Fishing New Water

My favorite trout stream is in northern Michigan. It’s not the most famous trout water in the state—it probably wouldn’t even make a top-ten list. But it’s the stream I learned to fly fish on many years ago, and one I have faithfully fished ever since. With those years have come a familiarity. I know where the holes are where trout like to hold. I know what’s around every bend. And I can point out along the stream where I’ve caught trout and where I haven’t. I can even show you the submerged log (it’s still there!) where I caught a huge brown trout during the hex hatch many years ago. The stream is an old friend.

But the last couple of years, for reasons I do not fully understand, my favorite trout stream isn’t fishing like it used to. I’m not catching (or even seeing) the browns, brookies and rainbows I used to. On many summer evenings the last couple of years, I haven’t even heard the sound of a rising trout. After several more evenings like that this summer, I decided to give my old friend a rest. I began fishing new water—another stream not far away.

I fished this stream a few times years ago, but it wasn’t as close or as familiar as my favorite stream, so I hadn’t stood knee-deep in its swift current for a long time. I’ve waded parts of it several times the last couple of months. I’m learning where the holes are where trout like to hold. I’m discovering what’s around every bend. And I can already point out along the stream where I’ve caught trout and where I haven’t.

As much as I miss the familiarity of my favorite trout stream, fishing new water has reminded me of the joy that comes with adventure. When you don’t know what’s around every bend, there’s a lot to learn and explore. Fishing new water is making me a better fly fisher. 

About the time I began to fish this new water, I came across a quote from Samuel Miller, the Dean of Harvard Divinity School in the 1960s. He once said:

We fear failure more than we love life, so we refuse the great ventures … Stop riding the brakes on the heart. The soul will never grow, tied down in bed with the shades drawn. The higher and more secure we build the barricades of care and caution to protect ourselves, the deeper grows the grave we call life.

To put it another way, in life, we tend to wade the familiar streams. That’s understandable. We know our habits and routines like an old friend. There’s a comfort that comes with knowing what’s around every bend. But when we don’t fish new water, as Miller observed, “the soul will never grow.”

Is it time for you to fish new water? Maybe it’s time to explore a new hobby, engage in a new prayer practice, or pursue a new career. Maybe it’s time to learn a new skill, seek out a new friend, or take a new risk in following Jesus. 

Are the familiar streams of life keeping you from the great ventures God has for you?

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.    Ephesians 1:17-19

Steve Ebling | October 2022