Priorities and Avoiding the Skunk by Mark Usyk
Coming off the midnight shift I came home and showered, trying to scrub off the smell of work. Not so much because I smelled, I’ve gotten used to the smell of the alloy plant, but because I didn’t want to be reminded of work every time I raised my arms near my face for the rest of the day. I wanted to forget it. The one good thing about quitting a life on the road working in the great outdoors for a life at home sweating in a dirty, smelly alloy plant is also the one and only goal I had when I took the job. I get to see my kids grow up. So After showering and throwing a bowl of cereal down my throat I met my oldest sons 4th grade class in town to go on a tour of Fort Stanwix with them, then on to the Oriskany Battle Field for a picnic and a history lesson. This is stuff I never got to do while working on the road. The job may weigh on my mind as “Not my kind of job” but outside of the job, things are better.
Fishing on the other hand has taken a huge nose dive compared to the 4 years I spent on the road when I fished nearly 7 days a week some weeks, my longest stretch of non-stop casting being 39 days. So now days, when I have an opening…I have to make the best of it. As the kids loaded back onto the school bus, the teacher’s voices raised and the chaos of children running in all directions playing tag and just creating general mischief, the idea of trying to herd cats came to mind. Then as the bus pulled away I knew this was my time, my window. With my beat up orange canoe on top of the truck and fly rods assembled and stretching from the dash and out the back window I pointed the truck to water roughly 45 minutes south in hopes of finding a Pike willing to take a streamer on my 7wt.
Pulling into one of the only access points I could find for the Sangerfield River on the maps I was disappointed to find the water to be the color of my sons chocolate milk at breakfast. There was 50 minutes of valuable fishing time lost. I sat staring at the water only a few yards away, my fly rods close enough to brush my arm as I turned the steering wheel, and I closed my eyes, trying to imagine myself on the map, and what else was close enough to stop at on my way back. I remembered a small lake that I have driven past probably a hundred times but never fished, it was only a couple miles out of the way. Gravel flew as I put the truck in reverse. The fishing portion of the day was not yet lost.
It was hot now. About 78. The sun beat down, the water wasn’t deep. As I paddled for the lily pads I had picked as my first target the wind began to pick up to a little more than the nice breeze it had been and I fought it as it tried to push the long orange plastic vessel where I didn’t want to go. Three times I let the wind drift me past the pads as I cast a streamer to the edge hoping for the Bass that had to be sheltering in the shade to blast out and crush it. Three times nothing. The change to a popper was nothing more than a “What do I have to loose” attempt in all honesty. Again, several casts and nothing. But standing in the canoe, trying to spot a likely taker, I spotted lots of small cruising dark shapes. Bluegill, Sunfish, little pan fish that normally would take anything, sometimes even a bare hook.
Another “What have I got to loose” fly change found me tying on a cricket fly on my 7wt. I questioned myself if I had gone insane in the heat, going after hand sized pan fish with a 7wt fly rod. I didn’t question it again for the next twenty something casts, as nearly each one brought in another brightly colored or dark vertical striped hand sized slab that fought like much bigger fish for a meal they raced to from all directions as it hit the water.
I looked at the time and decided that I just had to put down the rod and pick up the paddle if I wanted to make it to our youngest sons Little League game. It was tough but when I told myself this was the last cast, for the first time in my life, I think it actually was. Loading the canoe back on the truck I was happy. I left home hoping for a Pike. Then I downgraded to hoping for Bass. Then I settled on Pan Fish and never looked back. I don’t believe I’m a good fisherman at all. I know plenty of guys who would have been plain pissed off because of how the day unfolded and would have never even bothered with the little worm stealers. If I’m a good fisherman in any way at all, it’s because I’m happy to just be out, and I’ll make the best of any fishing I can find. It’s honestly the only thing in life I seem to be able to look on the bright side of when things aren’t going great.
On my way back home I passed a spot on the Oriskany Creek that I haven’t fished in about 5 years. I used to fish it on my lunches when I was a blacksmith. Knowing I had about ten minutes to spare, I pulled in and selected the 3wt Beaver Meadow from the dash board line-up. With a tiny olive Wollybugger I had tied on a tiny size 14 hook I made two casts and in two casts I brought to hand two small Browns. That was that. Some days it’s better to be lucky than good. I pulled into the little league field lot, stones popped under rubber. I walked to the bleachers just in time to see my 5yr old step up to bat. Sitting there I realized what a horrible headache I had. I bought a bottle of water at the concession stand. My first drink of anything since sometime around 5am at work. And then I was reminded that I hadn’t gone to sleep yet since working the midnight shift…it was now 6pm. I’ve got to get better at the whole taking care of myself thing. But it’s fishing after all. Baseball will be over in a couple more weeks. In a couple more weeks, I’ll be in my canoe again, but with two little boys smiling and laughing at the Sunfish on the ends of their lines. I may not even pick up my rod.