Image: Mark Lewis

The pilgrimage to my perceived Mecca took 22 years, 11 months, 16 days, and 20 hours. I arrived fresh out of college, riding a 2.7-liter American-made Japanese chariot, complete with three-inch lift kit and the white silhouette of a blitzing Montauk striper across the back window. I was hell on wheels and ready to set the Rockies ablaze.

Another attention-deficit-disordered middle class white male had made it to Boulder, Colorado. Armed with only a three-weight, two six-weights, some amateur-hour self-tied stimulators, and a weathered Simms hat, I was ready to conquer. For years I’d conjured everything I was supposed to be. I’d finished school and enlightened my thinking, satisfied my parents, and diversified my fishing. I was about to become everything I’d dreamed of during my countless nights of differential equations and Confluence Films.

I will never forget the Colorado sunset against towering mountains as the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” rattled my two-door while a generous serving of Skoal slowly corroded my gums. “I’ll be gone forever,” I told myself. I had grandiose dreams of 23-inch powder days, 22-inch rainbows, and 21-year-old blondes.

But I soon found myself confined by the reality of a cubicle. I was dying, 1600 pixels of autoCAD at a time. I was of myself, for myself, and by myself. I had accomplished my relentless pursuit and, upon completion, felt defeated.

So here I sit. My mind wanders to narrow spring creeks deep in the woods of Indiana. To memories of metropolitan smallies. To sweat-infused nights of mousing for largemouth. To 70-foot, slow-current casts for panfish. To mud-covered Tom Sawyer-rolled jeans. To warm beer and wet cigarettes and wrangling an eight-weight through a Kansas cornfield.

Some call it a quarter life crisis, or post college blues, or just plain homesick. I call it sick, and my cure is cruising county roads in search of Midwest natives on the fly. I have struggled acclimating to fishing with 1.2 million cliché Front Range “outdoorsmen.” I’ve grown weary of mentally deficient pellet-breath stocker rainbows on 1X tippet. I long for wet grass beneath my feet and the pounding flush of fish slamming topwater poppers in a Boone County downpour.

I have seen the other side. The grass may be greener but it’s just as hard to mow. And there’s dog shit in every yard. Regardless, I’ll scoop a corn-fed, free-range grass turd over THC-infused REI tofu diarrhea any day.

I miss my home and I miss my fish.

Perhaps my paradise sits just 797 feet above sea level. Maybe it’s lost among mysteriously still rivers cutting through hardwood forests of muddied creeks and seasonal streams. It could be tangled among shopping carts and sheet metal laid to rest beneath the shallow waters of forgotten urban canals. But to me, that is a paradise still worth pursuing.