I swear I fish best when I’m alone. I can’t prove it without a witness, 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. 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 arriving with more than yourself seems like 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.
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 motion falls upon pure instinct. It’s good to be alone.
In these places, if you have 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.
Fish hard, friends.
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