Right under my nose

Seeking the cure for fishing envy
Photo: Chad Shmukler

About a week ago, I was sitting around trying to get some work done when I got an email from a friend of mine. He works at my favorite fly shop here in Utah, and he was emailing me some pictures of the bonefish he’d snagged while fishing South Andros Island in the Bahamas earlier that day.

A few days later, another friend of mine sent me some pictures of him with a steelhead on some river in Washington. Then a couple days after that I read about two anglers’ grand adventure in Patagonia.

All of these incredible fishing reports came spilling into my lap around the end of July, which was a tough month for me. For one reason or another, I rarely found myself on the water in July. Instead, I was stuck at home doing my best imitation of a responsible adult. Of course, I couldn’t really expect anything more after I’d spent most of May and all of June fishing in Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah.

To be honest, I have very little room to whine. As John Gierach once wrote, “I have too many friends with regular jobs to ever complain convincingly about having to spend a month ... doing something that isn’t especially fun.” But even Gierach’s wisdom wasn’t enough to keep some serious bouts of jealousy at bay. As picture after picture of trophy fish rolled in, I couldn’t help but feel a bit left out.

I considered fishing the local creeks around my home here in Utah, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d just be messing around while my buddies were actually fishing.

When you’re getting pictures of trophy fish daily from some of your best fishing buddies, the 10-inch browns in your local streams begin to seem insignificant. Of course, a trophy fish may be no more significant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s hard to maintain a “big picture” attitude when truly spectacular catching is taking place and you’re not a part of it.

All my angst came to a head one afternoon during the last week of July. I was sitting around the house, taking a break from the book I was working on, when it dawned on me that I hadn’t even so much as cast a fly rod in over a week.

For me, fishing is a stress-reliever as much as it is a lifestyle. Fishing is the way I decompress and relax, much like running or watching TV or reading helps other folks loosen up. The fact that I hadn’t gone in a week had me wound up tighter than a high school kid on his first real date.

Even though I had plenty of work to do, I decided enough was enough. I’d hit a pretty firm wall of writer’s block, the weather was beautiful, and I knew I needed to get out of the house and let my mind rest for a few hours.

So I loaded my gear in the car before I could talk myself out of going, and set off, deciding to head to a small creek about 20 minutes from my house. The creek flows through a canyon that never runs out of people, but the trout that call the stream home always seem to be looking up. They’re rainbow and brown trout with a cutthroat’s propensity to bite any dry fly that’s plopped in front of them.

I drove to a section of the creek that’s all pools and short runs and parked alongside the road, as far away from the other cars as I could manage, and got into my waders as quickly as I could and strung up my 6-foot 4wt J.S. Sharpe’s Featherweight Scottie bamboo rod and tied a size 14 Adams on the end of some 6x tippet.

The fish weren’t large, but I spent about four hours tangling with 10 inch trout, and even landed one that was pushing a foot long, a fairly large fish for that particular creek. On my small, light bamboo rod, the trout gave a larger-than-life fight that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Eventually, the sun started to set and I knew it was time to be heading home. As I stomped back to my car, I let out a huge sigh of relief. I’d needed those few hours of fishing, but I hadn’t realized how desperately they’d been required until I got through with them.

After I got home that night, I was looking through a few of the pictures I’d taken that afternoon. The small fish, brightly-colored browns and some dull rainbows, paled in comparison to the other finned creatures I’d been looking at all month. But I realized right then just how silly I’d been by feeling jealous for most of July.

The fish I caught that day weren’t trophies, but they were great catches and they served the same purpose for me as a big fish does. I was happy, relaxed, and back to my usual self for the first time in a month. It hadn’t taken a trophy trout to makes things right. All I’d needed was an afternoon free of expectations and a willingness to enjoy my surroundings.

I think we all fall prey to not enjoying the moments we’re lucky to experience. Hell, I spent all of July pining, caught up in the fact that I wasn’t out fishing world-famous water. I could have been appreciating the perfectly fine fishing I had available only 20 minutes from home, but I instead focused on the above-average fishing thousands of miles away. I created a problem that didn’t need to exist, and it’s all the more ironic because the solution was in plain sight, right under my nose.