This week a secret was revealed. Maybe it was more a long-lost dream was again given life. For many anglers, there is a point in their fishing journey where they seek to catch the biggest fish possible. Many have talked about the progression of an angler from learning to catch one fish to trying to catch as many fish as possible to hunting the biggest fish, eventually culminating in a Zen-like state of fishing just to be out on the river without testing yourself or trying to gain status. Along my journey, I’ve tried to skip from learning to catch fish to finding that Zen-like state. Part of that is my arrogance of not wanting to get caught in ego traps and part of it is a protective mechanism that tries to prevent me from feeling like a failure. Well, my big fish lust blew through that resistance on Thursday night.
Last Thursday was the annual “State of the Gunpowder River” discussion at the monthly Trout Unlimited membership meeting. Mark Staley from Maryland Department of Natural Resources gives a presentation describing the water quality and trout health studies performed annually and does a wonderful job. For several years, the message has been the same. There are more numbers of smaller fish closer to the dam of the Pretty Boy Reservoir. As the water descends away from the dam, the gradient gradually lessens, and the average temperatures increase. With those changes, fewer trout but bigger trout live further from the dam, until the stream reaches the Loch Raven Reservoir. This had been the results of DNR fish stocking studies for many years. Until Thursday.
This year, DNR floated the river with a raft and was able to access more areas within the stream. The electrofishing rig mounted to the raft also allowed stronger electric currents to reach deeper in the pools over longer reaches of the river. With the new access, the fish holding in the hidden areas of the stream were discovered. They found big fish, the largest fish was over 30” and estimated to weigh approximately ten pounds. Thirty inches!
I sat at my computer and watched the pictures of the slide deck in a state of shock! Part of me almost turned off my computer and headed straight to the stream. I’ve dreamt of catching a big fish two out of the three nights since the presentation. Today I woke up thinking of catching one of the 20” + fish. I imagined using my six-weight all day and throwing big streamers with a sinking leader.
Based on the comments from the others watching the presentation, I felt a twinge of fear that the stream would be overrun with people “big fish hunting”. Maybe this information shouldn’t have been shared (and maybe I shouldn’t be blogging about it)? Philosophically I was in knots and my inner competitor wanted nothing more than to catch the fish. Mark was peppered with, “Where was the large fish caught?” and “Where would you fish if you went to the river?” A good portion of the crowd wanted the most specific information he would provide. My inner competitor wanted the details too, but my inner conservationist was conflicted. Mark carefully answered each question with a reference to a very broad area. Public information collected by public agencies is meant to be distributed to the people. Brown trout are not rare, threatened, or endangered species and as catch and release, conservation-based anglers, we should seek to protect the resources we enjoy.
I was able to go fishing today and the conversation within my mind was ongoing on the drive to the river. The thrill of hooking a very big fish is intoxicating and is very appealing to me. In some ways the pride in having a photo of a large fish feels like it is a fishing status symbol I desire, in other ways the big fish bragging I see from others is off putting. Or am I just jealous? I can’t tell.
When I got to the river, I’m not sure if I chickened out or my mindset just changed. I relaxed and ate some soup before putting together my nymphing rod. I decided I wasn’t going to hunt the big fish exclusively. Sticking to my disciplined approach of improving and being consistent with casts and getting good drifts remained my focus. I had a great time on the river and felt more at ease than normal. Almost as if the pressure of catching a fish was released.
I thought of Captain Ahab and his battle to catch Moby Dick. Herman Melville depicted this struggle through the voice of Ismael, “All my means are sane, my motive and my object mad.” My focus on the large fish present in the stream was building a pressure and energy that lessened the sense of peacefulness I normally feel when I arrive at a stream. I still would love to catch a large fish, but I appreciate improving as an angler and spending time on the river to relax and clear my mind. With more time on the river, my chances to catch big fish will increase. I can enjoy each trip and still look forward to the time I hook into a big one without it becoming a maddening focus.