Save the Discovery

by | Feb 27, 2019 | 15 comments

Burke had been traveling.

North, south, east or west I cannot share because I’ve been sworn to secrecy. You see, the best river spots are enhanced by our conviction of their rarity, believing that they are special enough to be protected, even if they aren’t all that far off the radar.

Week after week, Burke had returned with stories of catching large brown trout and the photos to prove it. Not club fish, because he wouldn’t bother with those. And not private water with trout fed from the banks and kept like zoo animals. That wasn’t our game. Ours was the unremitting chase of wild brown trout, and perhaps a fundamental urge for discovery.

So I backed into Burke’s driveway as the sun slipped over the neighboring ridge, and I met him in the open garage under the fading daylight. After handshakes and hugs, we each turned over a five gallon bucket for a stool and uncapped an IPA from his well-stocked man-fridge, full of smoked meats and alcohol.

“I’ve gotta tell you about this river,” Burke said.

So he started in on a good fisherman’s tale. And true to form, he began laying out the specifics. He detailed the depth and current speed at the far side of a river bend, a place covered in shadow until midday. I know this bend now because I’ve seen it myself, bringing large brown trout to the net as if on cue. Burke’s accounts of these locations were precise. And I’d learned that descriptions like these are where success aligns with determination — much more than with lesser generalities like, “that nice spot by the bridge.”

Five minutes in and halfway through my first beer, I shifted on my bucket seat. I stared at Burke as he used two hands to animate the size of the trout he’d been catching.

“Hold on,” I whispered.

I’d decided already. I only wanted to know what was possible. Tell me of the fish and no more. My imagination about the river, backed by the proof of experience from a trusted friend, was enough inspiration to make the drive to this new place, over and over if necessary. But I earnestly wanted to track down the rest for myself — solo.

Years ago, I toured my home state with a Delorm atlas and a scientific list of stream names that held wild trout: classes A,B, C and D, as the state fish commission had ranked them. With strong legs and a simple hope for finding trout, I hiked into the backcountry to survey each stream with a fly rod. My border collie was my companion. Day after day, county after county, I explored. I discovered. And I logged notes about each stream on papers that grew yellow and coffee-stained in a black three ring binder.

“Ours was the unremitting chase of wild brown trout, and perhaps a fundamental urge for discovery.”

And when I found a special stream, I made a habit of fishing it from bottom to top, from the mouth all the way upstream into the headwaters, skipping only the posted land — and sometimes breaching those forbidden zones just to keep the connection unbroken. The larger rivers took months to explore. Covering miles of trout water, I picked up where I’d left off the previous day. And at the top of each waterway I remember the sadness. When I’d waded and hiked and fished past every bend in the river, when I’d at last come to the final section, I felt a heavy and thoughtful melancholy about the end of an adventure.

READ: Troutbitten | The Last Good Island

These feelings came back to me as Burke began his info dump on the new river:

“Yeah, you can park in a little gravel patch on the south side of the Rt 58 bridge. There’s no trail, but the woods there are open enough to walk easily for about a mile. So keep going until you see a canyon wall and . . .”

“Wait.” I whispered again.

Burke paused.

“I want to discover it for myself,” I said. “Whatever effort it takes, I don’t want to miss the exploration.”

Burke nodded. “That makes sense.”


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky



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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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  1. It makes sense to me too. Thanks for the essay.

    • Cheers, Alex.

  2. Makes me hope I can do that some day. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy your stories and adventures and picture what that day will be like for me. Keep them coming.

    • You got it.

  3. I never subscriber to the mantra “don’t leave feeding fish” especially if you have already caught one. Know when to fold-them and move on, even the heron does this.

    Like a mink walking the bank I always wonder what’s around the next bend. Thanks Dom for the story good to hear that sense of adventure is in the hearts of many.

    • Sure thing, Dan.

  4. One key to discovery: never tell the fish where they are supposed to be and what they should be doing. Let them do the talking.

    • Nice

  5. Awesome! I totally get it. It makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing!

    • Yup

  6. Bit of an eye opener for me. I have been planning on going exploring ever since I moved to central Pa, but I always fish the closest water cause I get more time on the water. I have forgotten the joy of discovery. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Domenick, you have a true gift for writing. We all look forward to your next post. Please keep up your great work.

  8. It’s funny you write this a year or so after my big epiphany and complete retro refit of my fly fishing style. Let me explain. I used to be the “big fish, big streamers, big rods, big rivers” guy. You know the guy, right? Late 20’s early 30’s, bearded and full of bravado. Then one day I run across a vintage glass 5wt rod and reel, cheap gear, nothing special. I chuckle to myself as I like the rod in its gaudy way and pick it up for a song. I throw some line on it and grab some gear. I go to a favorite stretch if river and give it a fair run. Brought back memories of chasing brookies as a kid on our local creek’s and I’m smitten. Fast forward, I now own 2 glass 4 WT setups, traded out all of my 6″ Double deceivers for size 10-20 nymphs and dries. Now I do a lot of off the grid native brook trout creek fishing because half the fun is the adventure and discovery and the other half is catching the most stunning 7-12″ brookies on glass rods without another soul for miles! Keep up the great inspirational work!


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