Small streams. What can one say that hasn’t been said? Probably not too much. But that won’t stop me from trying. Whenever you say “small stream” to an angler an image instantly pops into his or her head. We all know what a small stream is – but all of our small streams are different. Your Appalachian brookie creek is different from his Wisconsin spring creek, is different from that Rocky Mountain greenback stream. Moreover, all small streams mean something different to those that love them. I suppose you can say that about big rivers too – but I think it’s harder to feel that same sense of intimacy with big rivers. Many people fish bigger streams and rivers, and they love them too. But it’s a big love. A shared love – like the way you love your hometown or the Steelers. But the way you feel toward that special small stream is more like the way you feel about the house you grew up in. Another family may live there now but it’s still your house. And you know its ins and outs better than they ever will.
Small streams are beginnings. When you are standing in a small stream – you know that you are at the beginning of something. You are wading in essence, in “streamness”. The small stream is all that it needs to be – it has gotten big enough to hold trout – the trout are doing fine. It is still full of possibility. Perhaps it hasn’t reached its full ripeness – but it is on the cusp of something. It has the optimism of a journey that is beginning. Big rivers always feel kind of melancholy to me, like the best part of them is in the past.
Small streams are full of hope and forgiveness. There’s hope because you just might catch that old hook-jawed brown that sulks in the hole formed in the snarl of that huge deadfall and that eats the brookies and probably only comes out at night. And then there’s forgiveness because when you catch the 8″ brookie instead, you smile and say to yourself “For this stream, that’s a real beauty.”
Small streams are full of nostalgia. Many folks (most folks?) get their start on small streams. Well, I did anyway. I can vividly recall the first time that I caught wild brook trout. The stream was tiny – you could step across it. I was not a fly fisher then. Dangling salmon eggs or mealworms into the tiny pools would yield diminutive trout, four or five inches long. It was magic.
Maybe it’s my new found love of tenkara that has me thinking about small streams. Tenkara in its simplicity and bare bones practicality is a perfect mate to small streams. Just like small streams are rivers distilled to an essence so Tenkara is fly fishing distilled to a simple form.
I can relax on a small stream they way I never seem to on a larger river. I settle into a small stream like my favorite chair. Fishing a small stream feels like coming home after being away too long.
A song about Home: