The One That Got Away by Mark Usyk

It wasn’t hot and humid as the weather man had predicted. It was overcast and maybe 72. The water flowed a clear tinted tea color, as most Adirondack streams and rivers do, unlike the waters back home. 72 miles south, the creek that flowed past my house was a far from translucent. Dark brown, the color of liquid mud from days of rain and run off. We waded up stream, myself lost in the beauty and serenity of a remote stream that I had fished twice before, yet I felt I knew it well. I was glad the water back home was blown out in all honesty, it was the perfect excuse for me to suggest to a fishing buddy, Brian, that we should make the 70 mile drive to clearer water, my last convincing sentence, the deal closer being “I’ve never been skunked there before.” What fisherman in his right mind would choose any other place?

It was almost perfect. The only reason for swearing, was also the reason for keeping your mouth closed. If there is irony, it will usually find me and slap me in the face, or in this case, bite me in the face. And on the fingers, the knuckles to be exact. And even though we wore long sleeves doused in Deet, and I even pulled a hood up over my head, the Adirondack Black Flies and Mosquitos bit through clothing, the sting and the itch felt on my back the proof. Everyone thinks that where they come from they have the worst Mosquitos, the most vicious biting insects. Well, I can tell you right now that I believe the Adirondack Black Flies and Mosquitos, just like the Adirondack Park itself could swallow up all the other great parks in our country, its Black Flies and Mosquitos could swallow up their winged warriors hands down. I swear that the Black Flies were elbowing the Mosquitos out of the way to get to us and vice versa, like starving Ethiopians dropped at a Golden Corral buffet, they fought for every inch and feasted like they had never eaten before. The bites on my hands a day later tells me they ate well.

But the bugs weren’t the only things biting. Brian had caught a nice Smallmouth where the small stream emptied into bigger waters at the start. Now as we traveled up stream, hopping rock to rock and skirting along the edge on a marked trail that more resembled an animal path in most places, the wild Brook Trout that called the stream home would dart out from pocket water or dark pools to chase a white streamer. Their colors were magnificent, their markings second to none. Several times the thought entered my mind that if the fish were what I was chasing, then perhaps it was partly because of where I had to go to chase them. The places I found them in were as beautiful as the fish themselves.

And then there was the hole. 75 yards upstream of a huge boulder that spanned nearly the entire width of the stream, forcing the waters to narrow and cut out the far bank to pass, I found myself standing on the protruding rock that gave me a good upstream view, looking slightly down on what I didn’t realize the first two times fishing here as a channel. I deep channel. Where most of this small stream was waist deep or much less, this channel could have possibly been over my head easily. But I didn’t realize this until, as I cast my streamer into the white water at its head, rolling off rocks and becoming deep and dark, I stripped fast to try and over take the speed of the current to get my fly to move erratically. Ten feet above my position it shot up from the bottom. I was used to seeing the typical flashes of fish in the 6” to 10” size. The typical size of wild Adirondack Brook Trout in these small streams. It shot up, it smashed the streamer, it rolled to turn back for the bottom, and I hollered. “BAM!” My 3wt Beaver Meadow doubled over and then almost immediately went slack. “AHHHHHHHHH!” A missed hook set.

I knew the odds of a second strike were slim, so I wasted no time. I lifted the line from the water and as the rod loaded up on the first back cast I shot the streamer straight back to the white water and repeated the strip. This time the fish shot up again and gave an encore performance of it’s first, only this time it refused to touch the streamer, missing it by what looked like an inch. The dreaded Trout “refusal.” I yanked the line from the water and shot the streamer upstream a third time, stripping line frantically, my heart pounding and my hope fading, and the third time the fish rose again from the bottom, but didn’t come nearly as close to the streamer before returning to the dark and out of site. A fourth cast was what I knew it would be. Pointless. As was the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, and however many more casts and countless strips of the line I made in desperation.

I don’t catch big fish. It’s never bothered me because I have never chased big fish, I have always been happy just to have a cork handle in my hand and the bend of the rod during the cast. The size of the fish has never been a deal breaker for me. As a matter of fact, I told someone once that I hoped I would never catch a truly large fish. That I hoped the once in a life time catches went to other anglers, because honestly, catching a truly great fish might ruin all the other average fish from that point forward.

I enjoyed the rest of the day. I did. I was very happy with the Brookies I caught afterwards. I was. But I keep seeing that fish come up from the bottom of a channel I didn’t grasp was even there until it was too late. Easily a one pound fish in a stream where it’s brothers and sisters all measure in ounces. I know I’ll revisit this stream again. I will. But I’ll have to fight the urge to run ahead upstream, to skip all the great spots downstream, to rush and get to the spot. That hidden channel. I’m afraid that this fish may have ruined the entire stretch of stream for me and I didn’t even catch it! It may have been ruined, not by my biggest catch on the stream…But by the one that got away.