It’s a headwater tributary of a stream I’ve fished before, notable for tall bluffs and sparse development, excellent water quality and rare plants. Forty miles long and smaller than it should be, the stream lends its water through underground channels to feed springs further downstream. The fishing’s alright for little smallmouth that like brown woolly buggers. These guys, limited by food and space, can be eight inches long and three or four years old- not runts, just perfectly suited to their home.
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Water warms slower, and I know when I see the empty parking lot I’m early. Too early. The big, gravid females move first, and I’m still too early for that. Maybe the fish are stacked up at the mouth, waiting for the first warm spring rain to ascend. That doesn’t help me.
So I walk the banks and wade shallow riffles looking at the empty hulls of long dead freshwater mussels. They fish, too. These living stones house their young in envelopes of flesh that mimic prey, twitching them on the stream bottom, enticing fish to bite. The larval mussels clamp down on gills and fins, getting a free ride upstream or down. It’s as bizarre and fragile as anything you’d see in the Africa or the Amazon; Attenborough should narrate.