The River… Why?

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Justin's happy place. Photo by Louis Cahill

Justin’s happy place. Photo by Louis Cahill

By Justin Pickett

A faint fog escapes me as I exhale a deep breath of mountain air.

I can hear the tumbling waters of my favorite north Georgia stream just off in the distance. They are surely running super low and crystal clear as expected. My angst is fighting with the need to take my time. I simply cannot wait to drown these flies.

When fishing solo, as I am on this day, I like to put my rod together, place the reel in the reel seat, grab the rest of my gear and head straight for the water. I find my favorite starting point and then I sit on the bank as I tie on my rig. As the sun rises over the mountain, and the fog begins to lift from the water’s surface, I stare into the water, scanning its currents for signs of life. Just a flip of a tail is all I need. I take in a deep breath and exhale, watching my breath as it fogs in the cool mountain air. I feel at peace. There’s nothing here to worry me. I’m safe. I’m not under any time constraints, nor under any pressure. There are no expectations here. It’s just the water and the fish, with the surrounding nature and myself in the background. I am completely at ease in this place.

Yes, fishing and catching fish is fun, and that is surely one of the elements that attracts me to this sport, hobby, passion, past time, or whatever else you prefer to call it. However, to me, it’s more than that.

_DSC3308My wife always likes to ask me, “what do you think about when you’re fishing?” I’m not sure if she thinks that I’m going to reply with something along the lines of “how to close the gap between the rich and impoverished,” but I always seem to surprise her with my response. “Nothing.”  Seriously. I don’t think about anything when I’m on the water that doesn’t have to do with my current objective…… fishing. And, for me, most of that doesn’t require any thinking. Maybe some cursing, but not much thinking. I just prefer to take it all in and enjoy my time while I’m on the water.

Sanity. Clarity. That’s why I fish.

That’s why I love it so much. I can truly clear my mind. I don’t have to think critically about anything, or live up to anybody’s expectations. It’s my stress relief. It’s my saving grace. It’s a necessary part of my life. I get a little kooky when it’s been a while since I’ve wet a line. I can honestly say that I appreciate everything about being out on the water, and I’ve yet to truly have a bad day fishing. There are so many things that I become engaged with when I step into a river, or stream.

The smell of the mountain air is addictive. It awakens me. Hemlocks, pines, and mountain laurels fill the air with nature’s perfume. This may seem trivial to some, but anyone that has not experienced this aroma is truly missing out.

The feel of the pine straw and fallen leaves crunching under my boots. The sting of the briars that catch my arms and shoulders as I make my way through the undergrowth. Not to mention the remnants of the night’s prior spider webs that whisk across my face when I least expect it. How the cold water feels around my feet when I finally step into that first run. And the tippet sliding through my fingers as I tie the first knots of the day.

_DSC1543The scenery is captivating. It is a place where it is easy for me to get lost, staring upstream at the water rushing at me, surrounded by a colorful canopy. The yellows, reds, greens, and greys dominate the majority of this landscape, with the blue sky as the backdrop. I could take a photograph, but this is life in motion and a million photos could never really do it justice.

The sounds of the day place my mind at ease. The relaxing sound of the water tumbling over the rocks and pebbles as it meanders through the mountains. The sound of the wind traveling over the dense forest and the streamside rhododendrons. The occasional call of various birds, and the scampering of squirrels. The whipping sound of my fly line as it travels back and forth. And my favorite sound… the drag on my reel as it sings during a long run, followed by the sounds of a trout splashing about the surface, desperately trying to free itself from the grasp of my hook.

Then there is that moment of silence.

_DSC3858That moment right after that prized trout has been netted, when I’ve removed the fly and have the fish cradled in my hands. Short as it may be, it is a moment filled with admiration, excitement, and satisfaction that is followed by a Cheshire grin. This is why I am here today. Absolute contentment.

People often think of me as crazy when I tell them that I’m going fishing in (enter awful weather scenario here). I don’t expect people to understand, but just hope that they can respect the feeling of sanity that comes over me the moment that I step into a river or stream, and that, to me, not even the coldest of cold, or the worst rainy days can put a damper on my spirits when I am in this place.


Justin Pickett
Gink & Gasoline
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19 thoughts on “The River… Why?

  1. I find that those who do not have the passion for what we do have a tough time understanding the magical potential of fly fishing for trout. Justin does a terrific job of explaining it from his perspective. Well done, Justin. Thanks for taking us away from our computer and on the water. We get it!

    • Thanks Mike. I’m pretty flexible with weather. Rain, no problem. Cold, no problem. Cold rain, I start to have a problem. Lightning, I have a big problem! I’m pretty much game for anything else as long as I’m on the water. Thanks for keeping up with us and thanks for the comment!

      • I used to fish in any weather (remember having to knock ice off guides several times), but my advanced age brought on the wisdom to only fish when I could be reasonably comfortable. Of course, it helps that now that I am retired I have the luxury of fishing any time I want.

    • I’m glad I was able to take you away for a few minutes Drewski. Hopefully a day in the near future will provide you with the same escape! Thanks for the comment!

  2. VERY well said justin….but can you explain the carboxyhemoglobin dissociation curve to a resident taking care of a cold water drowning?

  3. Thanks for the great entry!
    There is so much more to this sport than just “sport”. I love how connected I feel to nature and disconnected from other stresses and modern worries. I can spend countless hours thinking about nothing, just watching the a fly and listening to the wind.

  4. Well said indeed! I’m real real new to the sport of fly fishing. I can say that your article hits home for me only if the place were a tree stand. I truly look forward to that kind of day on the water. Living in Ohio the trout streams are few and far. We do small mouth bass and pan fish. I look forward to G&G every week and have learned something new every time I visit this site. I had a casting couch help me and dove into tying with both feet. someday I will hit the river with a fighting chance.

  5. This is a very well-written piece, Justin. It’s not purple prose like that produced by so many who imagine themselves to be writers–it’s just what you think, written well. I would add two things to the healthy mind-emptying that occurs on the river and what fills it up. One, the mystery of the fish. If it was just water, it would be good, because it’s nature. But below that water, in places we often cannot see, there lies a fish. That mystery is the x-factor that makes me go and captures my mind on the river. Second, it’s the focus on catching the fish, solving the mystery for one fleeting moment, that fills my mind and chases away all the other worries and bothers. Being surrounded by nature makes it beautiful; but the mystery is what takes hold of my mind on the river.

  6. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Now lets use this passion we’ve fostered to be a driving force in protecting and restoring the watersheds that allow us this escape, clarity, and heritage of sport. Advocate for your creeks!

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