The Dog Days of Summer by Mark Usyk

The dog days of summer are here. It’s so dry, the creek has receded it’s width to that of a small stream in several places, dry and white round stones exposed to the sun where there should be liquid flowing and hydrating the earth. Insects seem to float on a warm breeze more like the burning embers of a fire, riding the wind where it may take them, rather than fluttering and buzzing about working to get somewhere. I can hear them sizzle as they pass in the baking UV rays cooking us all. The water is cooler than the air no doubt, but as water temps of the creek go, it’s very warm where it hardly moves, and only somewhat cooler where it gathers in deeper pools where I can see the fish lazily resting on the bottom seeking cool comfort and shelter from the warmth created by the sun light. As I lift my sun glasses to wipe sweat from my brows, I figure it’s so hot, even the fish are sweating.

Nothing moves except the tiny bait fish, evidence enough for me that the larger fish are just not feeling it. The tiny minnows are left to feel safe and free in the wide open. Just as I lose my appetite for anything other than an ice cold beer on a scorching day in the sun, so have the Smallmouths gathered in the deepest pools left on this stretch of the Oriskany Creek. I think of the cold Utica Club cans in my fridge in the house. Besides a Smallmouth of about six inches and a Fall Fish of about four, I’ve caught nothing today except for the sweat rolling into my eyes. On any other day I would have most likely, trying to reach a better casting position or merely convincing myself that I could make it to the far bank, fallen in by now. I do it quite frequently. Had I been born a Native American, the name given to me surely would have been “Falls in River.” I wore my waders today, adding to the overheating issues, not wanting to bust through the dense undergrowth on my way to the water in shorts simply for a fear of the horrible ticks this season. I realize that even if I were to throw myself down into the creek at this point on purpose that there isn’t enough of the warm water to make it above my waders and make any bit of a difference. What water that did get into them would most likely do nothing more than end up cooking me like bugs bunny in the kettle full of carrots and celery of the cartoons of my childhood, my waders serving as the pot holding the boiling water and the rabbit. I look to a small bird perched on a tree limb panting like a feathered dog in the heat… “What’s up Doc?”

As I make the decision to return home and decide I should just strip down to my skivvies and collapse on the cool slate floor just inside my door way among the pile of work boots, my wife’s shoes, and the kids baseball cleats and sneakers I notice a couple miniscule splashes as I see tiny silver bodies break the surface in what looks to me a panic run. Without thinking, the glass fly rod sways and the sinking line and tiny gray streamer shoot out and land within inches of the activity still going on. Before I even have time to finish the thought that I have come a long way as far as my casting accuracy goes in the past year I feel the slightest tug and then nothing. As I strip line twice more the tiny tug hits again and as I lift my leader from the water the corners of my dry and dehydrated lips curl up into a smile. I grasp the minnow that is only half again as long as the streamer that it finds itself attached to by its lip and as I drop it back into the water I again return to what the cool slate floor will feel like on my baking skin. It may rain in a couple days, then again, it may continue like this for another week. To stay home because I know I’m not going to catch anything is to except defeat. I will accept a skunk before I except defeat in the confines of walls. They can only last so long, before the bite is back on, just like the iced over days of winter. The dog days of summer.