The Adventures of Falls In River by Mark Usyk
When I was in about the first or second grade I had one of those plastic toy bow and arrow sets with the suction cup tips and a plastic knife in a vinyl sheath. I had a cheesy pair of moccasins too, and a flimsy rubber bladed tomahawk with a red feather that hung from the end. I always loved that stuff as a little kid. Indians had the coolest names. Standing Bear. Crazy Horse. Sitting Bull. Runs With Buffalo. Talks With Eagle. Dances With Wolves. OK, that last one came much later. I always wanted a cool Indian name. Today though, I know exactly what name I'd be given were I taken into a tribe on the Great Plains and observed for even just a day on any given fishing outing... "Falls In River."
The way I see it, if you’re not a little worried about how deep you're wading or not taking an unscheduled swim now and then, well then you're just not trying hard enough to get to the good spots where the best fish obviously are. I mean if they weren't there what would be the point of struggling to keep your balance in a good current that's pushing around you just below the top of your waders? I've taken quite a few dunking’s over the years, the only time I don't laugh about it as I stand dripping on the rocks is when it's cold out. That just takes the fun right out of it. But any other time you'll hear the splash, look back to where I was a second ago, then see me reappear most likely chuckling about it, ready to make my next cast. I think it's funny when someone, 9 out of 10 times me, falls in. There's a certain amount of comic relief to it that can't be equaled, not even by you and your best fishing buddy passing the time by trash talking each other's mothers. Someone falling in is just in a class of its own. So here for your approval are my favorite tails of the adventures of Indian Brave "Falls In River."
Number 1. I was fishing The Salmon River in Pulaski one summer for Smallmouth Bass and Trout when I made the decision that I needed to get to the other side to hit a small pocket behind a large boulder. The only thing was the fast current that pushed just above my knees was flowing over slick, flat rock that nature had been polishing to a high sheen since God said "Let there be water" just so it could wash me down river in a moment of poor judgment chasing small fish. The current was strong enough that I was a little apprehensive about taking my feet off the bottom, so I was sliding my converse sneakers along slowly like a little kid trying to stand on ice skates for the first time. By the time I decided I'd used poor judgement I was in the middle of the river and thought maybe I should go back. But I was close enough that I could reach the pocket with a cast, so I made one of the best casts I've ever made, hit the target like a winning bulls eye on a dart board, and proceed to hook a fish.
About the same time the fish left the pocket water and blasted into the fast current to use it against me my feet started sliding downstream, ever so slowly. I knew I was sliding, I knew I needed to pivot gracefully to face the fish that was now behind me, and I knew I was going down. I was on my ass, the fishing rod held high like a drunk trying to save his beer, both my feet and my left hand scrambling to find a hold, anything, a crack maybe or a rock to stop me. By the time I was in slower water not even my hat was dry, but the fish was still on the line. When it was all said and done a ten inch Smallmouth had gotten the better of me. I'm sure he swam back to his neighborhood and bragged to his buddies. They probably all bought him drinks.
Number 2. My father and I fished the Trout Power Tournament and Creel Study on the West Canada Creek the first year that JP founded it. A good cause, studying the fish and the river to try and hash out what the crazy fluctuating damn discharges mean to the Trout. It was an excuse for my Father and me to spend a weekend fishing together in peace. The first day, I hadn't caught a thing. Note of interest here, a tournament is not the day you should decide to learn to fly fish. You should probably learn beforehand. Anyway, I hadn't caught a thing. I'm making my last frustrated casts to rising fish that I can clearly see, but I keep ripping the fly out of their mouths before they actually have it. I make the decision that I quit. Now, "I quit" and "Just one more cast" can sound a lot alike, so like I said, I quit. I make my sixth or seventh cast after I've quit, miss one more fish and in the same instant that I mutter "screw it" I try to do an about face to walk to the bank. My right wading boot may or may not have caught it's toe on the back of my left boot, but regardless of the unimportant details I contorted my body attempting to stumble my way out of the dive and ended up sitting on my butt on the river bottom in a spot that was just deep enough to poor cold water in over the top of my waders. When I looked over my shoulder at the bank there was Eric Dresser, professional wild life photographer, leaning on his tripod, trying not to laugh as a couple other anglers getting into a truck were clearly amused.
Number 2 1/2. My waders are turned inside out and hung from a tree at the camp site that night, but the next day they're still wet. No problem, my Father has a second set of waders I can use for the day. I struggle into them at the river side, and for the next half hour I get exactly one tug, and nothing else. We're fishing a long, slow run. I decide the water churning off below the rocks that form the tail out look like a good place to try, so wading along the sandy bottom in water about eight inches below the top of the second pair of waders I'm slowly feeling my way there. About twenty feet from the tail out the bottom magically disappears. I mean it's just gone. I go straight down, over my head, and I never touch the bottom. I get my head back above water and find that it's extremely hard to tread water let alone swim upstream in rubber booted waders as I try to get back to the last place my feet knew bottom. What I should have done was just treaded water and floated with the current the less than twenty feet to the rocks at the tail out but instead I swim against the current, in heavy waders even more cumbersome now filled with water, with one arm raised above me holding the fly rod. As my feet finally found the bottom and my head gained about a foot above the water I noticed my Father watching from upstream, a mixed look of concern and disbelief while the water in the second pair of waders squished and sloshed as I made my way to dry earth. Again.
Number 3. While working on the road climbing cell towers I made it a habit to find some of the most beautiful places to fish and fall in that you could imagine. Exploring a fairly hard to get to stretch of the Saranac River in the Adirondacks my fellow climber and traveling fishing buddy Mike is moving on to the next pool upstream, he thinks I'm right behind him. But I take one more look at the hole we've just been casting to and decide "just one more cast might be all it takes" and turn around and make five more casts. Mike's now carefully picking his way across rocks in ankle deep water as I watch him stumble, slide, and recover nicely. Witnessing him shuffle his body weight clumsily over slippery rocks for the second time I ask him if he's afraid of the dark? He laughs and says no to which I reply "Good, because there's no way I'm carrying your big ass out of here if you break an ankle, so you'll have to stay out here all night while I go get help. Before he has even the inkling to come back with some type of short joke directed at my vertical challenges I trip, fall backwards, and end up sitting in the river up to my neck. Mike laughs, flips me the bird, and I sit and enjoy the cool water for a moment. It was summer anyhow. It was hot out.
Number 4. I'm fishing a dirty, polluted, trashed little creek that runs straight through urban Auburn NY. Another fishing location while working on the road. I know the creek like the back of my hand because we work on two towers in town constantly and it's a short walk from the hotel and right across the street from one of the towers. It's littered with broken glass, garbage, shopping carts, and all manner of trash, but it's loaded with little Smallmouths and pan fish. It can be a blast. I know where not to try to get to, I even know what rocks below the dam you can't jump to because they move. But on this day I jump to one anyways. I probably looked like a friendless kid playing a lonely game of twister to the people walking across the top of the dam as I went face first, threw my fishing rod, and caught myself arms outstretched for rocks, half in and half out of the nasty creek. Literally, the left half of my jeans and t-shirt were soaked, my entire right half was dry. Only more humiliating than the initial show for the onlookers on the dam was the walk back to the hotel through town. A fishing rod in my right hand, the entire left side of my clothing drenched two shades darker than the right. And every other step I made announced by the squish of a water logged boot.
Number 5. And finally, out of all my favorite stories of taking unexpected baths, the one I always remember most fondly, and one to take the attention off of me at the end. We were in high school, a couple long hair punks with AC/DC and Megadeth t-shirts. Me and Joe. Trespassing, exploring a pond with a couple spinning rods rigged up with rubber worms, and we were just about out of Marlboros. We weren't chain smoking them as much as keeping one lit and puffing nonstop as we tried pointlessly to ward off the vicious Deer Flies that were swooping in and flying away with chunks of our flesh. We'd found the inlet of the pond, a meandering stream cut through mud and tall grass fed by a waterfall and we were stalking the Bass that were cruising up and down the channel. It was about seven or eight feet wide and looked to be a good four feet deep, with undercut banks in the bends and all the hallmarks of a great hidden fishery. It was a jackpot find.
We came across the carcass of a nice buck that had washed down stream and become stuck on a submerged tree. The deer and the top of the tree trunk breaking the current, the top half of the hairless hide looked hard like a new baseball glove in the hot bright sun. Of course we wanted the antlers, but to reach it we needed to be on the other side. What we'd do with it if we could reach the rotting, buzzing, putrid carcass wasn't truly thought out. We just knew we could probably reach it from the other side.
We needed a running start so we flattened out all the tall grass and the cattails far enough to give us a good ten feet to get moving. The ground was spongy the closer you got to the bank, but we'd run right over it. Now, seven or eight feet would be a good jump for a kid in jeans and boots if he was on solid, dry ground, not to mention adding in soggy, spongy mud covered in long grass and cattail reeds. I was nice enough to let Joe go first. Like I said, seven feet on dry ground would be a challenge. Joe set his pole to the side, lined up, and ran. He didn't gather up much speed on the tuff terrain and on his last step before he pushed off his feet sunk, and stuck, right there in the mud inches from the water. I can still hear the squishing sound of his boots sinking in and the almost simultaneous sucking sound as they wrenched free. Joe went face first, a belly flop actually, right into the stream. He flailed as he realized he was only inches from the rotting carcass but whatever profanities he used I couldn't hear because I was laughing so loud, I had tears in my eyes.
If you don't fall in now and then, if you don't get a little wet from time to time, you're just not trying hard enough. I know, if I was a better, more proficient caster I wouldn't have to try to get as close to some of my targets possibly resulting in less blunders of the wet kind. But honestly, what fun would that be. A story about falling in the river is almost always met with more enthusiasm than a boring perfect cast story anyway. Take it from me. Out west, on the Great Plains, they call me "Falls In River."