Where the Fish Are by Mark Usyk
Posted: Apr 10 2016
A few e-mails during the week had set up our first outing of the new Trout season. On opening day I was driving north, the Jeeps windshield wipers slashing through a steady rain to a Dire Straits song when the gas station came into view. It wasn't the one I was meeting JP and a friend of his that I hadn't met yet at, but I'd just come off the midnight shift less than an hour ago so I needed some gas station coffee and breakfast pizza. On the way back out the doors the guy in front of me held the door open and we both kind of shook our heads and laughed as the rain started to fall a little harder. He looked back at me, "I'm meeting a couple friends up here to go fishing, great day for that." I chuckled. "Yea, me too. Great first day of the season, I'm wondering if the guys I'm supposed to meet will even show up or if I drove up here for nothing." He echoed something along the same lines in agreement, then as we both climbed in our vehicles I shouted over the rain hammering the roofs "Just remember when you’re standing in the woods all by yourself because you were the only one dumb enough to not stay home, I'll be standing out there somewhere too thinking the same thing. Good luck!" I drove on to the next gas station another half hour north, chewing on an hour old slice of pizza, sipping a bitter coffee because I'd forgotten the sugar.
As I pulled into the EZ Mart in Inlet, I laughed and shook my head as the Silverado pick-up from the last gas station, driven by the guy who had shared his concerns over being the only one crazy enough to show up, pulled in next to me. We looked at each other though blurry glass covered in cascading rain water and smiled. So we were only missing JP now. John and I stood under the overhang outside the door and introduced ourselves and talked for a few minutes before JP pulled up. We shared our story about the first unofficial meeting at the other gas station, then we all pulled on waders in the comfort of a dry store and pointed our front bumpers north once more to finish the drive.
Parked on the side of a dirt road we strung up rods, the rain had tapered off to a light drizzle. It was an unusual spring in the north country. Normally on April 1st if you wanted to hike into one of these small streams for Brookies you'd need snow shoes. Except for the tiny patch of white about the size of a door matt in front of my Jeep there was nothing. We weren't complaining, at least about snow. As we began our walk in on a small game trail that seemed to go the right direction the rain picked up again. Oh well. When you've driven an hour and a half and your waders are on and you rod is strung up and your parked miles down a dirt road you're pretty much committed, not that I would ever turn around anyhow.
If it wasn’t for the narrow game trail, even though nothing green had started to bloom and take over yet, walking in would have been nothing short of a near impossible bushwhack. Once we got to the water we traveled upstream a ways to find the big pools that JP wanted to scout out. It was pretty cold, but if I kept moving I didn't notice all that much. And the trees and ground cover grabbing my rod tip or snagging my tippet every ten feet or less kept my mind off the cold. That and as usual, the scenery. I’m distracted each time I venture into a remote piece of the Adirondacks like this by the fact that I suddenly feel small in the world, that even though I may be with someone else, I feel alone, and alone never felt so good as each time I feel it in a place like this. The Brook Trout have brought me here, they don’t care about the rain, they’re already wet. Therefore somehow because, or through them, I don’t care about the rain either.
Golden Dorado in Argentina. Trout in New Zealand. Permit in Belize. Salmon in Alaska. Bone fish in the Bahamas. Pike in Saskatchewan. Tarpon in the Keys. Taimen in Mongolia. Tiger fish in South Africa. I don’t know where I’m going with this list, other than I’ve been pretty adamant about the fact that it’s not always the fish, but the places that they take you. I’ve never seen any of these fish in any of these places. The Adirondack Brook Trout is my “getaway” fish. At the end of last year I caught my biggest Trout on the fly, a really nice Brown that was a healthy and heavy 18”. But it felt more like a 20”, so we’ll just say it was 22”. I always used to joke that I hoped I never caught a big Trout because I was afraid from that point on I’d compare the little Brookies to it and they would seem less important.
Last week I caught my first Trout of the year, a wild Brookie about 9 inches give or take. It was a pretty fish, from a remote stream in the Adirondacks. The place is full of history, and fish. And skinny water. Cold skinny water. I was standing in water up to my waist in the pouring rain, JP was scouting ahead looking for a pool on the map, and John was making his way upstream and across, braving the freezing tea colored water like me. At some point I realized that, having only worn my light waders and no thermals or anything, I was a moron. And I was very cold. My legs were stinging. But the sting gave that burning sensation, and as we all know, burning is warmth. So I told myself that in all reality, I was warm. I made the best of it, caught a fish, and got the hell out of the water. I never once thought of the last Trout I landed before this one, my biggest ever, so I’d say my theory about ruining smaller fish is a bust. My theory that it’s the places as much as the fish must be true.
I’d still like the chance to toss big meaty streamers at Tiger Fish in South Africa. Or Golden Dorado in Argentina. And now I think I can say that I’m sure they could never take the place of my little Brookies. They’d just be other places and other fish. But you’ve got to be satisfied with what you have and what you can do or you’ll never be happy. Somebody told me that once, they’re right, but I still hate them for saying it.