The Fishing Hole by Mark Usyk

I’d been up this stretch of small Adirondack stream before. It’s the beginnings of one of the well-known rivers that flows from the largest park in the U.S. It makes its way out of the park and eventually empties into Lake Ontario., gaining volume and width along the way, the scenery changing many times over but always remaining rocky whether it be the river bottom or the banks it cuts through. I’ve fished it in so many places along its length that I feel I’ve fished the whole thing, but in reality I’ve fished less than .1 percent of the water. But it’s here, in its early youthful stages that I enjoy it the most. Here I can hop from rock to rock, boulder to boulder, casting to pocket water as I pick my way up stream and pluck out the small but vibrant wild Brook Trout that call it home. I’ve fished upstream from here, and I’ve fished downstream, but there’s still a stretch in between, a length that I’m not sure on its distance that I have yet to discover in its entirety. The best thing to do would be to put my pup tent on my back and park the truck for a couple days and see what I see until I connect with familiar water from one end or the other, but for now, with an unpredictable work schedule, a wife, and kids who seem to find a way to play baseball through all four seasons of the year, I have to be satisfied with pushing just a little further on each visit.

So it was on this last visit that once again, I pushed just a little farther upstream. It’s been a dry summer, and water levels are down everywhere. This makes traveling upstream on a rocky small stream that much easier, as there are more paths to choose, more dry rocks protruding from the water that I could use to cross from side to side. Even though water levels are down and the lakes feel like bath water, a small Adirondack stream like this one traveling in the shade of the trees before the fall comes and they shed their cover still keeps its cool temperatures. The Brook trout still live in the cool comforts of home, the higher volume or rocks breaking the current actually making their environment even more oxygen rich in many places. This is why the Adirondack Brook Trout is such a hardy fish. They thrive in the long and harsh conditions of the Adirondack winters and the warm dry summers alike.

I pushed upstream a little farther. There was a split, water poured over and through natural rocky impoundments on either side of a thin island of green pines and ground cover and emptied into shallow pools on either side. Out of each pool I brought a colorful and energetic Brookie to hand, before picking a side to continue up stream on. I stood back and thought in my head. “Choose your adventure.” I went left. After a couple casts to pockets and another nice fish of average size, it came into view.

“It” being the one phrase that has been used to describe fishing spots most likely since the dawn of time, since the first spear was launched from the hands of the first man to come up with the idea, used in stories and songs too numerous to count, to be used by young and old anglers alike. “It” referring to the proverbial “fishing hole”. The discovery of it stirred such emotions in me at that moment that I went from staring questionably as to if it was truly as it presented itself to next almost nearly falling in headfirst while hurrying upstream to get a closer look.

Indeed it was a great hole. On a stream where the current was considered to be deep if it reached your waist and where you could cross nearly anywhere by merely stepping from stone to stone, here were nine or ten boulders the size of small cars arranged in a circle, the stream above it either flowing off to its left and continuing on its typical path of scattered Trout mountain goat country, or, as if planned perfectly by some higher powers, being forced through an opening between two massive boulders separated by about three feet, where it churned into the hole, calmed down and flowed deeply enough so that I could only make out the shapes of a couple large rocks in the deep bottom and then was forced back out the bottom end where it continued its trip down a maze of more boulders and blown down trees on the other side of the thin green island. Even more amazingly was the placement of a shallow and mostly still pocket of water on its left flank, the very spot I had been directed to by my original choice to take the left side past the spilt downstream some fifty yards. You could fish this hole from anywhere you liked, but I had come to the best and most perfect spot. I could stay back, stay low, and cast to every inch of it.

I sent my small gray and white streamer flying to the water churning into the entrance and stripped through the small piece of white water. As it cleared the turbulence and entered the edge of the calmer flow, there was a flash of dark and pinkish belly as the water absolutely exploded. There was no tug, the fish had missed it completely. I kept stripping slowly hoping it would follow and hit again but nothing.

I cast again to the same spot, and once again in the exact same spot came the explosion, the slashing at the fly, and once again nothing on the hook, not even the chance at a hook set. I paused. Should I let the fish be or take the chance of giving it lock jaw and shutting down the entire hole with another cast to the same spot? The hope at the end of the cast got the better of me and I repeated the cast again. The streamer cleared the fast water, the fish launched, the line bumped, and once again I had nothing to show for it. What was this fish doing? He attacked my fly three times as if he wanted to kill it, like a mugger leaping from a dark alley but missing the purse altogether, and he tried it three times in a row! Could he possibly try it a forth or would the jig finally be up? There was only one way to find out.

I cast. The streamer smacked down at the edge of the churning and boiling water, I stripped twice. The flash of belly was there again, only this time it did not break the surface of the water. This time the line went tight, the 3wt bent and danced, and the fish fought to return to its ambush position as I fought to bring it to me as quickly as possible. I didn’t want it getting out into the hole and causing a commotion that would scare off any other possible takers, and I didn’t want to lose it. Surely if it got off this time, there would be no fifth chance. This was it.

The fish was less colorful than all the previous catches on my way upstream, but nearly twice their size. I smiled. I spoke to myself out loud. I spoke to the fish as I removed the hook. I thanked it for a game well played, and watched it regain its composure and its breath on the bottom of the slack water I stood in before it glided back into the hole and disappeared. Then I cast to another spot on the other side and the scenario played out almost the same once again with the second fish of about equal size. In a land of 7” fish, 10” is a virtual giant. And in a land void of human voices, the sounds of traffic, or the smell of anything besides the great pines and the fresh clean water, there is never a bad day. To find a “fishing hole” in such a place is truly a remarkable thing, the thing on which memories are made and legends of “the spot”, “the hole” that someone knows grow from. I don’t keep secret fishing spots. I’m just not that kind of guy. I’ll tell you where I fish, have at it, just carry your trash out and be nice to the things that swim there. Well, except this place. Ask me where this place is. I didn’t tell you? Must not be any of your business! Go find your own darn hole! But I’ll give you a hint. If you haven’t found it yet…You need to go a little farther.