Trout Bum Misadventures by Mark Usyk



I met JP at his place right after the midnight shift on a Wednesday morning. There were only a couple weeks left and we only had a half a day free before we each had to meet work and family obligations, so we were heading for a place JP had found on the maps, not far away, a river we’d both fished numerous times, but never in the area he pointed to on the GPS screen in the Jeep’s dash. The idea, one only a couple Trout Bums could come up with was to use half a day near the end of this Trout season to scout out water to fish next season. Scouting I decided was a safe way of saying “We’ll take our fly rods and check this place out, but if we don’t catch anything it’s OK…We’re just scouting.” Fishermen aren’t just liars, we unconsciously invent excuses ahead of time for numerous scenarios. We’re just that good.

We parked in a small clearing on the side of a dirt road with a state camp site tag nailed to a tree about thirty minutes from home. As we pulled in I was thinking I didn’t know I could find Brookies this close to home. This could be a cool spot. The GPS map showed the river only about a thousand yards from the road so we threw on rain jackets and slung rod tubes over our shoulders. It hadn’t rained all summer, and now the weather man and the radar both agreed that the wet stuff was finally on the way. We needed the rain badly. Not only were all the water levels down dangerously low, but as of the day before there was actually a wild fire burning in the Adirondacks! Not thousands of acres like you see out west, but about a hundred, still something simply unheard of in this corner of the country. We expected to find a river that was really low from the drought and wanted nothing more than the waters to get back up to their normal levels. We just didn’t want it to happen during our half of the day. JP pulled out some nifty satellite compass looking thing from his pocket, pushed a button, nodded, and assured me that it had just marked the spot where we stood at the Jeep and that later on our return from the river, should we need it, it would lead us right back. But it was only a thousand yards or so give or take. We probably wouldn’t need it. Into the woods we went, in search of wild Trout.

A GPS map that shows you grey lines that are roads, blue lines that are rivers, and fills the rest in with green that is everything else that’s not a road or a river shows you just enough to give you ideas. The ideas being “If I stand here, point that direction and walk, I’ll run right into what I’m aiming at.” What such a simple map doesn’t show you is everything else. Elevation changes. Ridges. Gullies. Slopes. And Hills. But all you have to do is walk straight across all these things. Just walk straight, and you’ll end up right where you want to be. Unless you come upon a dry stream bed that doesn’t show up on such a simple map and throw out the whole walking straight thing because you figure “Well this obviously drains into the river and it’s a lot easier to follow than traipsing through the dense undergrowth, climbing ridges and hills and across gullies. Let’s just follow this. It seemed like a good plan at the time.

After leaving an arrow on the ground formed from a couple River birch branches to show us on our way back where to leave the streambed, we made our way along a grassy, waterless drainage, hopping over moss covered rotting tree trunks and dry cobble stones that sat there like turtles in their shells, the drought giving us an easy path to follow. The problem with easy is it also means faster. And the problem with faster is when you’re moving in the wrong direction fast, you get farther off course in a shorter amount of time. After getting the feeling that we were now moving away from the river and that we should have found it already and contemplating back tracking, I decided I could hear the sound of water moving over rocks. In a few more yards the streambed we were in intersected with another that traveled to our left and downhill at a much more aggressive grade toward the sound of the water.

At the river we found what we had expected. What normally would have been about forty feet of water was about twenty feet of shallow water and twenty feet of dry riverbed half of which was sun bleached cobble stones and the other half tall grass, both of which should have been under water. There was however a change to a slow pool that spanned almost the whole width downstream about a hundred yards so we made our way to it, slipping and stumbling our way across the damp and shaded round rocks and boulders of the sadly low flowing river.  At the pool we strung up our rods. JP with his short Beaver Meadow small stream rod tied on a dry fly. Myself, being a horrible dry fly fisherman, tied on a small gray and white streamer and made my way out onto a large boulder above the head of the pool with the glass rod JP had built and given to me to test and put through the ringer months ago. On my second cast stripping back across the pool I got the telltale rapid fire hit of a small Brookie. As I lifted the rod tip I turned to JP and smiled. “They’re here.”  Only to have the streamer pop from the water’s surface and land near his feet. After a few more casts and nothing I gave up the spot to JP and he drifted the dry fly a few times and came up empty.

Content that we’d found the river and at least gotten a bite, and knowing in the backs of our minds that we had a time limit and the way in hadn’t been as quick and straight forward as we planned we broke down our rods and started back up the river side, slipping and fumbling clumsily about the rocks once again. JP muttered something about walking on greased bowling balls and I chuckled. Back up the streambed we once again made our way over rotting trees and moss covered rocks. We could have left this one and traveled back up the first to find the River Birch arrow, but at some point most likely distracted by working around a downed tree or something we must have passed it and kept going. We stopped. It wasn’t raining yet, so instead of keeping the rain off us from the outside, we were sweating and getting soaked inside the jackets. But mosquitos hovered so we kept them on. JP pulled out the nifty satellite deal and handed it to me since I was in front. I held it in my hand and watched the digital arrow that was supposed to point to the Jeep slowly rotate back and forth, searching, but not finding. I remembered the satellite radio stations and how they would cut in and out in the trucks when I worked on the road. Mountains, hills, buildings and bridges, even heavy tree cover would block the satellites and a good song would suddenly go dead. The arrow continued to point back and forth unable to make a decision for us. “Yea, this isn’t going to work out to well for us.” I handed it back. Next up cell phones emerged from pockets and I smiled to find that we actually had great coverage. For a few seconds I was proud to have been a cell tower climber for a few years, knowing it was guys like me and my buddies still up there on the towers that were the reason at this very moment we could pull up a map in the palm of our hand that would show us our location and get us back to the road.

To make a long story short, Once we wandered for about another twenty minutes we finally figured out which direction we needed to move in, but our confidence didn’t fully return until we saw the break in the trees ahead that meant we’d made it back to the dirt road. By the time we were peeling off rain jackets soaked in sweat back at the Jeep we figured out that we’d come back out to the road a half mile away from the parking spot. But looking at the map now, we hiked at least double the distance a combination of north and east. As rubber mud treads contacted black top five minutes later rain drops began to smack the windshield. JP turned and asked with a sarcastic grin “So, want to do that again?” There may have been some disappointment buried in the question, the sting of no fish and of getting just a little lost in the woods. “I think it’s this way, what do you think?” The question had been repeated by us both several times out there. I replayed it over in my head. Did I want to do it again? Does a dog actually learn from getting sprayed by a skunk or does he get sprayed again because he’s a dog and dogs chase skunks? Of course I’d do it again.