Searching for a path to the river from the trail was a challenge. Greenbriar and multiflora rose filled the western edge of the trail where the down slope connects to the floodplain. Continuing down the trail, I came to a tributary that crossed the trail. The eastern edge of the trail connected to the slope of the valley wall, and the shading of the large trees limited underbrush, opening gaps so I could navigate down to the small tributary along the wing wall of the culvert. The small tributary channel has a five-foot bottom width, predominantly covered with sand, but solid footing indicates that large boulders and fallen logs form the backbone of the stream. 

The water feels cold and is very clear as it flows down the channel bed through the culvert, inviting me to follow its path. Making my way through the narrow bends and confined channel limits, I feel like an explorer blazing a new trail. As I near the confluence of the tributary with the main flow of the river, the vegetation opens up and beams of light stream through; my eyes adjust like I’m walking out of a movie theatre into a sunny day. The stream in front of me looks super fishy. I’m excited to start my morning fishing what looks to be a fantastic run. 

Beautiful Maryland River

I take two more steps forward, and I cast a shadow over the water. Fish scatter. Crap. Shadows both protect and alert wary trout as the sun rises and changes the light patterns penetrating the water column. Sudden movement either in shadows or in the angler’s body raises attention from the fish. Herons, osprey, king fishers, and eagles are the primary predators of trout (in addition to other trout, minks, snapping turtles, etc.) in the rivers I fish. Casting shadows from above is sometimes the only warning that danger is present for the prey. At other moments, shadows cast by trees or large boulders provide relief from hot sun and allow the trout to use natural camouflage to hide. 

Casting My Shadow on the Stream

Just as I’m letting my pouting mindset go after spooking the fish, a quick shadow passes over the water and I hear the sound of a large bird overhead. A large bald eagle flies over me; they are awe-inspiring every time I see one. Its shadow leads me to feel a sense of national pride, and I am grateful to be out in nature on protected public lands. 

A Bald Eagle Soars Overhead

Moving upstream, I wade slowly and carefully, watching my shadow and how the light is projecting into the water. A few casts in and I hook into a brown trout. I’m excited about the new water I am exploring and the trout it holds. Turning to my right, I see three anglers emerge about 100 yards upstream of me. The fishing party appears to be a guide with two clients. My irritation washes back over me. I know they’re not likely to move, since the guide needs a spot he knows well where he can manage two clients. I can tell from the client’s wading approach that they are very new to fly fishing. Their caution slows them to about half the speed of the guide. 

I finish fishing the run and pool and look for a way back up the slope to the trail. My adventure was interrupted, and I was pissed. Stomping up the hill, I reach the trail and quickly walk upstream to get far ahead of the trio. Again, I need to search for a good access point. A quarter of a mile down the trail I find a good access point. My entrance to the stream valley is relatively clear, and seeing the valley open to a beautiful river warms my heart again. 

Instead of holding on to the anger, I remembered a question/comment submitted to the Orvis Podcast Fly Box that I was listening to earlier in the morning. A beginning fly fisher was lamenting about how he was learning to fish in pressured streams in Colorado. Most fly anglers he encountered were not friendly to him, especially when it appeared that he was a novice. He was frustrated by not always knowing what to do on the river, having very little assistance, and being met with avoidance or even hostility. This experience continued until one angler noticed he was struggling and took two hours to fish with him, helping him with casting, fly selection, river etiquette, and knots. The caller learned so much and was encouraged to continue on because of his two-hour interaction with a kind and more experienced angler. 

The shadow cast by that helpful fisherman impacted the enjoyment of the caller tremendously, while all the other anglers who interacted with the caller pushed him away and challenged his desire to stick with the sport. I wished I hadn’t stomped up that hill slope. The trio may not have noticed my disdain, but I felt that my frustration was shortsighted. 

I recently listened to the TED Radio Hour podcast where Dr. Jedidah Isler, an astrophysicist, recalled a poster she saw when she was a child of a young African American girl studying physics. She hung that poster in her room to encourage her to keep working and achieve her dreams. The poster still hangs in the astrophysicist’s office today. The shadows cast on her from colleagues assuming she was part of the janitorial staff or other disparaging or discouraging comments couldn’t shade the light from her inspiration. I have heard similar stories from personal friends about words, actions and support of teachers, coaches, parents, friends, and family meaning more to them than the givers could ever know. 

Understanding the shadows we cast and their impact on others is part of being in community. I’ve lamented and heard comments from others about how the world is too harsh, how politics are abysmal and unproductive, that parents depend on devices and teachers to help raise their children, that environmental restoration can’t fix the damage to our world, and many other ills of the world. Recognizing that we can be that bald eagle, that helpful fisherman, or that encouraging teacher by understanding our shadows helped to brighten my day fishing. And I hope it helps me stay conscious about how my words and actions impact those around me.

“Unless you learn to face your own shadows, you will continue to see them in others, because the world outside you is only a reflection of the world inside you.” Anonymous

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