The Rookies by Mark Usyk
I’m a rookie fly fisherman, and I make all the rookie mistakes. I make too many false casts. I don’t match the hatch. I don’t have a back pocket full of special casts for specific situations, I rely on the normal cast and a poor excuse for a roll cast and damn the rest. I use too light a tippet when I need to use heavier, and I use too heavy a tippet when the circumstances call for lighter. I am a rookie, and I’m having a blast thank you very much.
My favorite fish to hunt with a fly rod would have to be the Smallmouth Bass. Easily per pound the hardest fighter in my home waters, I absolutely love their bully attitudes and tiger like camo war paint. They’ll chase down a streamer or smash hopper and Damsel Fly patterns, and I can catch them less than 200yrds from my back door on top of that. Mean, feisty, and convenient to boot. But I still get skunked chasing Smallmouths from time to time, my rookie ignorance shinny through quite often as it does.
That being said, I do have my own ways at upping the odds of catching more fish. It’s so easy to hit the creek out back, or walk down to where it flows under the bridges here in town, or to hit the Mohawk just outside of town, or the Barge Canal, or make a run up to Lake Delta, or to the bottom of the damn just above the fish hatchery, or to make a short drive to any one of huge number of places I’ve lost count of to fish here locally, easy and close to home. But the one catch (no pun intended) to fishing anything around here, is that no matter where you go, the fish have seen hooks. There’s blue plastic night crawler containers, discarded lure packaging, and spinners and bobbers hung up in trees everywhere you go. To the point, all these fish are pressured to one degree or another. Most have been harassed, and they’re a little more wary for the experiences. So how do I up my catch rate? I leave. I drive away from these spots without ever casting a line. Stay with me here people…
Although the sun has yet to show itself above the horizon, it’s bright enough to be called daylight none the less, and I slow down as I cross the bridge on my way out of the neighborhood. A fish jumps as I cross over the creek and I pause, my foot on the brake pedal, the exhaust a quiet grumble as I consider stopping for a few quick casts before I pull out of town. That fish jumping, some anglers would take it as a sign to stop and fish. I take it much more personally. I don’t need a sign. I already know I should be fishing. That fish was waving at me like an old friend sitting on their front porch as I drive by. It knows my hook most likely, I fish that spot like the tons of others that do the same quite often, a convenient spot right in town. They’re a bunch of fish that can be seen from above on the bridge but seem to disappear when the line is cast. They’re pressured, they’re not dumb. They play the game well. He’ll wave to me as I pass by but laugh at me when I offer him my fly. I increase my catch rate for the day by not stopping. I continue on, out of town. A highway traveling north.
After close to 80 miles of pavement, then dirt road, then an old logging two track that ends in a clearing once used to stage logs cut in the heyday of Adirondack logging, I find myself pushing through dense second growth pines. Branches grab at my hat and wader straps, I swear at the trees under my breath and sometimes out loud as I struggle to stay on a straight path. It’s nearly impossible to do, the forest is so thick. There is no path. I follow a compass and then eventually the sound of flowing water and finally I find myself standing on the tall grass of the stream side. It’s still laying over, sleepy and week from the winter months. Spring has just barely begun up here, were it not for the evergreens there still wouldn’t be much color yet.
I stand on the side of a huge pool, one that flows so slowly that if it wasn’t for the cloud of sediment stirred by wading boots slowly drifting downstream in tumbling billows of brown that I might think it was a still pond. It’s amazing that less than a mile from here, downstream, this same water is in a few places no more than a ten foot wide shoot of white water that empties into pocket waters no more than thirty feet wide at most.
The head of the pool is in sight up to my left and I make my way there. The stream is once again no more than twenty-five to thirty feet wide just above it. As it pours into the head of the pool, pushing around a boulder whose back breaks the surface and stirs up foam, the eddy where the fast moving water grazes the slack water to its right looks like a text book position for fish to wait in the chow hall line. I picture them lined up just off the bottom, forks and knives clenched in fins, napkins tied around their necks like an old cartoon, singing some silly song and kicking their tails fins like the Rockettes. The spot looks too good to be true. I remove the tiny streamer from the hook keeper on my 3wt.
I make my first cast to the swirling water on the back side of the boulder, my plan to let it drift from there to the eddy and the waiting trout. The streamer slaps down like a raw steak dropped on the kitchen floor and barely has it had time to even right itself or begin it’s drift when a small explosion of two tone black and pink takes it from below and the line goes tight. The 3wt shakes as the Brook trout that has most likely never seen a hook or much less a human makes a rookie mistake and doesn’t take the time to inspect its meal. The Brookie is absolutely gorgeous, perfection in nine inches of wild Adirondack native. Its spots placed just so like an amazing painting at a museum, the halos of blue match the sky, the pink belly like a neon sign plugged into an electrical socket. A gorgeous rookie.
For the next hour I catch a fish every two to three casts. I even take the time to choose a dry fly from my box, something totally uncharacteristic of me when the trout begin to jump, not rise, but jump at emerging insects no more than ten feet away from me. Fish that have never seen a fly or lure, the rookies, are harder to get to. It takes effort to find them. If you like the convenience of fishing two feet from your car this is not the place for you. But if you’re a rookie like me, I’ve found the best way to up my catch numbers is to go out in search of the fish that have little to no experience with fisherman. The rookies.