Fishing Alone

by | Oct 11, 2017 | 22 comments

I swear I fish best when I’m alone. I can’t prove it without a witness, of course, but I guess I don’t care to verify it anyway . . . and that’s the point.

In what seems like another lifetime ago, I fished the mountain streams alone and often, and I miss it now. In daydreams, I sift through memories of small water, the infinite brown-green variations of spruce and ferns, moss and bedrock. I see the variance of shadows oscillating in the wind among tree branches and impeding the passage of sunlight, from the deepest blacks to the hazy flickering shade marbling a maple leaf canvas on the forest floor, with its fresh but dying colors of fall. I miss the brookie streams.

Fishing mountain water is how I first defined my fishing self, and I long for that adventure and discovery again. I guess I stopped fishing the mountain water once my life became more about other people and less about me: marriage, a real job, kids. I had more time before all that, more days for dedicating to the miles and efforts it takes to reach lonesome places, to fish a while and then just walk back out.

But maybe I don’t fish the mountain streams because they’re so lonely — because I’m not used to the feeling anymore.

The best mountain water flows unaccompanied through wild and forgotten spaces. And it seems like an unwelcome disturbance to arrive with more than yourself, like too much of a burden on the stream and its bordering banks. These places are best visited without voices. At a candlelight church service, or some vigil held in honor of an unspeakable tragedy, I always feel a strange solitude mingling among gathered people without exchanged words. The right mountain stream holds that same fascinating quiet in the woods. Life is everywhere, and yet the fish, trees and birds are all doing their own thing. I like being part of that for a while.

Photo by Josh Darling

Photo by Chris Kehres

Places like these aren’t necessarily remote, they’re just forgotten by others, far enough away from the thoughts of other people that I know I’ll have the whole place to myself. I used to hike the Pennsylvania hills and valleys with a trail map and a backpack, up and down the rocky mountains on broad trails and narrow overgrown spurs, and that’s when I realized how widely abundant in the forest real privacy is. There’s deep solitude in the places that people care about least — and thank God for that. Eventually I left the hiking gear at home, traded it for a light fly rod and probably too many fly boxes, and I sunk into the back country like a ghost for days at a time.

Alone, I am my own angler. I fish the way I was designed to fish. I’m my true self when alone, and I think we all need to feel that sometimes. Eventually, after hours of walking and fishing, civilization leaves your thoughts. Repetition and fatigue help keep the other world from creeping back in. No work, no politics, no failures or frustrations about your favorite football team. You don’t even think about the fishing after a while, and the direction of your motions falls upon pure instinct. It’s good to be alone.

In these places, if you have any trouble shedding thoughts about other people, if you can’t escape the constant company of other souls, the residual presence of companions and judgments, then you might as well turn around and walk back out anyway, because you’ve missed the point.

Thankfully, I’ve never had much trouble finding the lonely places. And during my years of fishing the mountain streams, I easily cast off whatever cursed anxieties plagued me as I walked into the solitude. My border collie at my side held me accountable, but he was a companion that offered no judgment against my actions, so he doesn’t count as civilized.

Fishing the mountains always granted me the serenity of simple thoughts, a soul laid bare to the open wilderness and a peace of mind. Then usually, that’s where I left it — somewhere alongside the rocks and flowing water.

 

Photo by Chris Kehres

Photo by Josh Stewart

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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22 Comments

  1. Beautifully written essay and that rings very true. When I fish alone, I sometimes feel that I cease to exist, and then, paradoxically, I begin to feel that I exist more profoundly. I’m never lonely when I fish alone; I frequently am when I fish with other people.

    Reply
  2. Trout > Humans

    Reply
  3. I love fishing alone to. You can look at this two ways though. One you have the stream all to yourself and can go at any pace you want without having to accommodate for anyone. On the other hand you are now putting yourself in as much danger as any extreme sport. Fly fishing looks like anything but extreme but when you consider the terrain you’re covering with the risk of injury combined with remote locations and sketchy cell service it can get pretty dangerous. One slip, rock to the head, bear encounter, medical problem (heart attack, stroke, dehydration, hypothermia), suspect wading situations and your fun day can turn into a nightmare in a hurry.

    Reply
    • The danger is part of the magic. For me, the risk is worth the reward.

      Reply
    • I have a patagonia fly fishing backpack and carry several items: ACR personal locator beacon, waterproof, $250-300 for dire/life-threatening emergencies (pricey but my life is worth it for my wife & kids). Counter assault bear spray ($50), never had to spray it, have only gotten it out once during an encounter with a 500lb black bear…he turned away and ran up the mountain. Rain shell (Marmot precip), and if in fall/winter will have packable water resistant down blanket for superior warmth & compressibility with minimal weight. also sawyer mini water filter/water container, compass, map, fire starting supplies, etc. I always let someone know what section of river I’ll be fishing as well.

      The only time I will not go is if severe thunderstorms or high wind are forecast, almost killed once by a falling tree in wind and waving a 10 ft graphite lightning rod in a storm isn’t a great idea. Other than that I don’t worry about heading deep in the mountains. More likely to get seriously injured in a car accident in the middle of the city IMO.

      Reply
  4. Super writing, suoer blog Dominick. Here is mine. Bwanasamaki.wordpress.com

    Reply
  5. I enjoy all your posts but this may be my favorite. I fish the brookie streams on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge in Virginia and while just 30 minutes from my home, I rarely see another human soul. I feel that I am nothing but spirit, one with the true world.

    Reply
  6. I used to feel this way, and often fished by myself for several days at a time in my youth. I find as I get older, though, fishing with a good friend or great guide increases my pleasure, and definitely ups my game. I tend to get very frustrated with myself when I fish poorly while alone. Having someone else around seems to temper that a bit. This is obviously a function of our differing and evolving personalities. As they say in the car ads, your milage may vary!

    Reply
  7. I live in Southwest Colorado, and have spent many days in the high back country. This post really captures the magic of why I go, and reminds me that I need to go more. Thanks for this article, and for all your writings, technical and otherwise.

    Reply
  8. Dominic, thanks for this particularly pointed essay. You nailed it.
    Being part of a place, with no voices other than the sounds of the river is powerful stuff. The saying “three’s a crowd” really applies here. When I fish a place with a friend, it is a shared experience with my buddy, me, and the river. Exploring a remote spot by myself though, is intensely personal with just the river and no other sounds.
    Thanks for the care and insight you bring to your writing.

    Reply
  9. Beautifully written Domenick. I try to fish those lonely mountain streams every chance I get

    Reply
  10. There is a purity in chasing native brookies deep in the mountains that comes to be treasured by those who do it often. On the roads to my favorite streams I know all the boundaries: here is where my city radio stations fade out, now at this intersection my cell service ends, and then the dirt road starts (watch for the giant potholes), and finally the dead end where, if I’m lucky, there will not be a single other car there all day. Then the walk in on the faint trail and the neverending question I struggle with every time: How long can I take it before I give in, abandon the hike and bushwhack to the stream, and begin the plunge pool ascent, alone, up the side of the mountain?

    Reply
  11. Great article. I’ve always enjoyed fishing by myself. Sometimes I will invite friends to remind me of why I like to fish alone

    Reply
  12. Very well said!

    I love to take time and just be alone in the wild. Whether it is in the woods hunting or on the water, that time is so cleansing. Lately I’ve been feeling everyday life consuming every waking moment and long for a day on the water or in the woods.

    Thank you for your posts and hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas!

    Reply
  13. I occasionally fish with others, I enjoy the opportunity, it’s social and you can see how someone else would approach search situations… there’s always room to improve and learn. But without a doubt I always switch on more when fishing alone, no distractions, my brain just focuses in to the fishing.

    Reply
  14. There is something about being alone on the water. Not talking or communicating just fishing. Nothing to worry about almost like meditating. For me it is my last sanctuary of tranquility and it doesn’t matter if strangers are around me I am still alone on the water. Nice story Domenick, I always enjoy seeing and reading what you have to say. Thank you.

    Reply
  15. I agree totaly, fantastic article!!

    Reply
  16. Dude every time I read another one of your articles I feel like you are writing how I feel!

    I love my solo time on the river. It’s my therapy from the day to day grind. Its all about solving the puzzle. It never gets old……tight lines!

    Reply
  17. Love it. This my mindset when tax season ends. I don’t trek to as remote places, but it is so good for my soul (and mental health) to spend an entire day without speaking a single word aloud after a few months of deadlines and stress. I enjoy getting out with my fishing buddies, too, don’t get me wrong. There’s just something extra special about the solo trips.

    Reply

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