Fly fishing and sense of place are deeply-linked. For me, the experience is as much about distinct locations – and the associated journeys – as it is about fish. Granted, a particularly memorable fish can help anchor the significance of a place. Conversely, a profound place, whether aesthetically or due to something more intangible, will supplant the absence of a heart-stopping fish. Or, the presence of fish altogether.
My fly fishing life is laced by return trips to a growing list of special places. These pilgrimages are at once sentimental and hopeful, attempts to build on legacy and enrich memories with new layers of experience. Some are seasonal, others more irregular. Perhaps that annual float attempting to intercept the salmonfly hatch, or the too-infrequent trip with Dad to one of the old haunts of your youth. Each one is a story unfolding, with unique characters, dialects and idiosyncrasies. I’ll go as far as saying that such pilgrimages are an important part of our growth as anglers, as conservationists, and as humans. These journeys are at the core of what we do, and, ultimately, who we are.
One of mine is now close to home. They can be, you know. It can be as proximate as your backyard, if approached with the same awareness. This one started several years ago, probably six or seven. April, western Colorado. A friend tipped us off. We thrashed through scrub brush and skidded down dirty snow drifts, then found ourselves at the river’s edge. A world apart.
The water was new, at first appearing mysterious, but soon revealing just enough. The fish were strong, vibrant. Just a couple of good friends, all sharing in that new-to-us glory. That first experience was just a taste, an almost superficial glint off the surface. As subsequent winters melted in to spring, this place would once again move to the fore of my intentions. This sneaky-beautiful place is becoming like an old friend, with just a hint of familiarity and a welcome embrace.
It was good to be back there last week, to see that not much had changed. We shared the water with no other anglers, and the fish were just as bold and strong. New memories to now span another season, looking ahead to the next pilgrimage.