I went fishing with my friend John ten days ago and after the trip I struggled with what to write about. We went to a designated Catch & Release Brook Trout stream that I had fished several times and he had fished for years. He took me to parts of the stream I had not fished before, parts where he experienced 30-fish days; beautiful runs, deep pools, and perfect cascades. We took our time. In the course of about a mile I had hooked three and landed one while he hooked around ten and landed about half. But the fishing was hard – every hole that should have produced a trout clearly didn’t. Something was off.
We fished upstream, deliberately and carefully dissecting each hold. We rounded a bend about a quarter mile from our trucks, approaching a few remaining holes that always hold fish, and we instead found three people already there, two with spinning tackle and one with a fly rod. We passed on by and headed for the trucks.
Back at the trucks we stowed our gear and poured coffee, and the three fisherman came walking up the road behind us. No gear in hand, just poles. The young man with the fly rod said last week he had caught 30, and something I didn’t quite clearly hear… trout magnets maybe? Said he wasn’t sure why they were not biting. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were still here.
The only Brookie of the day – taken on a soft-hackle.
Easter Sunday my family decided to go fishing. So, me, my wife, my son, and daughter loaded up our gear and headed up the mountain. My wife and daughter only had a couple of hours and neither was geared for anything overly difficult, so we headed to a put-and-take stream where it is usually pretty easy to hook up. The road along the river was as busy as the local Walmart on payday: campers, out-of-staters, tents, canopies, and countless pickup trucks and cars. We drove to the South Gate and walked a ways downstream. We fished two long holes – nothing but boot prints.
We packed it in and headed several miles upstream to the North Gate and walked in about 3/4 of a mile and fished a couple of holes. No fish. My daughter had to get to work, so we all headed out together. On the way out we had to walk past one guy fishing, and then on the gravel road we walked past three families, complete with baby stroller and remote-control car. No joke. When we got to the truck it was surrounded by eight other cars. This was not fishing – it was a bad dream; The product of a holiday weekend, a virus, and the Governor declaring anyone can fish in West Virginia right now without a license.
Now it was time for my son and I to get serious. Another 30 minutes up the mountain we went. Far fewer people. I headed to a stretch of river that went away from the road, threaded the fly rod, and set-off upstream. We fished for two solid hours and covered over a mile of stream, hitting every hole, seam, and deadfall. The water was low and clear. We never had a hit, never saw a fish. Boot prints. Just boot prints. This stream is stocked weekly from March though May. Two hours. Nothing.
Frustrated, we made the long walk back to the truck which was parked at the mouth of a brookie stream I’ve had good luck on before. I let my son take the first couple of holes where I’ve had success: nothing. Then I hit a few: nothing. About a half mile in we came to a hole I was familiar with, and then it all came together: empty worm container. The trout weren’t hitting because they were no longer there.
That was it for me – fully disgusted we headed for the truck as the rain began to fall. Walking back I could only think about one thing – Takers. That is what I call them – they take from the world and do not give back. West Virginia is not a delayed harvest state, and most of the Brook Trout streams are not protected. My state is second to no one when it comes to the use of Power Bait, floating worms and minnows, or good old corn. In these days of no-one-working, the stocked trout barely get used to the new water before they are on the end of the stringer.
But can I blame them? This is the history of my state, but the Chief Takers were always, and continue to be, from the outside. First it was timber, then oil, then coal, and now natural gas. People come here from the outside to extract the resources, and the people are the method to get it done. Jobs are provided, but the money leaves the state. We have failed to invest in education, in healthcare, or in conservation. Generations of West Virginians have been the pawns of this game, and the one thing we have learned well is how to take, how to expect, and to leave it to someone else to figure out. I consider myself lucky to have grown up here, gone to college here, built a career here, and raise my family here – but days like today remind me of the things which make me sad – the things that can not be changed.
I told my son, that from now on, unless we have to walk a couple of miles to get there, we are not going to waste our time. We have to outwalk the Takers, and those places are hard to find here.
My Son found this as we walked today, and he asked me what it must of been like back in ‘64, and how much longer we will have wild places to enjoy. I told him I don’t know, but the trajectory is not good.
Driving home, I reflected on the day as we talked, and I remembered what my own Father said to me early this Easter morning. He asked if I see the dark clouds gathering or the hope and promise of the day. This made me think about my own life and how God must think I am a Taker. Always taking, always expecting, never grateful, always skirting around the edges to get my way. He must look on me, look on all of us really, and be disappointed in what we have become – all the while wondering if we can or will change. Suddenly I felt less negative about the day, and more grateful that I had spent the day outdoors with my family – all of us free, all of us healthy, washed in His blood and forgiven. I guess we could all us a little more Grace. But….. Next time I think about these streams I will be reminded – Do Not Fish Here!