Anglers Anonymous by Mark Usyk
Hi. My name is Mark, and I’m a fly fishing addict. Um, well, I guess it all started innocently enough. I was just a kid, I guess you could blame my Dad or my Grandfather, which ever one of them put the cork handle in my hand first. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. It was a green and white casting reel, a Zebco, on a white rod with green thread wraps. And that’s where it all started. I didn’t think anything of it back then. Everyone was doing it. A split shot, a juicy worm, and a smooth red and white plastic bobber was all it took, it was so easy. Heck, Grandpa was doing it. He helped me untangle lines and even told me where to cast. I guess him and my Dad, they were the first enablers. But like I said…Everyone was doing it.
As I got older I took it a little further than Grandpa. He had an old metal tackle box. Had to be from the 1950’s easy, and it had all kinds of good stuff in it. Hooks, spoons, spinners, even an old wooden lure. But he never used any of it. He’d carry it to the water’s edge with him, but he never used any of it. Just the worms. I guess he knew where it would lead and had the self-control that I didn’t. I actually have that one old wooden lure on my wall in my fishing room today. But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself. Anyways, the worms and the bobbers, they were the gateway to the other stuff. I found myself in high school skipping school now and then, faking a stomach ache, and when my Mother would leave I’d haul ass over to the pond next door. Just a punk kid with long hair, a jean jacket, and a bag of soft plastic worms tucked into my back pocket. It was like 12 feet deep in one end and had Bluegills, Bullheads, and Large Mouths in it. I’d haul ass over there and get some casts in. By high school I’d moved on to rubber worms and was flirting with the hard stuff… Crank baits. I’d stalk suspended Bass just off the weed beds and man oh man what a rush I got when they smashed a weedless frog. I couldn’t get enough. I was spending all my time over there, and the thing was, I was getting my younger brothers into it too. All three of us would circle that pond all day long. I guess since I was doing it, being the big brother, it set an example for them. I remember the first time my younger brother Luke got stabbed by a decent Bullhead. I didn’t even feel bad. I just kept fishing.
You’d think that leaving home after high school and joining the Air Force would’ve straightened me out a little, but it had too much of a hold on me by then. During basic I remember lying on the top bunk a few nights in and staring at the drop ceiling tiles. I saw fish shapes. I saw the outline of the pond in them. I thought I was sweating in the Texas heat but it was really withdrawals. I’d quietly ask the other guys what they liked to fish for while we mopped the floor, anything to get a little fix. We ran past a retention pond every morning in formation and I got caught a couple times watching for fish jumping as I ran into the guy in front of me. Finally when I made it through basic and went to my tech school I found ways to get a little fix now and then. I forged an I.D. card which made it look like I had off base privileges, and I’d bought a little collapsible spinning rod at the BX that I could sneak out under my long dress blues coat. That, a can of corn, and this little pond in Wichita Falls Texas with tiny stocked Rainbows and I was flying high again. I snuck away to chase Catfish and Alligator Gar too there. Woke up on the shore of Lake Arrowhead covered in snow one morning I was after a fix so bad. It continued during my time in the Florida Panhandle, once I was stationed there. Red Drum and Flounders off the jetties became my thing, and Large Mouths were everywhere there was fresh H2O.
For a little while after I got out I escaped it. I got into hotrods pretty heavy, but when I would have a really bad day I’d relapse. I’d find myself with a fishing rod in my hand when I should have been at work, or was supposed to be somewhere else. Bad days were the excuse I needed to fall back to it. It was a place to retreat. It made me feel good.
There was a lot in between then and now, I could probably write a book about it, but at some point I moved back up here, back home. You know, familiar places, familiar faces. You fall back into your old ways. Only now I’m in over my head. I’m into the heavy stuff. The serious stuff. Fly lines, leaders, disc drag reels, graphite, fiberglass, waders, fly boxes, nippers. I’m always looking to score something. Man, that stuff is all within reach almost 24-7 these days. I can’t break away from it, it’s got a hold of me good. I know because I don’t even try to quit. Cash never lasts long in my pocket. I mean holy crap. I’ve got an entire room on the back of our house just for it. I got rods on the walls I’ve never fished, even reels. I’ve got more feathers and dead animal hides in drawers than the Museum of Natural History, and hooks too. Oh man do I have hooks. I tie flies all the time if I can’t get to the water. Flies I’ll never fish. I just tie’em and stick’em in some foam or in the stack of boxes I have full of them. I’ve even let my two boys try it. The 5yr old has his own buck tails for cry’n out loud! What am I doing!? And road kill…Once I started tying, I never looked at road kill the same again.
And there’s that old wooden lure that used to roll around in Grandpa’s old metal tackle box on a shelf with some other wooden lures I carved and a bunch of jigs I tied. It’s like a little reminder. Grandpa must have known to stick to just worms. He could control it, stick to just the worms. The other stuff was right there at his fingertips, but he just let it sit there. I didn’t find out until a couple years ago, but his Dad, my Great Grandfather…He fly fished. So I guess Grandpa had seen what happened first hand when you left the gateway drug, the worm, thinking you could control it as you moved up the ladder to other stuff.
I just came back from one of those stores that buys out truckloads of stuff from other closed stores and sells it cheap. You know? They have a little of everything? They have a big book section. I can’t stop myself from buying fishing books either. Especially fly fishing stuff. Yea, I bought a book on Trout fishing in the Catskills before I came here, and one on Salmon and Steelhead. And some on fly patterns. Just because they were in front of me. It’s not that I don’t know I have a problem. I know. But no one is trying to stop me, and it doesn’t really feel like a problem. I was told it’s not a problem until you admit it is to yourself. I bought a book on fly fishing for Tuna too. I’m 6 hours from salt water and I’ll probably never fly fish for Tuna. Ever. But I bought the book anyhow. Because it was in front of me. I live in Upstate New York and I bought a book on fly fishing for Tuna. My name is Mark… I’m a fly fishing addict.