Sunday, June 14, 2015

Thanks, Clean Water Act!

      In 1997, we moved to a small town in central Maryland. No more unlikely pilgrims ever came to Keedysville, MD. It was the smallest town any of us had ever lived in – population about 500. But there were a ton of things that we loved about it. Like lightning bugs going off like tiny little flares in the backyard every evening. Like the smell of green and growing things all around you. Like the history of the United States literally right outside your door. Like the Potomac River.
      The locals say that before the Clean Water Act in 1972, the Potomac near Keedysville was pretty much just an open sewer. Industrial waste, municipal waste and pretty much every kind of filth you can imagine (and some you probably cannot) flowed into it from a thousand sources. If you had told someone you wanted to fish the Potomac, they would have thought you were crazy. There weren’t many fish in it anyway. But then, a miracle began to happen.
    The cities and businesses had to clean up their act – literally. And the more they did, the cleaner the river became. In a time when it seems that everyone is concerned about government over-regulation, it seems weird to say it but the big, bad government did something right - very right. Business didn’t do it – they squealed like a pig under a gate. Municipalities had to be dragged kicking and screaming into compliance. But slowly, grudgingly they did it. And the river changed.
      By 1997, the Potomac was a different river. You could catch catfish – big catfish – in the river. You could canoe or kayak in the river – and lots of people did. You could even catch smallmouth bass in the river. But I never did. I was busy. I had to work. I had to catch a plane. In three years of living and working on the very banks of this great river, I never fished it once. What was I thinking?
      Eighteen years later, I was fishing that same river. The guy at the fly shop recommended some big, gaudy weighted streamers and a couple of foam poppers for topwater. I started with something simple – an olive woolly bugger, just to see if that would work. I’d never fished for smallmouth, so I had to start somewhere…
     Put it on the edge of the riffles… strip slowly…once…twice…BAM! Holy smokes! WOW! It’s jumping! It’s running! It’s nuts! When I finally brought him to hand, I found a smallmouth about 10 or 11 inches long. Not a giant, by any means, but talk about punching above your weight! That was awesome. Let him go gently…OK, a little farther up this time…just shy of the riffle…strip once…BAM! Again, the bantamweight champion of the universe nails my fly. And again, it fights like a fish three times its size. It was amazing. And it was amazing time after time after time.
     I don’t know how many fish I caught on the Potomac that day. A lot. None of them were over 14” long, but they fought like crazy every time. I had a fantastic day. I laughed and hooted and hollered and had the time of my life. All because we, the people of the United States of America were willing to exercise some measure of control over ourselves and quit dumping nasty stuff into one of America’s greatest rivers. Now, an old man from Wyoming can catch his first smallmouth bass there. A kid from Wyoming can catch his first shad there – if he can master the strip set. But maybe more importantly, a kid from Arlington, VA or Frederick, MD or Washington, DC can have the time of his or her life on their very own home water. Thanks, Clean Water Act. Ya done good.


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