There's a quote that suggests something to the effect of "your own advice is the hardest pill to swallow," a quote which I've realized holds some significant merit. Very recently, I published an article entitled Brookies for Beginners, in which I suggested that beginner fly fishermen, those that are faced with the frustrations and defeats presented by the challenges confronting the novice angler, head for the less demanding and often rewarding waters of mountain brook trout streams. So one might expect, during the early parts of a season in which my time to hit the water has been limited and what time I have had has brought frustrations of its own due to my repeated choice to snobbishly seek wild trout on technical waters, that I might have heeded the advice I felt comfortable to give to others.
Instead, given the opportunity for an afternoon on the water, I chose to visit for the first time one of my home state's most notoriously difficult and demanding waters. Falling Springs Branch Creek is one of the most storied streams on the east coast. Less than 10 feet across in spots, Falling Springs is a tiny, weed choked, classic limestone spring creek like its nearby neighbors Letort Spring Creek and Big Spring Creek. Polluted with food for fish, abundant cover and clean, cold water, Falling Springs grows large, spectacular, wild trout. These fish are educated and reside in a stream where aquatic vegetation strives to destroy every drift you attempt and where glass still waters render water droplets that sprinkle to the surface from your false cast a potential trout spooker. This is not easy fishing.
Upon glimpsing the stream for the first time, about halfway through the afternoon, I immediately began wondering what I had gotten myself into. After a frantic call to nearby spring creek expert and guide Mike Heck went to voicemail, and despite the picturesque beauty of the stream and its surroundings, I was becoming very skeptical that this was going to shape up to be the day of stream-side therapy I had been hoping for. Truth be told, there was no reason that it should not have been, especially if I had followed the sage wisdom I had so recently doled out to others.
Quoting myself here,
As a more experienced angler, I know a few things that help me cope with this sort of a day on the water. First and foremost, I know that this is part of the game ... Second, I know that I have a lot of improving to do, regardless of my previous experience. Most importantly, I know what parts of my fishing ability I'm confident of, and which parts I'm not ... I felt confident my drifts and presentation were on target and that my pattern selections made sense given the information at hand. The fact that I didn't find success? Well, there is a laundry list of possible reasons, but most likely not on that list is the idea I'm a useless idiot that has no idea what he's doing and should probably break my rod over my knee or sell it on eBay.
Unfortunately, all of that relates to another day on the stream, and the bulk of that sentiment went right out the window the minute I stepped onto the banks of Falling Springs Branch. A sense of frustration and defeat had set in even before I had strung up my rod. In general, I had a shitty attitude.
Sure, it wasn't helping that the day preceeding my arrival at Falling Springs wasn't going well. I had arrived at the stream two hours later than I had expected due to realizing halfway down the PA Turnpike, only once my gas light had gone on, that I had forgotten my wallet. This led to a tank-on-empty 30 mile circuit stopping at gas station after gas station, hoping to find a proprietor willing to take a credit card payment over the phone from my wife. Thankfully, a lovely young lady at the fifth and final option within range was happy to help. Unpacking stream side and realizing I had grabbed the wrong rod, leaving me with a stiff 9' 5 weight that I knew was going to be sort of handicap on this stream, didn't help either.
Consequently, I spent the next 4 or so hours bumbling around like an idiot, failing to focus and cursing each of my decisions along the way. Don't misunderstand, even if I had leveraged every ounce of fly fishing knowledge I possess and had approached the puzzle that lay before me calm and collected, chances are the result would have been the same. Most people go home empty handed after their first trip to Falling Springs. So it's okay. Or at least it should have been.
As the day wore on, and after turning my truck around and returning to the stream after an aggravated 6pm departure, I was able to regain my composure. The final two hours or so on the stream were spent studying, thinking, learning and -- most importantly -- relaxing and enjoying myself. My best drifts of the day came in those final two hours, as did my most confident reads of the water in front of me. I still didn't catch a damned thing, but I was finally able to take my own advice.
However, I still spent most of my long drive home questioning my decision to spend my day in the Cumberland Valley. After all, it was the wrong decision to head to Falling Springs that day. Beginner or not, after a series of tough outings, every fisherman can benefit from a day on familiar water on in familiar conditions to refocus on and regain confidence in one's skills.
That said, there's a reason the streams of Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley have called to fishermen from all over the world, and by the time I cleared the breakfast dishes the next morning, I had already started planning my trip back.