Recently I was checking out some potential travel destinations and suddenly realized that the price of going almost anywhere has gone up exponentially since the last time I took a vacation. Being retired, my travel consists mostly of day trips around home, and a two and a half day marathon each fall and spring when we go from Montana to Arizona and back again. The cost of taking just a short leisure trip got me thinking about the often underrated value of enjoying what's right outside our doorway.
All of us, to some extent, dream about taking a trip to fish some water that we have read about or have heard about from a friend. The "grass is always greener" syndrome has a certain lure for all of us and those stories of fishing some exotic place [an exotic place is someplace where we have never been] make our home waters seem mundane by comparison.
Over the years I have been blessed with having had several pieces of water that I considered home water. There were the small brooks and creeks that spread like spider webs through the valleys of my boyhood home in upstate New York.
Several years down the road of life I encountered Michigan's Au Sable River. First I discovered the Mason Tract on the South Branch and it on this water that I became a confirmed fly fisher. Shortly after I started fishing this water I met the late JC, and we began our grand adventure.
In time I moved from Canoe Harbor to Keystone Landing on the Au Sable's main stream. The lessons and the memories from the years of camping and fishing along this stretch of the Au Sable still haunt my memories, and the ghosts of friends from those days still fill my dreams.
Now, nearly 40 years later my home waters are the Paradise Valley spring creeks, the Yellowstone River, and the plethora of other waters, famous and not so much, that comprise the trout waters of Montana.
I think that it is important to have some water that you consider to be your own personal home water, whether it's a stream, lake or farm pond; it is a place where you feel at home. I think that home water needs to have a certain degree of familiarity; a degree of intimacy and that only comes with time. Ideally your home water should be near home, and not some distant venue that you only visit for a few days once or twice a year. You should be able to visit it often so as to become intimately acquainted with it and accustomed to its moods during all the seasons of the year. Home water is like an old friend; reliable, dependable, and always welcoming. In short, its familiar and it's comfortable.
On a recent evening, after a leisurely evening meal at home, I fired up my fishing car and drove out to one of my favorite pieces of home water. Years of fishing this water has given me the assurance that I need not hurry, and that the best time to be on the water is the period between the time when the sun has slipped behind the mountains and dark. When I arrived I had plenty of time to check my tackle, retie a new tippet section on my leader, and enjoy strolling around and watching the wildlife. As the sun began to nudge the tops of the Gallatin Range I put on my waders as a flight of mayfly spinners began to dance over the fields next to the water. Moments before there were no mayflies visible, but experience told me that they would come. This is the advantage of being on your home water.
Knowing what was certain to happen I selected a fly from my fly box without even checking the water, and with confidence gained from years of fishing this water I only put one small fly box in the pocket of my waders. On my wader belt I hooked a small pack containing some floatant, nippers, a spool of tippet material, and a pair of hemostats. I stuck my landing net between my wading belt and my back and I was ready to fish.
I stood quietly along the edge of the stream and within a few minutes the first trout began to rise, slowly and sporadically at first and then with more regularity as the twilight deepened. A few casts later my first trout of the evening, a nice solid brown trout, sipped in my rusty spinner and, upon feeling the tiny hook bite into the corner of his mouth, made a strong run against the resistance of my rod. Unable to free himself from the hook by trying to burrow into the weeds he made two somersaulting jumps before coming to the net. A few casts later I hooked another respectable brown, slightly larger than the first and equally determined to escape. Solid muscle and sheer determination were used to test my equipment and my skill, but the 5x leader held and within minutes he was securely in the net.
I rose a couple more fish before the spinner fall began to fade and the summer twilight turned toward darkness. The rises became less frequent until they ceased entirely and the surface of the water was once again an unbroken mirror reflecting the fading light of another Montana day. In the course of less than an hour's fishing I hooked and released a couple very nice brown trout, missed a couple others, and never had to change flies. That's what it's like when you're fishing on home water.