Question: I’ve seen these big fish at the bottom of the deepest pools, they’re refusing everything I throw, and I’m determined to catch one. What do I need to do?
Answer: It’s alright to leave them alone.
Fish are cold-blooded; they can’t regulate their own body temperature, they have to seek out environmental conditions which are best for their survival. Most fish species don’t grow throughout the entire summer. They have a range of temperatures which optimize growth. Above that, they’re eating just to stay alive- taking in enough energy to maintain homeostasis.
Those big fish in a deep pool are down there because it’s the coolest, most thermally stable, most groundwater-fed portion of the flow. They’re not eating because they’re not expending a lot of energy in still water- they don’t need to, they don’t want to, and dragging a streamer across their nose to elicit a territorial response isn’t doing them any good. Feeding them a zero-calorie Zebra Midge and then having them expend valuable energy on the fight, the photo, and the release isn’t doing them any good. To crib a line from John Gierach: sometimes, they need the sanctuary of deep water.
We talk a lot about values like C&R, barbless hooks, and leaving fish on redds alone. If a fish spawns in October but dies in June from a combination of high water temperatures and angling pressure, we’re undermining our own cause. Think about it. Pay attention to the temperature. Go on an overcast day. Make it a half-day morning trip, a night trip when temps have cooled off, switch to bass or carp or gar that can stand higher water temperatures. But know what you’re doing, and the effect it has on the fisheries you value.
I had a perfectly good plan last year: winnow down all the streams in the US to the last best ones, the ones science say are least disturbed, their annual pattern of flow today most similar to the historic record. Add in the nation’s system of Wild and Scenic Rivers, and spend the rest of my life focusing on those…
But there’s better data out there, more exhaustive- not just the great streams, the nice streams, the ones which are protected. There’s data on the streams that should be protected, if only we had the will- political, social, or otherwise- to do so. I’m anal about these sorts of things, so I dumped them into the existing list: something like 2,110 streams across the nation, notable for their ecological, fisheries, or cultural significance. It’s a couple lifetimes worth of work, but I’m happy to try. You can check out my progress on the Last Best Streams page.
There’s nothing motivating about six degrees Fahrenheit, especially after spending the week between Christmas and New Years down with the flu. Maybe it’s a metaphor for 2017 as a whole: an exercise in irrational optimism, in refusing to let the bastards get you down.
This stream will never look the way it did in my lifetime; record-shattering floods slicked off every tree thirty feet up the bank. Most of the local streams are fundamentally altered from the places I know. Elsewhere rivers became more vulnerable to human alteration, access became tougher, watersheds burned.
It’s easy to be cynical. It’s easy to say there was better fishing, easier access, and fewer assholes a generation or two ago, and maybe even some of it is true. But none of it is useful. It’s a sentiment which justifies poor treatment of our natural resources, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 2017 it’s that our last best streams aren’t accidental. People worked to protect them for every subsequent generation. As the people who use those outdoor resources we should be more conscientious of that, more willing to practice that sort of forward-thinking in our everyday life. Disinclined to squander the opportunities our parents afforded us.
I’ve thought a bit about this space in the past couple weeks, about its direction and the expressive opportunities it affords. I have every intent of being more proactive in its management during the upcoming year, and have been cooking up new content and features which will hopefully be of interest. Best of luck with your endeavors during 2018, and take care.