For many years, for a myriad of reasons, I was either limited in my ability or wholly unable to travel in order to fish. These past few years, however, I've been very fortunate to have found myself on the road quite a bit, venturing to destinations I long only dreamed of visiting, fishing storied and wild waters.
For those of us that aren't lucky enough to live steps from the Bitterroot or the Madison, those of us that aren't a short drive from the tarpon and bonefish waters of the Florida keys or the grassy redfish flats of the gulf, our home waters are often comparatively unspectacular.
My home water is a tiny, wild brown trout creek that flows through Valley Forge National Park not far outside my home city of Philadelphia. In the darkness of the shadows cast by rivers like the Henry's Fork or the Snake or the Deschutes, it isn't much to look at. Not much at all. It flows alongside the Pennsylvania Turnpike for much of its run leaving those who fish it with the sound of cars and semi trucks endlessly droning by on the highway above, it doesn't offer much solitude due to its setting in a heavily trafficked National Park, its hatches aren't particularly prolific and the fish are small. Sure, there are a few lurkers in there that will push 15 inches or more, but the vast majority of fish in the creek will tape out somewhere between 5 and 9 inches.
This past year, I've fished this creek—where I typically lose count of my days on the water—very few times. I'd like to claim that this is mostly due to a lack of time, my time on the road causing me to need to devote my time at home to less leisurely pursuits than fishing, but doing so would be largely disingenuous. The fact is, I lost interest. I lost the desire that normally pushes me out the door. Instead, I expected to be underwhelmed. Even bored.
It wasn't until the other day, when I found myself peering down at my home creek, not from my waders on the bank but from my car, that I realized how much I'd been missing. Unburdened by the reputation of rivers that flow thousands of miles away, seen again in the light in which I'd become accustomed to seeing it, it was once again as I'd remembered it: a remarkable little spring creek, filled with a bounty of some of the most beautiful brown trout I've seen anywhere. One of the only truly wild trout streams for many, many miles, it became so as the result of severe pollution in the 1970s, leaving the state of Pennsylvania to abandon its stocking efforts and many anglers to ignore it entirely. Today its population of entirely wild brown trout is strong thanks to its stable conditions and relatively healthy food supply, and it offers dependable fishing throughout the year.
More important than its forgotten virtues is how well I know it. I know its banks, its stream bed, the vegetation that hangs over its head. When I return after a storm, I can see immediately how and where the creek has changed. I know where trout hold, especially the ones I've never been able to catch. And, those elusive trout aside, I know how to fish it. I know how to have success on that tricky little creek that perplexes many a more accomplished angler. I have a level of confidence there that I lack on all other waters.
It is this level of intimacy that we share with only our home waters, whether they be one creek or several rivers, that creates an experience that can't be replicated anywhere else, regardless of how good the fishing is. By reminding us of how deep a connection we can form with waters we truly come to know, these streams and rivers will always have something to offer, regardless of how many days we've spent trudging along their banks or where we've traveled in between.