There's this small brook, a couple of towns over, that I fish from time to time. It's little known except to a small cadre of small stream anglers. The fishing cannot be described as good, but that's not what turns on people who crawl along thin blue lines. Wild fish. Tricky casting. Ample opportunity to lay out f-bombs when you tangle in a pile of twigs for the third time in consecutive casts. That’s a full day for a small stream angler. Sometimes I go down to this brook with the sole intent of smoking a cigar and sipping single malt. Losing a fly to a tree is just a bonus.
I think it’s everyone’s dream to own a piece of property. For outdoorsy folks, those dreams usually entail a bit of forest and field on which to roam alongside a good dog. There may even be a small stream with native fish, a spring-fed pond for skinny dipping on steamy summer evenings, and a cabin full of friends. These dreams are tough to fulfill. Diapers, food and a Ford running on fumes have priority over such things. For most of us, access to such dreams depends on the support of others.
This brook is a true gem. It runs cool all year, even in the summer when it’s only a trickle. The banks are lined with what, in New England, passes for old growth forest. It’s picture postcard perfect when the late day sun dapples the banks in a golden glow. And the browns (great-grandchildren of refugees from a far upstream club) and the brookies are wild. They’re cunning when they need to be, but eager to take the fly when you don’t spook them. It’s just the right balance to make angling both challenging and enjoyable.
Thankfully this small brook has public access. A couple hundred yards of very fishy water form one border of town-owned open space. There are several sweet runs along private land that aren’t, technically, fishable. There are no signs posted, at least none of contemporary origin, and the path along these private banks signal that I’m not the only trespasser. I fish this water too.
I met one of the landowners a few years back when I fished a pool within sight of his house. He came down and told me about another sweet holding spot on his neighbor's property. I went down there and fished that too. I suspect this detente between sports and landowners exists because the anglers are few and one doesn’t see tangles of mono or empty Red Bull cans strewn about the banks.
The local angling community was recently surprised when one of those landowners sold a good chunk of land to a downstream town. Yes, there was already one access point, a dodgy looking two-car pull-off, but it was not well known and few used it. This other spot, in a more organized and financially capable town, is different. The town put in a parking lot and trails. While the lot is still largely vacant, no doubt the secret will get out. Eventually a dog walker will see a camo'd fly angler cursing at the gods and make a harmless mention of the incident to someone with an interest in such things.
And here we have come to the conundrum (or perhaps my hypocrisy). I’m a fervent supporter of public spaces. National parks and forests along with their state-run brethren are awesome resources for those with a passion for outdoor spaces. But this is my stream. Sorry, our stream. Shouldn't we just keep it to ourselves?
And the answer is, much as I dislike it, No, we shouldn’t. While the landowners along this river have been excellent stewards of the resource, that only lasts, at best, as long as the landowner owns the property. Developers are always on the prowl for such gems and heirs are often wont to cash in when property passes from one generation to the next. The best remedy for preserving the resource is, in a sense, to let it go, to let ownership pass from individuals to the community.
Some of what comes is good. I expect that the state will take this land under its wing and put in place wild trout regulations. I also expect that this stream will have more friends. While a well kept secret can be a cloak of protection, more often than not it's a community of diverse stakeholders that ensures the resource will have a voice in the places that matter.
Of course, there will be a downside. I will run into other anglers fishing my water. Poaching is possible, even likely. Discourteous dog walkers will allow their pets to jump into the pool I’m fishing and give me the stink eye when I complain. The increased traffic may cause adjacent landowners to replace antiquated signs with those fresh off the presses.
I’m generally an optimist, so I don’t let these dark thoughts fester. Yes, I will give up something, but to know that there are landowners willing to take less than market rates for their property in order preserve something special is encouraging. I hope others will follow their example. A handful of acres put aside in a conservation easement or even transferred to a public trust would vastly improve the odds that wild trout will continue to dart for cover in shaded pools when a careless cast spooks them.