Fly Fishing in the Blood by Mark Usyk

Everyone has that one fishing place that trumps all others. Mine is a small lake on a farm that belongs to distant cousins in Cobleskill NY. My grandfather started picking me up before sunrise on Sundays sometime around the second grade to drive the hour and a half in a pickup, over weighted with the tools of a crack mechanic that smelled of gear oil and cigarettes, so that we could sit in the grass and drown worms all day. We did this my entire youth, all the way up until I left for the Air Force after high school. We hardly spoke at all, he was one of my best friends but I have a very hard time remembering his voice, we spoke so little. But I can hear his gruff, raspy, smokers laugh as I would complain that the Sunfish had stolen my worm yet again like it just happened yesterday. It wasn’t until I stood in the barn four years ago, talking to Wanda, our distant cousin, daughter off my great great aunt that I found the motivation to actually learn to use the fly rod that my father had bought me that spring.

Standing there in the old broken barn, the smells and sounds of a dairy farm surrounding us, and having my oldest son Jacob with me, we talked about how Jake was the fifth generation of the Usyk family to fish this spot, starting with my great grandfather, Wanda’s uncle. I knew he had brought his grandchildren here, just like my grandfather had brought his, but out of nowhere came a piece of information I had yet to learn. My great grandfather was a fly fisherman, and he had cast a fly rod on this very lake. Where frustration had hampered my will to learn the fly rod up to this point, after learning of my great grandfather, and the deep connection that I have with the farm lake, I told myself right then and there I would learn the fly rod and fish this lake with it if it was the last thing I ever did.

Two years later, on my yearly pilgrimage to the farm, I found myself sitting in the canoe, fly rod in hand, my great grandfather’s blood pumping through my veins, from my heart, down my arm, and to the very fingers which held the cork handle as the rod bent on the back cast. The same blood, enabling the same grasp of cork, creating the same bend of a fly rod. I can tell you I know when something feels right because of that experience if nothing else.

I had tied streamers for the most part for this outing, and had one frog popper. I sat in the canoe off a weed bed on the right bank. And there was a splash. And another. And before long, in a matter of ten minutes, Bass could be found to be breaking the surface in almost all directions. My streamers went ignored, the feast taking place as Mother Nature served up a platter of Dragon Flies and Damsel Flies unlike which I had never seen. They darted everywhere, hovering a foot above the water, weaving, bobbing, dipping to the surface to cause a tiny ring and miniscule splash, only to lift off again, to race off before death from below snatched them up in crushing jaws.

I had no Dragon Fly patterns, nothing remotely close. Panic almost overtook me. Matching the hatch was possibly the most important aspect of fly fishing, and I had failed miserably in my preparations of the trip. What could I do? I looked at the popper. A frog? What did I have to loose. It at least was a top water fly if nothing else.

The wind resistant foam body and plume of feathers growing from its butt proved a challenge for me to cast much more than 25 feet at first, but that was all it took. Upon the dull slap of its landing, the water opened as if a toilet was being flushed beneath it and the popper was gone! The most perfect twelve inch Largemouth came to the side of the canoe and I smiled. Cast after cast, the Bass hammered and crushed, leaping from the water as if to give me a show. They were so keyed in on anything that moved above the water that I swear they were watching my fly pass above on the false cast before touch down on the final forward cast and then pouncing as the first fiber of feather made contact with the water’s surface. I swear, so intent on the movement above, that one bass actually launched itself fully from the water and took the popper out of midair. It was like watching Great Whites destroy Sea Lions during Shark Week. It was the perfect day, and in a roundabout way, one that was prompted years before I was ever even thought of, by a man that I never got to fish with. Well, not until that day. On that day, with my father being on the water too, and Jacob as well, I believe all five generations were there. I don’t think I was the only one swinging a fly rod, because there were fish jumping at something I just couldn’t see now and then. We were all there.