With a chuckle I look back on life and how things came to be. At a young age I did not know the dreams of my youth would prepare me for who I am today. It is comforting to look back and see I am who I was made to be. I was born to wander!
I was born an only child. I started at a young age fishing. I was an American boy who loved sports too. Growing up in rural Alabama without a neighborhood full of kids, I substituted players for cardboard boxes. I would even chase down my own punts. I have no regrets in how I was raised and thankful for the day’s dad would spend after work supplying endless pitches for batting practice. I am thankful for the drive to be the best and the self-reliance he taught me.
As I worked my way into high school, I was taught many lessons at the schoolhouse while spending my weekends in the outdoors. I learned that I did not fit in. I was taught the country life I adored was subject to ridicule from people who hid behind white picket fences. I still had no clue it was all part of the plan.
Boring classroom days were passed with "Field and Stream", as well as "Peterson's" tucked neatly between textbooks. I learned calculus of whitetail ruts and geometry of core buck areas. History was an ignorance of kings and queens and a daydream of the Rockies and Hawken rifles. Warm days were spent with a fly rod from a flea market that dad had given me. I was innocent, I had no clue about Sage, Scott, or Winston! Casting flies under willow trees, I would imagine being on a western stream and catching cutthroat trout. At the time I thought that was only for the rich, not some boy from Alabama.
Eventually, I was out of school and in a career field that would take me all across the country. It would take time, but soon my homesick would become road sick and I would hate sitting idle. I would crave the next place on the map. In the way things fall together, I was soon picking jobs off of the outdoor experiences they would offer. I can testify to the fun I had piping a pharmaceutical plant while spending my spare time in the canals and flats of southern Florida. Evenings spent chasing redfish, snook, and tarpon.
As I neared 30, my craving for adventure was ever expanding. 3 weeks of Alaskan bush life only whetted the appetite for adventure. A 2 dollar read from a used bookstore brought me full circle in the realm of fly-fishing. A hunger for wild trout began. A quest for native fishes was drawn out. I had no training in the art of a dead drift, only a goal and determination. I embarked to the wilderness areas of western North Carolina in search of a southern jewel. Being the closest native salmonid, the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout became my heart's desire.
I scheduled a week in early June to complete my mission. The Good Lord smiled on my eagerness and after a spring of record flooding the water dropped to a fishable level. I began near the headwaters of the Nantahala. I had risen several fish before finally catching a wild rainbow on day two. This only fueled the fire and I was soon heading further into the mountains. Day three yielded a wild brown taken underneath an old stone bridge. My confidence ever building, I hit the road once more and found myself fishing a rare Blackwater stream that meandered a high mountain valley. Two miles deep, I landed my first bookie and continued with some storybook casts into the pool below a falls. The rest of the morning was spent among the roar and mist catching the speckled wonder known in many places as squaretail.
As these were not truly native fish the quest continued. In a remote prong of a freestone river I finally brought my native southern strain to hand. As I held it in the cool water, I stood in awe at God's perfect creation. The blazing belly, wormlike markings on the back, the blue halos, all were preserved from thousands of years in a rugged Appalachian flow. I had finally done it after 5 days in the bush!
In my drive to accomplish this I learned so much about myself and the world around me. I spent nights admiring the green flashes of fireflies in mass lighting up the ground around me. I listened as the water seemed to speak while it tumbled through the rocks. The sunsets were greeted with swarms of Yellow Sallies dumping eggs. The drum of a grouse beckoned me closer and closer, then like a ghost he vanished.
I forged a bond with the wild lands. I was finally where everything made sense. I found my stronghold and healing. No matter how depressing life could be, I knew if I could see the mountains or hear the water I would survive. I found assurance in myself and that I chose the right life. I was who I was born to be. I learned through the sounds around me that I wasn't alone!