Friday, April 10, 2020

Practicing Social Distancing on Blue Spring Creek

It's April 2020, and COVID-19 is spreading across planet Earth, killing tens of thousands of people and disrupting the global economy. People are stuck inside and cannot risk going to school, church, work, or even the grocery store for fear of infection. I had been working from home full-time for the past three weeks. Cabin fever was setting in with a vengeance. It was the perfect time to leave society, go into the woods, and do some fly-fishing.

At the end of March, the Missouri Department of Conservation announced they were waiving fishing license and daily tag requirements for game fishing. This gave me the motivation I needed to take off work and do some fly-fishing. But where to go? I only had a few hours to fish, and didn't want to waste the whole day driving. Emily would be at home with both kids on a weekday, so an extended two- or three-day camping trip was out of the question. Plus, the state had closed the public campsites due to the coronavirus. Maramec Spring was shut down, and Bennett and Montauk weren't stocking their streams during the pandemic. I'd have to think outside the box.

The CDC recommends people keep a minimum of six feet of distance between individuals not living together. Blue Springs Creek lies five miles outside of Bourbon, Missouri, which only has a population of about 1,200 people. It doesn't get much more socially distant than that.

I left the house before the sun came up and headed west on Interstate 44. Unsurprisingly, there was no traffic at 5:00 AM when the state had a stay-at-home order. Between the lack of traffic and being distracted by the audiobook I was listening to, I didn't realize how slow I was driving. Looking down at the speedometer, I realized I was barely going over 60 MPH. It would take me all damn morning to get there going that slow. I put the pedal to the metal and got to Bourbon around 6:30. My Prius was the only car in the small, gravel, river access lot. I geared up and walked the few yards down to the creek.

I found Blue Springs Creek very shallow, narrow, and silent, with the only noise being trucks driving past on the nearby Highway N. The weather was beautiful, with mid-70 temps and overcast clouds. The water was low and clear, which made the already nervous fish even more skittish. For Blue Springs Creek, a good "hole" was a dip in the creek bottom that would maybe get two feet deep. The deepest water I had to wade the entire day barely got over my knees.

I wanted to fish some small nymphs on an indicator, but the low water-levels made this impossible. Instead, I switched to small dry flies - Adams and Royal Wulffs. A fun fact about me is that I'm terrible at casting dry flies. I spent a large portion of the morning untangling my tippet that somehow got tangled up with the rest of my fly line and various tree branches and shrubs. This was through no fault of my own, I assure you.

I walked upstream from the Blue Springs Ranch entrance bridge, hitting each little hole along the way. On top of the wind picking up, and my own general slopping dry fly casting, I kept having small minnows hit my dry flies as soon as I set a cast on the surface of the water. These small fish would drag my fly under, soaking it, leaving me to have to false cast a while longer to dry off the fly. This inevitably led to more tangles. After untangling my line for the umpteenth time, I did manage to pull out a few small fish from the creek - mostly Bleeding Shiners, but also one decent sized Creek Chub.

After a few hours, I headed back to the Prius and scouted out some other spots along the creek. To my surprise, a few other cars had shown up later in the morning. This wouldn't do. Not only was there a risk of contracting COVID-19, but also Blue Springs Creek simply couldn't handle more than one or two anglers at a time. It was time to wrap things up. It was a short trip and I was back in the city and the real world, pandemic and all, for lunch time. Upon arriving home, my two-year-old let me know that he wasn't happy I went fishing without him. So we hopped on the bike and headed to Carondelet Park to fish with his new Paw Patrol rod in the pond there. We got skunked, and that's okay.


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