The Lucky Fishing Shirt by Mark Usyk
I’m not a superstitious person. I don’t care if a black cat crosses my path. As a matter of fact, I’ll keep moving to the left so it has to keep crossing my path just to prove the point. I don’t believe in the broken mirror thing. If you knew how many mirrors I shot in the old trash pile on the old farm behind my house as a kid, and then shot the broken pieces into smaller broken pieces, you’d see I’m serious about this whole anti superstition thing. Ladders? Yea, I’ll walk under a row of twenty of them, just line’em up. And I never knock on wood.
I’ve got this red t-shirt. Red, not a color that makes stalking fish in the clear small creek outback easy, but if I wear it out there, I still manage to catch fish. It’s a Godzilla t-shirt. “Godzilla. King of the Monsters.” He’s got a menacing grin as he bear hugs a skyscraper tearing it down and I had to have it when I found the t-shirt at the store. It was the only one on the shelf, and it happened to be my size in a sea of other shirts all 3 sizes too big for me, so I thought it was just a mere coincidence, something finally going my way. On our vacation a few weeks ago I was wearing the shirt while I was the only one off the campsite shore catching fish on Cranberry Lake, my wife even captured some of the most amazing fishing sun set shots ever. I started to wonder. The clear creek, I catch fish. No one else here catching fish but me? The shirt? Maybe there is something to the whole superstition thing after all. But two instances wasn’t enough to convince me.
In about 1989 I was a long haired head banger kid in ripped acid washed jeans on a secret family farm lake when I caught the biggest Largemouth Bass I ever had, and that Bass would hold the title for about 26 years. Just yesterday my father and I made the little over an hour drive south to the farm, for me it was now or never, do or die time. I hadn’t made it there once this year yet, and this is a place that you just don’t “not fish.” You get there at least once a year, and you fish. There is no arguing. You go. I almost wore a long sleeved sun shirt, but at the last minute the Godzilla shirt was like a red beacon in a row of black and white fishing themed attire hanging in the closet. I threw it on, tossed the other shirt on the floor, and backed out of the driveway, the Toyota wearing the canoe like one of those goofy paper hats the cooks wore in 1950’s diners.
Normally over the past couple years we would show up early in the morning and leave midafternoon while the fishing was slow. This time we got there about noon, and managed a couple Bass in the first ten minutes, just before the afternoon sun sent the fish to the locker room for half time. We’d missed the first half of the game, but I remarked to my father that I’d rather show up at half time with the chance to end the game with a good second half instead of playing the first half strong only to leave the game early not knowing how the second half ended. I refused to give up, keeping the fly line looping through the air most of the day, just staying in a rhythm if nothing else and enjoying a beautiful day on the sacred waters of my youth.
Then it happened. The sun started on its path towards the trees, and a sliver of shade began to appear and grow along the far side of the small lake. I looked at my father, pointed it out, and we paddled for different patches of shore line where the shade started to advance out across the water. I had been casting the glass 5wt with a small streamer and a sink tip, but looking at the shade and the water beginning to turn to glass, I set it to the side and picked up the 7wt with the frog popper and began hammering the weed bed that ran the entire shore all the way around the lake. It didn’t take long before it happened.
The popper slapped down like it had the ten or so times before this cast. I let it set motionless for a few seconds, and then three quick short strips threw water and advertised its presence. It sat motionless again. Just as I tensed up the muscles in my forearm for three more strips, the water opened up into a hole under the popper like the flushing of a toilet bowl and it disappeared. In this lake you have to be fast in the shallows because the fish will dive straight down and bury themselves in the thick weed beds every time, and then it’s a finesse game of working them back up and out, only for them to repeat the tactic over and over. I thought I had a normal sized 12 incher or so, stuck in the weeds as usual. Then something else happened. Instead of just a tight line leading straight into the weeds motionless, the line began to vibrate like the cable of a crane lifting its maximum load, singing in pain, ready to stretch beyond its capabilities, and the fish actually started pulling line off my real as it muscled its way through the weed bed, like some huge Grizzly bear charging through the brush unseen but making one hell of a racket on its path of destruction.
I didn’t want to yell to my Father who was now half way across the lake that I had a big one, because there was still the chance in my head that it wasn’t, but I couldn’t say nothing. So I hooted and hollered like a cow boy at the rodeo once and then pulled hard with a worried grin trying to remember if I had 6lb or 10lb tippet attached to the popper. The 7wt was doubled over, like the St.Louis Arch, and the fish would make a run, half pull line and half try to pull the rod out of my hands as the canoe followed the path the fish brutishly swam as it bullied its way through the dark weeds on the bottom. In the end I had a Largemouth that eclipsed my biggest ever, from this very same lake, within about 40yrds of the spot where the former had come from. I don’t carry a measuring tape or a scale. I carry a camera and then memories for the rest of my times here in this life. It was a good fish. I could stick my whole fist in its mouth.
And then there was the fact that I was wearing my Godzilla t-shirt. I guess I’ll accept one superstition. This is my lucky fishing shirt. There are somethings you don’t question. What rod should I use today? What fly? Streamer or dry fly? Wade or bank fish? Canoe or kayak? Call a fishing buddy or go alone? These are all acceptable questions. What shirt should I wear? This is no longer even a question. I will either have to slow down my fishing, space out the days so that I have time to do laundry, or buy 6 more Godzilla t-shirts so that I have one for each day so that I can still fish all the time. This is my lucky fishing t-shirt…Somethings you just don’t question.