Someone was eloquent enough this summer to inform me by
email that I had my head on backwards for even hinting of catching small fish.
"Nobody cares about small fish," I was told, "people only want to
know about big fish." Perhaps the king of his comments was," You
are an idiot if you brag about catching small fish."
His comments took me by surprise. Am I one of the few who
loves small fish? Am I 'wrong'? To me, being intimate with a stream
that has endless trout 4-10" can be as or more satisfying than larger fish on
more productive waters. Let's all face fact, it is inherently far more
impressive to catch a resident 12" trout from a 2 foot wide stream
than to catch 18-20" trout out of a fish factory such as the Bow River if
you understand ecosystems. Not that there is anything wrong with the
Bow, don't get me wrong.
I have been ever so fortunate to walk many miles of the central
Alberta forests, covering quite a range, not that this is anything
anyone can't do. I am not talking about Stauffer, Prairie, the
Raven, Ram, Red Deer or Bighorn, Blackstone, or even the
Brazeau main stems. There are enough people on those to last
a life time come weekends. No, what I write of is the tiny
streams that seep out of the forest floor, the rocky bottoms and
edges covered in a thick moss layer built over the centuries.
The very streams that babble perhaps 6" in depth over cobbled
bottoms, tucking under willowed canopies and around roots of
centuries old pine and spruce trees before pooling in tiny pockets, tiny
edges of current that might just hold that 'trophy' trout of 11 inches. Might it
be said that it is on these streams that a trophy comes when the length
of the fish exceeds the width of the stream.
To know that such a tiny stream sits so delicately in deep
forests, and ever so lonely at that, conjures up feelings of
solitude in my mind.
I wonder if I am one of the few who looks closely at a small
fish, its lines, squiggles and colours.
It wasn't always that way. One night after landing 100 plus
brookies in 2 -1/2 hours on such a stream, my then girlfriend
told me to slow down and maybe enjoy the scenes and,
moreso, really look at and appreciate the fish for what each
one of them is . . . special . . . individually. When I returned to the
very stream 3 weeks later and landed a 6" brookie, I studied it
for a spell, taking in the bright fall colours outlined with the
reflective white gold rim of the brilliant light of the setting sun.
It really hit home just how perfect each fish is in its creation.
Previously, I had not taken the time to notice the black mouths
or the black jaw line of brookies before. The vermiculations
are as uniform as snowflakes, the blue halos the colour of the British
flag, its red belly of the leaves of the surrounding willows, and the
blaze orange of the fins in contrast to the black line and white
leading edge as contrasting as young and old. So many things
became apparent to me right then, in such a short moment. And,
just as quickly, that fish slid through my fingers and returned to
the pool from which it was first fooled. It disapeared but its impact
For me, that evening spent alone tucked into the willows casting as
the sun went down produced a new side to my fly fishing. As the
darkness crept over the valley, a different perspective crept in like the mist
snaking up from depressions previously hidden. I stepped out of the
willows and crept silently as the piper's wings danced above, the
sound an eeriee echo in my mind as I type this 10 years later. The
coolness of the evening was magnified as my sandals paced me
through the deep, wet grasses to the edge of the hill. The valley
was engulfed in mist, cool air circled my body and I began to
march up the long hill through the pine covered foothills. That
night likely produced the feeling I get every time I fish an intimate
stream to this date. There are words to describe it, but none serve
justice. To humanize the 'spiritual' component of such a moment
is as easily accomplished as expecting to move a mountain by a feather.
The feeling of the setting sun pouring over a shoulder while the fly
line arcs against the forested backdrop; the knowing that isolation
was achieved once more; the cold, wet and spooky walks over miles of
darkened muskeg after a day's fishing; the loss of acknowledgement
of anything but the immediate presence of nothing is what many seek,
those that find it are akin to the enjoyment of small fish as any
fisherman I care to meet. One such person is now a good friend
who frequents Stauffer Creek like sun to day. He is in constant
search of small fish. To him, it seems that to go to expect nothing
and get everything in return is a gift, though it is one he has repeated
thousands of times now. His passion is of understanding the health
of where he fishes, ensuring that all facets of the ecosystem are
intact which in turn provides room for small fish, and, if so blessed,
a couple of larger ones to change gears on his Hardy spool every
so often. Small fish are now simply a reflection of his life's work;
the reflection being that had he not poured his passion into it there
would be none. His pride has been filled by his passion and understanding
that his life's work can be summed in two words . . . "small fish."
Such an intimate feeling life receives in such places, to lose the passion
received is truly to lose the inspiration we were given at the outset.
All is simply magnified when we lose ourselves to it in the beauty
of these intimate streams, their tiny nature and resident trout. There
are so many places that remain so lightly influenced by fly rod. I
would find no better pleasure than to share the places I know with my
favorite people, but to do so would remove these places from myself
and reveal them to others, thereby eliminating a piece of me being
available to them. In that, small fish have become a part of who I am.
It is the intangibility of all these that had me awestruck at the sheer
ignorance of the email I had received. It also hit home at the diversity
of people we share waters with, that the word tolerance is even applicable
to fly fishing; perspective needs to be respected and is best judged
and kept to one's self at times. And, in full circle, begs me to ask if
it was he who was ignorant . . . or me for being hackled at his comments.
Maybe it is best if some people just don't understand small fish. No
sense in sharing a tiny stream with someone if you don't see a way
of agreeing to differ.
~ Dave Jensen