I’ve never thought much of bucket lists, although it seems every angler has one of the name-brand destination fisheries they’ve got to see before they croak. I’ve been fortunate enough to fish a couple and they’re fine, but I’ll never forget the Idaho tailwater with three hundred trucks and trailers and cars in the parking lot, spilling out onto the shoulder of the two-lane highway, of guides and clients and DIY’ers frothing the water for sore-mouthed trout. I skipped it. I found some no-name headwater tributary forty minutes up the road and had a ball catching unmolested cutthroats and browns all by myself.
That’s what I like- not big fish or famous places, but the streams most resembling their natural character. So when I decided my fishing was in a rut- visiting the same stretches of the same streams over and over and over- I made my own bucket list, combing the literature, generating several lifetime’s worth of streams, lakes, rivers, and seashores. They’re not all pristine, but they’re the best we have left.
This stream is wholly composed of springs which gush at almost every step from its calcareous banks and it rapidly assumes the character of a considerable river. The waters are very pure, cold, and transparent.
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1818
It looks nearly the same two centuries later, although I’m fooling trout from California and Germany into eating fake caddisflies in the middle of the country. The fish aren’t as big or abundant up here as in the tailwater thirty miles below, but there’s something to be said for finding one’s place in a coldwater niche that hasn’t been occupied since the last Ice Age, living alongside seventy native fish species, a handful of freshwater mussels and crayfish, and hundreds of invertebrate taxa, some of which occur nowhere else on the planet.
The dam eliminated most of that richness downstream, its effects felt even up here as species declined and disappeared over the last half century. Unique warmwater communities were replaced with cheap power and cheap hatchery trout. It’s strange to think the loss has been a boon for tourism economy, helping nudge a chronically depressed region out of poverty. Not all bad, and we get to keep some vestige of what once was.