If I Have To Explain It... by Mark Usyk
I heard the alarm, barely. I laid there wishing I didn’t have to get up. I felt the bed shift as Holly reached out to shut it off. Damn, I didn’t want to get up. I was a morning person, before this job, like a prison I was free to enter and leave at will, took it all out of me. Midnight shifts, day shifts, what time was it? Was the sun coming up or was that the glow of the moon through the blinds? Then it hit me, and just like that my eyes opened and I was in the kitchen trying to stir my coffee, hoping the clank of the spoon didn’t wake up the boys. I wasn’t working today. Today I was chasing fish.
The canoe was on the roof, the back of the Jeep packed with fly boxes and rod tubes like always. I should’ve got up sooner, no time for breakfast. A quarter mile away I walked into the gas station in my waders and grabbed two donuts and a Gatorade. I laughed as I paid with a handful of ones Holly had stuffed in my wallet the night before. “What do I need money for? I’m only going fishing a half mile from the house?” Later she’d be giving me the old “What would you do without me” grin.
I’d been planning on driving an hour and a half north and hitting a stream in the Adirondacks for Brookies, but it’d been pretty hot this week, and JP had texted me two days earlier with a stream temp he’d taken. I’d give them a break this week and chase something a little tougher and closer to home. At the water I tossed a fly box full of chunky streamers and a few poppers into the boat, rigged up the 7wt, and pushed off into the Barge Canal. Fog rolled in wisps off the water, and at one point there was a splash right off the back of the canoe. I looked to see a snapping turtle, there in the midst of my paddle swirl, it’s head the size of my fist, it easily weighed 25lbs. I wondered if it had tried to attack the paddle, and what it would have done if it actually got ahold of it. As the fog rolled back in on it, it dived back under.
At the spillway where the Mohawk River left the canal I carried the canoe down to the bottom and set off, sitting up on the portage yoke, letting the boat drift with the current, the 7wt at the ready with a meaty grey and white bait fish pattern set to fly. I started casting to dark pools and slack waters off to the side of eddies, along cut out muddy banks with overhanging trees and brush, and on my third cast it was game on. Bronze death from below struck on almost every cast through the first few bends in the river and it almost seemed as though I could do nothing wrong. In one corner, as the canoe drifted with the current the rear started to come about and as I reached for the paddle with my right hand, rod still in my left, an overhanging tree grabbed the rod tip. I panicked, wrenched the rod from the branch, and as the tip came free, the streamer ripped away and shot from the foliage with a torn leaf speared on the hook. Damn. I dropped the paddle to give my attention to the line and the streamer when a body rushed out from the bank to engulf the streamer, leaf and all. Damn! I was skipping the streamer under branches and finding Smallies in all the likely places, making me feel like I actually knew what I was doing. Some days it’s better to be lucky than good.
Then just as fast as it started, it ended the same. Without warning, that was it, that was all she wrote. I had a couple small tugs from big curious minnows a few time times, I always wonder what the hell they’re actually thinking when a Creek Chub chases a streamer the same size at itself and gives it a nip. Is that just like the bully that always chased me off the porch and made me run inside at my Grandmother’s house in the city, just trying to act tough? I don’t know, but I figured if the chubs are swimming freely where ever they want, chasing down my streamer, then there’s nothing around trying to eat them. I drift on the current, dipping the paddle here and there to suggest steering more than the actual act of steering itself.
I cast here and there, the river has become bathed in sunlight now that the hot ball of burning gas has taken its position above the trees, and I’m sure this must have something to do with the change in the bite, but I don’t dwell on it. I cast to dark corners and undercut banks that still remain shaded without any more interest in my offerings. It makes no difference to me. It becomes about the loops in the air and the feel of the rod as it sways and flexes. I waste a little thought on the couple guys I know that would be pissed off and complaining right now for not catching anything more, and I feel sorry for them. Fishing is not to them what it is to me, so I move on to other thoughts. Thoughts of nothing but scanning downriver, watching for the next fishy looking spot, the next duck to take off ahead, the next bird to swoop low through the trees and skim the water for some meal my eyes aren’t keen enough to see, for the next spider web to sparkle with the last of the evaporating dew left clinging to it’s silk like lines. On the water. On these outings. In these moments, everything is clear, because there is very little to be unclear about, and everything that is in front of you is certainly the way it is and nothing more. Like the guy I sold my old Harley to a few weeks ago asking me why I fly fished. He was wearing that iconic slogan on his black t-shirt with the orange bar and shield. I chuckled on the inside at the irony. “If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand.”