To understand a place, one needs to know its components and how they interrelate, so I had been asking a friend of mine, a retired attorney and enthusuastic naturalist, if I could join him when he went birding, figuring he could clue me into the habits of avian species. Our schedules aligned on a recent weekend, and we headed north in his Jeep, equipped with binoculars and birdbooks, to a broad agricultural valley known for its rich bird-life. As we drove the roads there, we carefully inspected trees and power poles and fields, looking for birdlike silhouettes, colors, motion. During the first hour and a half, we spotted nine red-tailed hawks, one kingfisher, five ravens, many magpies, and blackbirds beyond count.
Around lunchtime, we stopped and walked into a wildlife preserve, a huge marshland at the north end of the valley, and from its viewing platform identified, among the hordes of Canada and snow geese, two sandhill cranes, two Arctic swans, and two goldeneye ducks. But what really caught my eye was the water itself. The channels in front of us looked stagnant, and being at the downslope edge of the valley, they were surely loaded with the effluent of cows, horses, and those many geese. The valley and its marsh, however, served as the headwater of a major trout river, and trout were in the creeks of the mountains surrounding us. Possibly the preserve held fish, too. Maybe bass, maybe sunfish, maybe even trout.
On the way out, we stopped to read a small sign that listed the preserve’s “do and don’ts.” Among the dos was “fish.” My supposition was correct.
One of the things I fish for these days is the sense of surprise, of discovery, that comes from catching fish from waters ignored by anglers, usually because they’re in ugly places or seem unlikely to hold fish worth catching. You know, that creek between the subdivision and the interstate, that murky pond behind the industrial park, that river now confined to a flood-control channel. I carry a rod and tackle in my vehicle to take advantage of these opportunities, and they’ve brought me intense pleasure when I hook into the unexpected.
You can bet I’ll be heading back to that wildlife preserve, not for the birds, but for the mystery its water represents. And when I go birding again? I’m bringing a fly rod. Just in case.
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