on the river. My first stop was to meet Mark and try out fishing for smallmouth bass on the Susquehanna River. The gage data was misleading, or we were overly optimistic, and the water levels were too high to safely wade. That adventure remains for another day.
It was good to catch up with Mark and then I was off to target wild brown trout and likely some holdovers at one of my favorite southern Pennsylvania streams. A predatory strike with a flash of color coinciding with a strong tug on the line by a wild trout is more exciting to me than fishing the newly stocked fish. Anticipation of the strike creates a tension inside me that adds excitement and keeps my technique sharp.
Spending a few hours at the stream, I ended up catching two nice brown trout. They were hidden in smaller, bath-tub sized depressions and striking my nymphs with vigor. Both upstream and downstream of me were other anglers, we seemed to be moving upstream in unison, a conveyor belt of fly anglers. Mark had mentioned to me earlier that the fishing report described the stream as being under “relentless pressure”, an accurate representation of my experience. Typical holding and prime lie waters didn’t produce any hits, the lack of response moved my mood to match the gray, overcast weather.
Today, part of me was going through the motions. I was excited to try fishing in the Susquehanna, a new experience and setting and different techniques to learn. Going back to somewhere I have fished a lot was appealing but with the crowded fishing and slow action, my excitement waned. Leo Tolstoy wisely said, “Once we’re thrown off our habitual paths, we think all is lost, but it’s only here that the new and good begins.” I was wanting to try something new, but then let my mind go to old habits. Austrian writer, Marie von Ebner-Eshenbach professed, “You stay young as long as you can learn, acquire new habits, and suffer contradictions.”
Fishing this afternoon, I was feeling old and slow, reluctant to make changes to flies or my approach. As I try to focus on writing my novel, I can feel myself hesitating to jump in, being reluctant to change. Fear of being a poor writer fills my head with doubt. Self-affirmation is not something I generate easily as I’ve used feeling inadequate as motivation to improve and succeed. Especially with my blog, I look for comments and support from others to help me feel positive about putting my thoughts into the world.
The patterns I fell back into with my fishing are like the patterns I can fall into with my confidence in life and in writing. Without feedback or when my expectations aren’t met, I can revert to bad habits, beating myself up about not being enough. Learning and growing helps me stay positive and sharp. Support from others is wonderful, but I want to be self-motivated and reach out for help when I need it. Tension is also valuable to me to increase my drive and give me an obstacle to overcome as compared to stress, which if overwhelming, is not good for my well-being. I’m looking forward to fishing the Susquehanna with Mark soon, finishing my book, and learning more about fishing and life. Breaking old habits and believing in myself can help me reach my goals.
“Old habits are hard to forget, and old fears are habits.” Raymond E. Feist American Author