The Fish Know Better Than You by Mark Usyk

Posted: Nov 15 2015

I stood in the river, the current passing around my knees and continuing on it’s path downstream as if I mattered not to it. It may have been named a river, but it couldn’t have been more than thirty feet wide and for it’s deepest part here in this stretch it may have reached four feet in a skinny channel along the far side at most. I thought to myself that it was more of a creek or a large stream than a river, but then who was I to question such things. I should probably leave such great debates to the more educated and knowledgeable on such subjects and be happy enough to say I stood in a river.  I made my cast just above a submerged tree trunk up stream and as the streamer sunk and drifted past I gave the rod tip a little waggle and added a little life to the mixture of feathers, thread, and rabbit fur tied to the size 12 hook, in hopes that I would fool the fish hiding in the shadows and slack current under the stump, that my imitation of life was indeed swimming past it in distress, an easy target and free meal. The streamer drifted unmolested past the stump I was so sure held an ambush of bronze and black Smallmouth fury, and downstream where it swung across the current. I stripped line back to me, my eyes scanning upstream and down, looking for another spot in which I would feel sure there would be a fish lying in wait. Two hours later, as I broke down my rod at the truck and worked out of my waders I knew that a catch less day was still a day spent surrounded by nature, that even in failure there are lessons to be learned.

That’s what I just wrote, because, I’m a writer. My job is to convey what I experienced at a given moment, on a given day, under the circumstances presented to me. Were you to meet me at my truck as I was falling over backwards struggling out of my waders and ask me how the fishing was, I would have simply said “I got skunked, but it’s still good to be out.”

Somehow writing fishing stories has given some people the misconception that I’m a good fly fisherman, so let’s get something straight right now…I’m not that great at it. I’d describe myself as “marginal” at best. Just because I’m fairly confident at painting a picture with words of a fishing outing with enough details to make you think you can see it in your mind in no way translates to me be a great fly fisherman. I get hung up in trees. I get hung up in bushes. If neither is behind me I’ve been known to snag a fly on a freshly mowed lawn to my back, true story, more than once. I catch fish, yes, but that doesn’t mean I always understand why I catch them. Sometimes I catch them as I’ve just given up the idea that it’s going to happen on that day and a fish hangs itself on my hook as I’m pulling it from the surface of the water to reel it up and go home. Somedays it’s better to be lucky than good.

As far as Trout go I can find Brook Trout in the small Adirondack streams I so love to explore with a fly rod simply because it’s a small stream. You don’t have to know how to read the water, it’s all right there in twenty to thirty feet from you. There’s only so many places the fish can be in such a small piece of water. But put me on a big river with warry Browns and most likely I’ll bet against myself, I’m not surprised when the old skunk follows me up and down river all day, and at the end I comfort myself by saying “It was still nice to be out.” And bugs. I don’t know the bugs, don’t know when the hatches are supposed to come off, and fish blindly with nymphs and dries alike on many days simply because they’re Trout, and I just haven’t figured them out.

Bass I can claim to know a little better since I’ve been a Bass fisherman most of my life, but there are still many days that I just don’t catch any. Or, on some days that I do well, I only do well for me. I may have caught quite a few, but lots of anglers wouldn’t admit to catching a Bass less than ten inches, let alone fifteen Bass less than ten inches. And don’t get me started on my goal of Northern Pike on the fly. I’ve been chasing that idea around since last fall and have yet to get my hands slimy releasing my holy grail fish. It may as well be a unicorn or a mermaid at this point. I have however caught a Carp on the fly rod, and it was somewhat of a milestone…I wasn’t aware that they made Carp in such small sizes, but I can assure you, I’ve seen them come in under twelve inches. Keep trying, you too may be able to say you did it someday too.

My point isn’t that I stink at it. In all honesty I think I’m a great fly fisherman, but not for the reasons that most anyone else claims greatness or is labeled it by others. No, I think I’m a great fly fisherman simply because I love it so much, and for all the things I don’t know about the fish, about the rivers, and about the bugs, I’ve come to know fly fishing intimately. The proof is in my writing. I never wrote before picking up a fly rod. Not true. I tried it when I was doing the whole “I’m a custom car builder” thing and there was no feeling in it. I got nothing from it, so I tried it two or three times and forgot about it. So it’s not that I’m a good fly fisherman, it’s that I’m a decent writer about my fly fishing experiences. And it’s not that I’m a good writer, it’s that the passion and peace I feel inside from my time on the water with a fly rod in hand and a line looping over my shoulder comes out in what I write. You don’t have to be the best at something, you don’t even have to be good at it. It if makes you feel good, if your life is better because of it, then just do it, to hell with what others think and how others perceive you. Just don’t perceive anything more than that I really, really, really love fly fishing and everything that goes with it. I’m not much good at it, but for all the right reasons I may be pretty great. You could be too. Simply fish.

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