Fishing Alone

October 11, 2017

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 that marbles 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 quit fishing 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 mights 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.

Read more Stories from Troutbitten

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


Photo by Chris Kehres

Photo by Josh Stewart

  1. Reply

    Alex Argyros

    October 12, 2017

    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

      Domenick Swentosky

      October 13, 2017

      Thank you.

  2. Reply


    October 12, 2017

    Trout > Humans

  3. Reply


    October 12, 2017

    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.

  4. Reply


    October 13, 2017

    Super writing, suoer blog Dominick. Here is mine.

What do you think?

Domenick Swentosky

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, writer, musician and fisherman. I fly 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.

Floating mousing carp friends Quote Euro-Nymphing tightline club fishing How it Started Fly rods Dylan nymphing tips Pennsylvania simplicity flies philosophy efficiency Discovery stinky bass Christmas Lights split shot Trout Unlimited patience Grobe Wild Mushrooms DIY casting Central PA spot burning cookout Buggers night-sighter DJS beadhead brush fishing DHALO backcast favorite Big Trout fall solitude gear mud nymphs front ended mistakes History PSA Burke Wild vs Stocked Little Juniata River PA Gold Float Fishing camera montana dorsey yarn indicator indicator fishing Spring Creek Bad Mother Headbanger Sculpin Memories friendship spawning Fish Hard bite windows Aiden hiking rigs Davy Wotten tiny flies dog last cast Dry-Dropper Trust poetry brown trout giveaway knots posted land tight lining winter fishing angler types Tippet Rings George Harvey BadMoFo the Mono Rig TU bar boots walking science matters boys Mystery Stockies Whiskey Drinker fly line Sighter Rich suspender fishing Whiskey Resources fighting fish Backing Barrel Night Night Fishing wading tenkara wildlife photography backcountry nymphing waders brookies fly tying skunked small streams reading water leaders Fifty Tips fly box It's just fishing public land come on man thunderstorm fly patterns BES catch and release tight line nymphing Ask an Expert dead drift PFBC trout bum Gierach Galloup etiquette Streamers Sawyer streamside Wild Brown Trout summertime fishing tips summer Weather tracks regulations travel silence wild trout musician wet flies wading boots stocked trout Dad conservation Peace dry flies Oakiewear big brown trout rookies Fly Fishing winter fly fishing Namer Streamer fishing comp fishing home-stream float mono rig Grandfather net tippet Camping fishing tips family Boat Orvis marginal water fishing with kids Joey ice