October 16th, 2000

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

Small Fish

By Dave Jensen, Alberta, Canada

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. Small Brookie 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 did not.

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

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