The call of a kingfisher catches my attention and I turn downstream. Since I’ve learned to identify the song of the Kingfisher, I’ve always thought it could be used as a sound effect for a creature or weapon in Star Wars, with a staccato like rhythm. I see the bird flying upstream, it quickly moves in front of me approximately ten feet off the water. I imagine it is scanning the water, looking for any shadow, any movement on which to set a target. At any moment it can hover and plunge into the water. Often, its descent results in emerging from the water with a fish pinned in its dark beak. Today it flies by me, uninterrupted in its mission. I am drawn to the kingfisher, the dark blue headed bird burrows into vertical, eroding banks to create nests, away from predators and near to their food source. A high rising storm can flood its home but it’s a risk it is willing to take for the other benefits it affords.
Many other animals live along stream corridors, all with their niche and their role in surviving the environment. Minks scamper along the banks and slip into the water, emerging a short time later with a small brown trout in its jaws. Blue Herons slowly navigate the stream, with thin legs that barely create a wake in the water as they peer into the water stalking their next meal. Beavers, snakes, salamanders, aquatic insects, and all sorts of other critters share the stream with me. I am not welcomed or ignored or rejected, I am just there with them.
The water and the rocks have a sense of life about them too. As I step, I feel the gravel and the cobbles shift under my weight. Smaller gravels, precariously perched along the stream bed, hidden from the force of the water by the shadows of larger rocks around it, lift and strike my shins as my steps shift the larger rocks, exposing the gravels to the flow, dislodging them from their protected perches. The rushing water exerts its energy upon me, pushing against my feet and legs, attempting to lift me off my path just as the gravels are dispersed.
Standing in the stream, I am in a world that both accepts me and rejects me at the same moment. But I am encouraged to see all that is around me and to see what is inside me. I find connections between this world and myself through the extension of a fly rod, fly line, leader, tippet, and fly. If I can make this extension appear natural in this setting, I can be rewarded and connect to the fish. Such a simple act, with many complicating factors, can produce a childlike joy.
Each time I catch a fish, I feel a sense of accomplishment, like I was able to concentrate and put together the winning combination. There are certain moments when catching a fish feels even more satisfying. When I can overcome a larger, more powerful stream to catch a powerful fish in a remote setting, the accomplishment feels more substantial. The setting adds to the satisfaction and to the ability to connect. With many other anglers, tubers, or kayakers nearby, I am more distracted, and I bring more frustrations from the outside world and from inside myself.
I have several places that I truly love to fish because of the setting. It could be the wild, natural beauty, the history, the challenge, the uniqueness, or the difficulty in reaching the stream. Penns Creek in Pennsylvania, the West Branch of the Delaware River, the Beaverkill River, and the Willowemoc each hold an honored place in my favorite places to fish list. I have so many more places to explore, experience and learn. I realize I may not have visited my favorite place to fish yet and I am excited to explore the western rivers in the future. If I had to choose one place to fish tomorrow, I would likely head to Penns Creek. It is remote, beautiful and challenging. Wherever I may be fishing, when I hear the call of the Kingfisher, I am reminded how lucky I am to have the freedom, time, health, and resources to fish some of my favorite rivers.