A 7wt Named Story Stick by Mark Usyk

I’d been up all night working a twelve hour midnight shift. My eyes itched. My reflexes were somewhat slowed. My mind might have slightly drifted towards auto pilot…If it wasn’t for the fact that I had picked up my new 7wt streamer rod from JP earlier in the week and I’d been thinking about nothing else other than hitting the water with it on this fine Friday morning. Blue skies, a calm breeze, and a box full of meaty streamers I’d been tying for a couple months to go with the new rod accompanied me and my new rod, the “Story Stik” on its first outing. I was in search of fish mean enough to chase down and attack flies tied on hooks big enough to hang a side of beef on and enough feathers and fur to make any PETA activist vomit.

The night before through a series of texts, JP and I had tried to put together a time and place to meet up to hit the water together, but in the end, it looked like he would be on his way to Maine in search of Brook Trout, while I couldn’t stray far from home. The opening weekend of our town’s Little League season, including the parade and first games are not to be missed when you have both your young sons swinging aluminum bats in search of glory on the field. But that was Saturday, and this was Friday. This was my day to fish.

At 8:40am, after Holly left for work, and Jake and Carter stepped onto the bus, I went into fish mode. The fact that I had been up since 4pm Thursday and worked all night had no bearing on anything. The sun was up, I was free to do as I pleased, and I had a new fly rod to try out. I beat feet and found myself leaving the truck in a parking area and hurrying down a paved walking trail, net on my back and 9’ 6” of Carbon Silica Hybrid fly rod in my hand. I left the paved path where the Canal spilled over a small dam and flowed through woods until it mixed with the Mohawk River. I love history, and the areas we fish here are full of it. What we call the Barge Canal now was once the Erie Canal that you read of in your history books in school, and the Mohawk River was named after the fierce Mohawk Indians that once lived in our part of the world. But I wasn’t here for history, I was here to make my own.

The river was just right for wading, and this early in the spring I didn’t have to worry so much about busting through ground cover and snagging the fly rod every two steps. But it wouldn’t be long before the foliage would be full and the ground would be all but covered like a jungle, nearly impassable on foot, the only hope of fishing the river being from a canoe. I stepped into the river, stripped the light blue WETFLY fly line, and as it moved with the water in loose coils at my knees, I made my first cast.

Now I have never liked big heavy rods. Long before I ever picked up a fly rod, my weapon of choice had always been light and ultra-light rods. Medium to heavy bass rods always felt like clubs in my hand. Likewise, up to this point my choice in fly rods had been a 5wt and my JP Ross 3wt Beaver Meadow rod. I wanted a heavier rod to throw big streamers which is why I had JP build me the 7wt, but at the same time I had been apprehensive. Would I like it once I had it? I was afraid of it feeling like a stiff tree branch in my hand and not wanting to use it because of it.

My first cast put those fears to rest. It felt natural, the rod bent like a reed sways in the wind, and the line flowed through the guides like silk. I may not have hooked a fish on the Mohawk that morning, but I was hooked on the new 7wt. Like a crackhead needs a fix, I needed another cast. And another. And another. I told myself the lie all fisherman tell themselves, “Just one more cast and then I’ll go” at least 20 times before I actually made for my truck and a different creek.

Fifteen minutes later I found myself standing in a bend of the Oriskany Creek, just above where it too flowed into the Mohawk. More history, as Oriskany was a bloodied battle field during the early days of the fight for freedom in our country. The creek also holds great Brown Trout, both stocked and wild, and brawling bronze backs, Smallmouth that aren’t afraid to view most anything as a meal to be had or an invader to be attacked. Standing in a tight curve, in a current passing at about waist level, I casted a black bunny leach about 4” long on a size 1/0 hook into the top of the curve, where the water darkened to a deep clear green in contrast to the shallow sandy bottom on which I stood only feet away. The streamer landed only 2” or so from the cut-out sand bank rising ten feet on the opposite side of the creek and I let it sink and travel with the current until I guessed its lead dumb bell eyes had taken it far enough down to start my retrieve in the faces of the fish that just had to be there in my mind. Five slow strips. The water was still cold, the fish would still be slow, possibly lethargic. Five slow strips and then a pause, and on the next strip, the line went tight, and as I lifted the rod tip, the rod bent and danced, the line cutting the water like a hot wire through butter.

Two times I brought to hand gorgeous Smallmouths that had the markings of the fierce warriors they were, vertical black stripes and blotches against deep bronze scales like the camo make-up of a brutal jungle warrior. After sending a picture to JP a text came back almost immediately, asking why I didn’t call him, and calling me a less than pleasant name as only friends can do. It turned out that I had read the last text the evening before wrong. Maine was only a suggestion. Moral of the story…Quit texting, make the call, and use your voice.

I met JP in his drive way 30 minutes later, his jet boat already behind the Jeep, and we were off, heading north. The first idea was tanked as we found the boat launch was closed, not a soul around, a locked gate, we hung our heads but refused to give in to defeat so easily.

And so it was that we found ourselves motoring across Delta Lake and making for the inlet where the Mohawk feeds the massive manmade body of water where the town of Delta once stood. Making it all the way across the lake to the mouth of the Mohawk we found shallow, clear water in the channel that was the temporary end of the river and would become the lake in a few hundred yards, only to become the river once again. I strung up another black bunny leach as JP took a seat and steadied the boat with the oars. As I made my third or fourth cast to the narrow, dark channel along the river bank, I spotted the massive Carp swimming along in the dark depths and gasped to JP “Holy crap, look at those huge Carp right in front of us!”

I lowered the anchor to the shallow rocky bottom and JP rummaged through his fly box and handed me something small and greenish. Buggy looking, it looked like something either a Carp or a bass might go for depending on how you fished it. I tied it on. Naturally, the Carp disappeared almost instantly, but we knew they were there, so hope was at the end of each cast.

At some point I shamed JP into leaving the oars and taking up his rod himself, telling him that I felt like a piece of crap doing all the fishing myself. As he stood on the bow platform, casting and talking, his rod jerked, he pulled to set the hook, and the line flew from the water, sans fly. He turned to me with a look of “What the hell?” and could hardly get the words out of his mouth. “I saw gills flare, a mouth suck in the fly, and the fly was gone!” I thought it was cool as anything. The toothy fish I was really after had paid us a visit. Jordan suddenly looked upset. “That should have been your fish! That’s what you’re after!” I told him don’t sweat it. It was cool enough that it happened.

Later, as we loaded the boat back onto the trailer, as JP replayed the whole story again, I told him it was cool, I seriously thought it was cool. He wasn’t even going for a big toothy, he was loaded for Carp at that point, yet he lost his Carp fly to a fish at the top of the food chain that afternoon. I thought it was cool. I also thought that it was better that JP got to go to bed that night seeing it replay in his head over and over. The flaring of the gills, the inhaling of the fly, the pop of the line. I was glad it happened to him…Because I couldn’t sleep at night if it had happened to me.