Fishing Trucks by Mark Usyk

The truck floats down the road 5 miles an hour above the speed limit. “Floats” is the word I choose to describe the ride only because it feels more like a boat on the water than a vehicle on smooth blacktop. The shocks are shot, they may as well not even be bolted to the undercarriage at this point they’re so worthless. I sweep through a corner, the road dips, and the boat feels as if it may roll too far and threaten to capsize on the next wave. Two hands on the wheel. I’m fine with it. The check engine light’s lit up, telling me something stupid is wrong, like some emissions sensor, the catalytic converter, the exhaust leak I know is there in the rusty old pipe under the passenger floor boards, or the fuel filler neck for the gas tank has come loose again. The truck runs fine. I drive on. Inside the cab Iron Maiden wails through old cracking speakers, drowning out the creaks and metallic sounds of loose stuff underneath, the vibrations in the dash that a swift smack of a fist from above will no longer quiet. The only thing the smack of my hand fixes now is the electric window switches when the driver’s door window decides it won’t move anymore and when the left side of the dash gauges go dark at night. Either one of these problems can still be remedied with a clenched fist and a well-placed blow of flesh on plastic. I’m an excellent mechanic.

This truck has logged some serious miles getting me to fish, and it’s always stocked and ready for the next adventure. Yea, it may be my daily ride to work, but this is my fishing truck.

It’s been a faithful friend for ten years now, always getting me to the fish, or at least to the trail head, never leaving me standing by it on the side of the road cussing it out like so many other 4x4s in my past. But there comes a time where you begin to look at old friends and wonder “How did we get to this point?” That point came to me a few months ago when I pulled into my wife’s parking lot to bring her dinner one afternoon. She goes in midafternoon to work and leaves later than many which means she ends up parking way out in the boonies. It was a simple question she asked after she walked up to the truck and I lowered the driver’s side window, passing her the white Styrofoam container and giving her a kiss. “Can you give me a ride out to the far corner of the parking lot so I can move my car closer?” My answer brought on that point of which I’m discussing. “Sure” And then with a glance to the passenger seat mounded with waders, a net, a couple rod tubes and fly boxes…”But you’ll have to sit in the back.” Her grin was a mixture of “I know” and “We’ve spoken about the condition of your truck before.” I quickly followed it up with “I love you” accented by a Cheshire Cat smile. Then she proceeded to push the contents filling the back seat over to make room. More fly rod tubes. An extra pair of boots. A small stack of fly fishing magazines tipping and spreading out like a dropped set of playing cards. More fly boxes, tippet packages and a chest pack. It was an awkward 60 second ride.

The responsible adult somewhere inside me would tell you that my truck is first and foremost my means of getting to work, of earning a paycheck. Its other roll of picking the boys up at school could be viewed as equally important. But that would all be true if only you could find that responsible adult somewhere inside. No, if you asked and I was being honest, the trucks job is to carry me on fishing excursions near and far and it should run well enough to also get me to work in-between said fishing excursions. The proof would be if the truck was to puke all of its contents into my driveway if I were ever to clean it out.

Under the seats you’d find needle nose pliers long MIA, replaced time and time again on the way out of town to chase scales. A hatchet. Maps with water stains, ink blurred by dampness and permanent wrinkles from rainy days of fishing trips past. A plastic divided tackle box the size of which might fit in a cargo pocket peaks out from underneath the passenger seat. Filled with Meps Spinners, it remains from my last days of the spinning rod. I haven’t cast one in at least 4 years, yet the box remains. Removing it would somehow feel like amputating my little toe for no reason. It does me no good, yet it’s a part of me, and to lose it would seem a tragedy for some strange reason. To question these things too deeply is to peer into one’s own sole. The tackle box stays. Magazines originally were tucked into the pockets on the backs of the front seats with maps, a couple odd assorted wrenches and tools settled in the bottom clanking now and then as the truck slams pot holes and strays to rough road shoulders. But the literature now slides across the back seat, sometimes coming to rest on the floor. I swap them out now and then with the one in my tool box at work. Variety is the spice of life they say. The truck is the typical means of conveyance for many a diehard angler, but there’s one thing that’s drawn a couple odd looks once it was realized what exactly it was that was going on in the bed.

I mounted a large steel job site storage box in the bed, originally meant to be the world’s biggest fly box ever. In an upper shelf could be found foam panels cut to fit, stocked up with flies for every condition and location. From huge streamers to tiny dries and everything in between. The Boy Scout moto of “Be Prepared” never went unfulfilled. In the bottom of the box, securely locked away and always there and ready were Fly Rod tubes. A 3wt, a 5wt, and a 7wt always on board. A pair of waders appropriate for the season, an extra pair of boots and socks, a couple nets, a wading stick, a back pack stocked with camping and survival necessities, a cast iron skillet and some dry kindling and firewood. But once the cooler weather moved in the box transformed.

I had a friend bringing me buck tails all hunting season. This past year I decided to collect as many as possible to custom dye for tying. Cleaning and drying them in the garage, the smell of which was not going to fly with my wife, didn’t seem like an idea that was going to work out well in the short game. She’d get over it sooner or later, but in the short game, well, you know how it goes. “Happy wife, happy life.” I needed a place to clean the tails and dry them. The gear was removed from the box, the tails were cleaned and treated on the tailgate in the driveway, and the shelf in the box became the drying rack. A mobile drying rack. It raised a couple questioning looks, and a couple guys thought it was just cool as hell. My red neck points sky rocketed that day. I haven’t decided if that’s good or bad.

But all good things must come to an end. I found myself transferring the license plates of the old Toyota and on to an even older Jeep this past week. The difference is the Jeep was taken care of while the Toyota, well, let’s just say I got my money out of it. It still runs like a sewing machine, if sewing machines had rotten bumpers, rusty shocks, and as my wife puts it, “Smelled like fish inside.”

I swear I’m going to keep the Jeep clean. I won’t fill up the interior with piles of smelly fishing gear. I won’t keep three-hundred pounds of stuff I really don’t and won’t ever need inside, and I’ll keep an air freshener hanging from the mirror. One of those little pine tree deals. All I need on board is my cassette tapes and sunglasses. The rest can stay in the house until needed. But spring is on its way, the creek could clean up to fishable levels any day now, so I should probably stick the 5wt and a small box of nymphs and streamers in the back for that stop on the drive home in the mornings. And I should have a net in there too. And I should probably put needle nose pliers in the glove box for the times I forget them, just to be safe. Extra nippers too. And really, the space behind the back seat in a Cherokee is so big, there’s plenty of room for a plastic tote to keep my waders and boots in. Yea, that’s all I need. I shouldn’t need anything more except… Listen, I promise you’ll never see animal parts hanging and drying inside the back windows. Promise.