I'm a Genius by Mark Usyk

This past week I was almost feeling like I knew what I was doing with a fly rod in my hand. I almost felt smart. I got put on an afternoon shift at work, which screwed everything up from my wife’s work schedule to my assistant coach duties for Jake’s Little League team, but with 5 different places full of the wet stuff within walking distance or a 3 minute drive from my front door, the damage done to my fishing time was still minimal. I explored retention ponds on the Flats that I’d been ignoring for a couple years now and found Pickerel and Largemouths in one, and at the mouths of a couple small streams feeding into the Oriskany Creek and the Mohawk River I’d found Smallmouth Bass grouping up like gangs in dark alleys waiting for unsuspecting victims.

I was feeling smart not only because I was finding fish, but I was also using different tools and equipment to get them. Around the ponds I was stalking in my new waders, my first pair of Simms, and my first pair I’d spent over $70 on. But I’ve yet to bring myself to spend any real money on wading boots. I was feeling smart because I’d found an old pair of winter boots from my climbing days with an aggressive rubber sole and leather upper, and in an attempt to sneak around spending any money on wading boots this year, I promptly pulled out the insulated liners which turned the boots from a size 10 to a size thirteen. The stocking feet of the waders fit in the boots like it was meant to be, and here I was traversing mud flats and walking out on slimy moss covered logs without so much as a stumble or slip. In my old cheap flats boots or wet wading in the summer in my Converse sneakers it might look like I was attempting the Electric Slide after too many beers at a wedding reception. Every time I looked down at my feet I just felt so smart. As cars passed by I wanted to lift one foot in the air and point out my boots to them. “Yep, there’s that nut job out there standing on one leg like a deranged pink Flamingo in the mud again.”

When it came to the Smallmouths at the streams flowing into the Mohawk River I’d decided to employ my 8’ 5wt glass rod and a sink tip line. I’d make my way through the undergrowth that’s just now beginning to threaten to green up and close passage to the river side everywhere except the most worn trails, and I’d sneak up from the downstream side of the mouth of the stream, spot the Bass sitting on the gravel bottom, and cast up into the stream with a dark Woolly Bugger or a black leach pattern and let them bump along the bottom until the fish spotted them and moved into position. I got a few really nice Smallies this way. Like I said, I almost felt like I knew what I was doing.

But nothing last week made me feel as smart as today. Today out of nowhere I felt like the smartest man alive. Jake was having some friends over for his 11th birthday, so how was I to keep his little brother out of their hair for the afternoon. “Carter, while Jake’s friends are here today, do you want to go fishing?” Yep, I’m a genius.

I grabbed his Ultra-Light spin cast rod and a small handful of marabou jigs and we drove over to the canal. As I always do I had three different fly rods in the Jeep but grabbed another spinning rod instead when I got his, and so we walked down the canal trail side by side, talking about everything and nothing important, watching the shadows of a small boy, his dad, and their fishing poles in hand move along with them on the gravel trail surface. I won’t lie, it felt a little Mayberry-ish. I liked it.

I think I grabbed a spinning rod for me too because I knew I didn’t plan on fishing much myself. This outing was for Carter as much as it was for Jake to have a day with his friends without his little brother hanging on their legs the whole time. I made a couple casts with the spinning rod, it felt foreign, but the simple act of casting and retrieving put a smile on my face and my usual calm set in immediately.

It wasn’t until Carter was in a comfortable rhythm that I truly slowed my mind completely, but I hadn’t realized it had happened until the first time I looked over to see him struggling with a good arch in the rod. “I’m stuck.” No problem bud, I’ll get it for ya.” I pulled his hook from a snag two or three times. We moved down the trail a couple times trying different spots, Carter rambling on about everything from him scoring 3 goals in the morning at his first soccer game to commenting on how some of the birds sounded like people whistling. I threw him for a loop when I asked him if maybe it was actually that people whistling sounded like birds.

He was standing on the rocks, casting and reeling back, casting and reeling back, and I was halfheartedly doing the same but contemplating life the way all serious anglers do while fishing, by thinking about absolutely nothing, when Carter’s voice broke the silence. “Awe, I’m stuck on a rock again.” I set my rod down and walked over to him. I took the rod from him and lifted it to see if it would pull free, and surprisingly it vibrated and the line cut the surface of the water! I turned to him and shoved the rod back into his grasp. “You don’t have a rock, that’s a fish!” He smiled a smile that said he was uncertain of what I’d just told him, then as the fish attempted to put the rod out of his hands I yelled “Hold it tight! Reel!” He started laughing as a silly expression of determination took over the 6yr olds face.

What was even better was that a couple had just made their way down the path to us and laughed at the scene as it unfolded before them, tackle boxes and fishing rods in hand, perfect timing to see the show. Carter pulled up on the rod and it would double over and his little hands would turn red with the pressure of his grip, and his facial expressions would go from determination to playfulness and back. When I lifted the Bass from the water I turned to him and he’d already dropped the fishing rod and was trying to find solid footing as he held out a hand with a question as how to take it from me without dropping it.

I gave him a quick lesson on how to hold it with both hands and not hurt it, and as he smiled for the picture the couple up on the path smiled and clapped for him. His grin stretched from one ear to the other. I couldn’t even finish this story tonight before he came into the room to ask me if we could go fishing again tomorrow after I got home from work. Yep…I’m a genius, no doubt about it.