Approaching the stream, water levels appeared lower than my visit several weeks earlier. Flow through the riffles was shallow, narrowly filling the lowest points of the stream bed. The pools were stilled and stagnant. Debris that had been submerged was exposed to the air. I scanned the stream bottom for shadows or signs of movement. There was no evident movement, no signs of life. Knowing the stream had been recently stocked, I knew there were fish in the stream, but it appeared deserted. Weeks before I observed bugs hatching and flashes of feeding fish.
Streams often have the lowest flow at the hottest, driest points of the year. Temperature, precipitation, and evapotranspiration all impact available water for discharge into stream channels. In Maryland, precipitation is relatively consistent across the year. Stream flow is not dependent on snow pack, like many of the western and northern states. Periods of drought can diminish stream flow tremendously. Maryland climate records since 1971 indicated April is the month with the lowest average precipitation rates. This April, rainfall is higher than the averages, yet the stream flow is still reduced. Combinations of the other factors that impact stream discharge are resulting in lower flows.
At the higher flow, the stream was vibrant, the fishing was exciting, and fish were distributed throughout the stream. On this day it appeared the opposite. With lower flows, I kept my shadow off the water, moved quietly and did my best imitation of a blue heron. Using stealthy and patient movements, I was able to catch a few fish. Bringing the fish to the net, I felt twinges of guilt, wondering if the fish were stressed under the low flow conditions.
I began thinking of all the parts of life that impact my mindset, mood, and performance. My health and mindset are impacted by diet, rest, exercise, feelings of care from loved ones, feelings of security, and many other items. When one or more of those needs is not met or under stress, I am not the best version of myself. In my stressed state, I may withhold thoughts and feelings, go on autopilot, or make assumptions that don’t allow input from others. I retreat even more inside my head and let the stress build.
With these thoughts spinning in my head, I reeled up my line and walked back to the car. I wanted to give the fish a break. Sometimes I go fishing to clear my head of the thoughts that are fatiguing me. On Friday night, fishing helped me relate to the fish who are in a position of scarcity, which limits their vitality and increases their stress. It helped me to see that I need to be more empathetic to others who are in survival mode and to give myself space when I feel stress. It also allowed me to see some of my stresses I wouldn’t have seen without low water.