Stream of Consciousness

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1998

Last revision: Oct. 28, 2010

Summer has come down hard on Missouri, and I am ankle deep in a small stream, looking at an 18-inch fly leader and wondering what to do.

I forgot to check the leader before I left home, and now I am 40 miles away with a stub of monofilament at the end of my fly line. I dig in my pocket and come up with a spool of 18-pound test monofilament-hardly the filmy stuff from which tippets are made. It will have the subtlety of a concrete block when it hits the water.

I strip off a few feet and tie it to my leader. It is a sloppy contraption, but I am far from home and a million miles from care.

Missourians-more than most people-are in love with their rivers and streams, and I am in love more than most Missourians with these things. We have an estimated 10,000 miles of streams. Many are meandering little waterways that anglers rarely fish.

I'm on such a stream-never mind where. A good angler with bait could decimate these pools by keeping what he catches. But no fish needs fear more than temporary discomfort and panic from me. I'll release anything I catch. I'm not here for supper; I'm here for dessert.

The stream is a microcosm of bad things that people do to streams. Fields extend to the river bank, which is eroding because there is no protection against the gouge of floods. Cattle tracks pockmark the gravel bar, and there is a slime of green moss in the water, an indication that the water is fertilized by manure.

The gravel bar also shows vehicle tracks and signs of a party. A bald tire sticks up like a gravestone that could read, "Here lies a formerly fine stream." The gravel is so deep it sucks at my feet.

When only American Indians used this waterway, they not only could drink the water with safety, they probably couldn't have waded across it in most places. Then the bottom was bedrock with long, deep holes separated by ledge rock riffles.

Now the stream is shallow beds of gravel with the occasional deeper pool where a tree has fallen into the stream, creating a structure that encourages the current to scour a hole. You have to work to fish these creeks. The good pools may be 100 yards apart or more.

I am wearing polarized sunglasses that cut the glare on the water and

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