The trout are where you find them. That’s what we would say about elk, too, while in Wyoming last year. We glassed for days, walked many miles, and kept telling ourselves they were out there, and we would find them where they were. And we did. Another truth about elk (and deer) is you will find them at the end of their tracks. So when we cut a fresh track of a lone elk at daybreak on the last day, in six inches of snow, we followed it. And followed it. And followed it. For six miles. One set of tracks became two, became four, became a dozen. True to form, they were where we found them, an entire herd in fact, bedded on a jagged ridge down in a canyon. The story of that hunt is for another day, but the truth of the quest is applicable now.
I’ve always been a romantic when it comes to the pursuit of game. I can pour over maps for hours and fill my mind with images and stories of what might be over that ridge, or in that river. And so I go there, to those places, and more often than not in never pans out. More times than I like to remember, or admit, it is just another “jolly trot” as my Uncle Canny would say. He never complained about my expeditions, in fact he loved them, or perhaps he felt he had to go so he could lift my spirits from the perpetual disappointment of what was not in that river, or over that ridge.
So when my first set of fishing plans for the evening were unexpectedly upended by the whims of my eighteen year old son, I quickly went to plan B and set out for one of those rivers I had on my list to fish but had never fished. It was a thirty mile drive to get to the dirt road that went along the river. It had rained some around mid-morning, so this made it easy to see the fresh truck tracks in all of the wide spots in the road. So I kept driving upriver, holding fast to the theory that I can out drive the other fisherman. This was not so.
Soon the tire tracks turned into actual pickup trucks, and campers, and tent camps, and people. Yep, it was definitely Memorial Day weekend. And Nope, I was not going to get away from it. At one point I took a secondary stream for a few miles. I found a solitary long stretch of road and pulled off. I got out of the truck, went to the back door, opened it, and pulled out my waders. As I turned around a truck pulled up about 50 yards behind me. As I stood there, waders in-hand, I watched these two dudes quickly exit their truck, grab their spinning outfits, and literally run toward the river. I murmured something clearly unChristian but clearly fitting, put my waders back in the truck, and drove off.
So on up the river I went. Nineteen miles in, I ran out of people. I pulled off the road, got out, got my waders, and waited. No dudes rushed in to take the spot. So I proceeded. I fished this little stream for a little less than a mile. No fish. No rises. No spooks. Nothing but beaver tracks. On a positive note there were no people. But perhaps this is because they already knew there were no fish. I believe I may have been upstream of the stocking limits, and this section is probably too warm for natives. Regardless of the reason, it was a nice walk.
So, the jolly trot continued.
For another twenty miles I drove this dirt road. Pulling off every couple of miles to study my OnX Maps. Stopping at every bridge to look for water healthy enough to hold natives. At some point I crossed the divide from streams that flow south to the eventual Kanawha river to streams that flow north to the eventual Ohio river. Of course the Kanawha will also go to the Ohio, though much farther south. I often find my mind wondering, as I stand in a stream, how long before this water will flow past my parents house on the mighty Ohio. The mind has time to ponder such things in the absence of fish.
As the sun was setting over the mountain something caught my attention on my map. It was a little sliver of public land that touched the main road I was on. This little sliver went down the mountain to a stream which I have never heard anyone say holds natives, but I have always been curious. Problem is it is landlocked by private land on one side, and it is a ten mile hike in from the other side. Except, for this little access point.
Knowing I was nearly out of light, but damn determined I was going to test this stream, I set off down the mountainside. It was a half of a mile to the water and I nearly jogged it. I kept thinking about those two guys from Virginia with their spinning rods running over the bank earlier in the day and that I must look the same way.
At the bottom of the mountain I was greeted with a beautiful trout stream. And there were no human tracks, anywhere. I immediately set off upstream and fished the first couple of runs. All I caught was a little minnow who was ambitious, but not a trout.
I turned my attention downstream. I was now twenty minutes on this stream and was starting to panic – no trout. How could this stream not have trout? How could I have driven and walked 40 miles and came up completely empty-handed? Of course this was a rhetorical question that I knew the answer to all to well…
Then I saw this overhang and undercut bank. If there was a trout, it was here. One, two, three, four drifts…nothing. Ugh. Was this really my day?
After the fifth drift my mind was overflowing with creative ideas on how to tell a story about a fishing trip with no fish, while being keenly aware I had already told that story more than once. I was staring off into the woods stripping line back in when “Wham!” A trout slammed my fly. Much to my disbelief, there was a fish putting a complete bend in my 2-weight. It took me nearly a full minute to bring him to the net.
And just like that there was a native brook trout in my net. I was as shocked as the fish was. But I was more than shocked, I was completely elated.
For a brief moment I was feeling a satisfaction I have only felt a few times in life. It is the same feeling I have when standing over a mule deer buck harvested with a hand-loaded bullet on public ground, miles from the nearest road, no guides, no outfitters, no recommendations… just a map and boot leather. Here I was on a trout stream no one had told me about, that wasn’t a special regulation stream, that wasn’t stocked… looking at a native trout taken on a dry fly I had tied that wasn’t likely to catch a fish… and I had that same feeling. It took 40 miles to catch this trout, and he was right where I found him.