Updated: Oct 7
There’s a stream I know well. It’s tucked away in the secluded Northeastern corner of a state that borders my own. Although it’s a 7½ hour drive from my front door, and there are miles of streams within 2 hours of my house, it’s still my home water.
It’s my home water for no other reason than that’s how I feel when I’m there. I feel the same weight vanish from my shoulders and the relaxing exhalation of air from my lungs that I do when I step into my brick and mortar home. It’s familiarity comforts me regardless of my state of mind, and somehow the worries of the world wash away.
You don’t have to fish a stream everyday to consider it your home water. I know people who sleep in hotels more nights out of the year than they do their own beds. But you should fish it often enough to know if the “furniture’s” been moved, the “landscaping” needs work, or someone’s tracked mud through your “house”. “Hey, wasn’t there a big sweeper along that bank last time I was here?” “The parsnip is awful this year!” “Who left their candy bar wrapper on the ground?”
I was looking forward to a long weekend on my home water earlier this year, but the temporary no camping rules in the area threw a monkey wrench into the plan. Instead, I found a place to set up my base camp that happened to be tucked in a valley surrounded by several miles of streams. I’d never set foot in these streams before, but they were located less than 50 miles from my home water. This close proximity fooled me into thinking I’d be familiar with, and prepared for, the hatches and conditions that could be expected.
There are no “poor conditions” on a trout stream. To me, a better example of “poor conditions” would be stuck in an office on a Saturday morning racing a deadline, or being on the operating end of a post hole digger on a muggy summer day. Sometimes however, there are tough fishing conditions, and those seemed to be the theme of this trip. The wind blew a constant 20-25 mph from sun up to sun down, the sky stayed bright and clear with no chance of overcast, and the water ran so gin clear you could count the spots on the wild brown's backs holding 3 ft deep. Unlike my home waters, I wasn’t familiar with how to cope with the “loose door knobs” and “leaky faucets”.
Although there’s a definite art to fly fishing, when anglers aren’t catching fish, we tend to analyze as much of the science behind it as we can. Whether it be water levels, moon phases, or Mercury’s relative distance to Earth, we’re always looking for an answer to the question that was probably asked by the first angler to ever walk away from a stream after getting skunked: “Why aren't they biting?”
After two days in these conditions, I’d developed a new habit. Every time I took a break from fishing, and before I was even conscious of it, I’d find myself checking the weather forecast for predictions of relief from the; face burning, fly cast debilitating, under my breath cursing, WIND. Each time with the same result: “Gusty, 20-25 mph winds from the Northwest starting at 7:00 am and ending at 8:00 pm.” It was like repeatedly banging my head against the wall expecting it not to hurt each time.
After finishing my coffee on the third morning, there was a break in the pattern. Predictions of the wind’s intensity hadn’t changed, but its direction had. For day 3 of the trip, winds would be blowing strong from the Southeast. So, after two days of mumbling frustrated curse words and spooking every trout in the area with my fly line’s crash landings, I decided it was time for a change of scenery.
With a full tank of gas, a cooler full of water and sandwiches, and a refreshed “glass half full” attitude, I headed toward the familiar T intersection. After rolling to a stop, I broke my two day old custom of turning right onto the blacktop that led to the nearby streams, and took a left instead. I was beginning the hour and half drive to my home water.
After 25 miles of highway and 20 more on back roads, I took the final right turn on the poorly marked gravel road and was surrounded by familiar landscape. Although this stream is open to public access, it felt like I was driving through my “neighborhood”. Coming around the last bend in the road, I noticed a vehicle parked in my “driveway”. Feeling a little possessive about my “property”, I had to remind myself that my home water isn't my physical address, it’s more like the local community park.
After gearing up and climbing the fence stile to step in the “front door”, I made a mental fist pump upon seeing the “intruder” headed downstream. In order for anyone to be upstream, they’d have to park at the Northernmost access point and hike several miles South. I knew from experience this isn't typical behavior of the fishermen who frequent the stream, so chances were high I’d have the whole stretch of water to myself.
I absentmindedly headed upstream without anything resembling a game plan. My feet guided me past a few of my favorite runs, and before realizing it, I was wading into a section of pocket water protected from the wind. It was the same feeling I get at my house in the mornings. Without being fully awake, I’m headed to the coffee pot and staring at the toaster waiting for my bagel to pop out. I’m on autopilot, and my legs just seem to know where to take me.
Less than 10 minutes after tying on my fly, I found myself in the middle of a surface blanketing caddis hatch. Without consciously knowing it, my instincts had carried me to the perfect coordinates and I was surrounded by splashing rises from eager trout. On my home water, I can find the “light switches” in the dark, and know how far to turn the “shower handle” to get the water temperature just right.
After being spoiled with 2 hours of dry fly fishing ecstasy, the hatch petered out and I strung up my rig. Still on cloud nine while walking back to the truck, I crossed over the stile and couldn’t help waving goodbye and vowing to be back soon. It felt like I was heading back to the “real world” and promising to be back before supper.
My home water is just as the name implies. Its welcomeness and familiarity bring comfort to me in a way few things do. I get pissed when there’s trash laying around, and content when the temperature’s just right. Most importantly, it’s where I can go regardless of the conditions, and I know everyone inside will be happy to see me.