Home Creek

March 12, 2024 By: Richard Donnelly

Image by Aaron Dolan

I have friends planning a two-week fly fishing trip to Alaska. This is a dream destination, of course. A sort of Shangri-La for the angler featuring huge fish, wild country, and endless water. They asked if I wanted to join them.

I declined.

I said I was busy. I didn’t admit the whole idea wore me out. The list-making, the plane tickets to Anchorage. The connecting flight on a de Havilland, the packing and repacking of rods and reels and boots and flies and maps and anti-bear spray and emergency kits and God knows what else. All for two weeks on a river I will begin to learn and maybe fall in love with. Then never see again. It’s depressing.

Why go when I can toss my seven foot three-weight into the truck and ten minutes later catch a pretty good-size trout in a bluff-country creek? A spring-fed creek I already know and love? This is the sparkling Gilbert. My Home Creek.

It’s water as familiar as my wife’s long neck and speckled arms and the curve of her back and let’s end the analogy right there. But it takes time to know a woman. Or a creek. Two weeks isn’t enough. Two years isn’t enough.

Gilbert Creek is brook trout water. A big brook trout is ten inches. But I know where a pod of bigger fish live, in a pool above a beaver dam. I once took a fifteen-inch brookie here. That’s a lot of fish in a little creek.

I had always passed up this pool. Walking by one afternoon I saw a splash. Casting from the branch-tangled dam I let a light Hendrickson float along that deep, oily-dark water. Boring fishing. And standing in the sun, hot fishing. Then the explosion. A big brookie rocketed from the depths, seized the fly and splashed down. I almost dropped my rod.

I didn’t think there were fish in there. Shows you what I know.

When you visit a creek every few days you change the way you fish. My home creek asked me to slow down, and I did. One day I followed a tiny tributary up the valley. The water deepened. I discovered the wreck of an old bridge, hidden by big cottonwoods, the limestone blocks tumbled into the stream. Here I throw the tiniest gnats to little brook trout. Fairyland fishing, I call it.

I don’t always fish. Sometimes I just look. Or fish and look. Or sit on logs fallen across the water and wait for something to happen. A hatch maybe, or the “roll” of a big, opportunistic trout. Sometimes you let the fishing come to you.

Tipped over in a glen of maidenhead ferns lies a big old log, bark long gone, white and butter smooth. I can stretch out and with the buzz of flies and bees fall asleep. Then wake to the sun flickering through oak leaves, a sort of dream in itself.

There’s lonesomeness, too. Happiness brings it on. I think of a lifelong friend now gone. Taken way too soon. We started together, two ten-year-olds catching bullheads with pistol-grip rods and push-button reels. He loved to fish more than anyone I ever met. An expert fly caster, I can still see him holding a big trout. “What a trout!” he cries in that high voice, holding the fish up for me to see. So long, old pal.

Last June a hundred-year storm tore through Gilbert Valley, dropping trees, blowing out beaver dams, gouging new channels. I was heartbroken. But there’s a reason for everything. The torrent scoured the gravel runs, and I’m seeing more juveniles than ever. The river takes care of its own. My creek is taking care of me.

So no, I don’t want to go to Alaska. Not this summer. Maybe some day.

Right now I like my home creek. It took a long time to get to know her. And I still don’t really know her. Every day brings another mood I missed, another run I haven’t fully appreciated, another lovely curve.

We are still talking about the creek, aren’t we?