I received a call from a good friend a couple of months ago. Word had gotten around, he said, that I was planning on writing a chapter about a reach of river beloved of local carp anglers. He wondered if, maybe, I could see my way clear to leave that one out.
It was a rather surprising request because a.) I had been back to this stream a dozen times in the previous year, sometimes with this friend in tow, and probably had been taking notes while fishing; I figured everyone knew I was writing about it, and b.) this particular reach of river is one I discovered and explored all on my own (though, to be fair, others had done the same independently).
That conversation did cause me to reflect on the tension inherent in being a lover of solitude and remote streams on the one hand, and the kind of person who thinks everyone should have the opportunity to experience them, on the other.
It’s not a unique conundrum, and it’s not the first time I’ve thought about the issue.
In a 2014 interview with Colorado Public Radio, author John Gierach said: ” You have to think: ‘If I say exactly where this is, how many people are going to come?’ This is something that every fishing writer has to deal with at some point.”
He wrote about the experience in All Fishermen are Liars: So in your stories you begin to casually omit the name of a stream or river, or change its name, or move its location from one state or province to another in order to protect the innocent. You don’t really think you can single-handedly hold off the inevitable, but you do hope you can keep it from being your fault.
Of course, Mr. Gierach is writing essays that examine characters and relationships and places and some of the big questions of life, through the lens of fly fishing. I am writing a destination guide, the explicit point of which is to help folks experience the creeks and rivers I love best.
I am well aware that it is possible to love a place to death, or, by bringing attention to it, at least change it in unhappy ways. A lot of us who live in the Austin area cringe every time we see a new “Best Place to Live” or “Best Place to Work” listicle that includes our city. I mean, yes… but only if all y’all don’t actually move here.
As I said, I’ve given it some thought. In fact, I spent time weighing the pros and cons of writing about every single river or creek, or segment of one of those rivers and creeks, that ended up in the book. I did the same for the ones that didn’t make the cut. Just last week I spent an afternoon with my 9-year-old on two different local streams that you won’t find in Fly Fishing Austin & Central Texas. Not because I’m being greedy and want to keep them to myself, but because they are small waters and a little bit fragile and probably could not easily sustain very many visitors. If you find them on your own, congratulations, and joy to you, but I won’t be responsible.
But the overwhelming truth is, Central Texas streams are, with just a couple of exceptions, very lightly used. Folks jog around them, picnic on their banks, and admire the views from their porches or balconies, but most locals—those who are not anglers or paddlers—have never dipped a toe in a local river.
Not only are they missing out, but it’s a dangerous state of affairs for the future of our waters. We tend to actively care about what we love, and we love what we know, and we truly know only what we experience. In a nutshell, that’s the conservation argument for publicizing beautiful streams and terrific fishing: it builds a constituency for those places.
That argument may even be true.
You can find pools that look like, the photo on the top of this page, on several Central Texas streams, but this one — minutes from my home — stays in the family. Not because I’m greedy, but because it is such a small stream, and so hard to access, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for what might happen to either the waterway or a reader.
There are places in these United States, steelhead and salmon rivers, mostly, where anglers patiently (or not) wait in line for hours for the opportunity to enter the water and fish a run. There are other places, popular tailwater fisheries, where fly fishers stand nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with barely enough room to make a cast.
Central Texas is not either of those places. Most of our waters can accommodate many, many more anglers than they currently see, and still would not be overly crowded. Or at least they wouldn’t if people spread out a bit.
My hope is that Fly Fishing Austin & Central Texas, with more than 100 legal access points on 18 different streams within about an hour of downtown, will help people do that. My hope is that more people will get on the water, come to love our rivers and creeks, and, in the end, become advocates for them. My hope is that I’m not wrong about all of this, and don’t someday find myself standing in line to fish a stream I used to have all to myself.