...And He's Not The Same Man by Mark Usyk
Last year I fished this area and drove away unimpressed. Were there brook trout? Sure, but it was a lot of work, a lot of work, to catch just a handful of them over a couple days. They might have been there, but there either weren’t many, or the fishing just wasn’t that good. Either way, the fishing just wasn’t that good. I checked the entire wilderness area off my list as a destination for good Adirondack brookie fishing.
So here I was again, a year and a month later on a stream that thirteen months ago I’d walked away from unenthusiastic-ally. But one year is never the same as any other, and there’s a big difference between May and June. And as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus put it one day a long, long time ago “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” This definitely wasn’t the same river that it seemed to be last year, and I’d have to agree with the old dead thinker… I wasn’t the same man.
The water was still crystal clear, but the air was warmer. I’d slept on top of my sleeping bag the night before instead of in it like the previous year. After eating a pot of Ramen Noodles on a river bank watching a gorgeous sunset landing directly upriver, I crawled into my pup tent and remembered last year being able to see my breath at night. Tonight the only clouds in front of my face were the black flies and mosquitoes.
Now I hopped from rock to rock, my felt soles giving me the confidence to take longer leaps than I should’ve been taking, moving upstream on what was listed as a creek on the map. Creek, stream, whatever you considered it, I was bound to make a mistake in a step sooner or later the way I was arrogantly dismissing any idea of caution with each leap. I was in too good of a mood. I was on day three of a nine day fishing road trip, and day one of three days of the Adirondack portion. And I was catching brook trout every fifth or sixth cast. Life was good.
The stream was what I referred to as mountain goat fishing. It was small, and dropped in elevation sharply and constantly through a continuous boulder garden. The pools were so small that I figured most people drove right past it never thinking even once that it would be worth fishing. Last year I thought it was pretty, but even I hadn’t thought it was worth it. But thirteen months later? It was on fire! It’s common knowledge to anyone who fishes the Adirondacks that when the black flies are at their worst, the fishing is at its best, and this year had been one of the worst black fly seasons I’d ever experienced. So it only made sense.
If I could sneak up on a pool, even if it was only the size of a bathtub, a small bathtub, there’d be a brook trout in it that would dart out from under a boulder and pounce on the size twelve streamer I was fishing. I never saw any minnows in the stream, but the brookies didn’t seem to care. In pools of moving water that small, they didn’t have much time to inspect and consider. When a meal presented itself they only had enough time to rush out and eat. I had the advantage over a creature with a brain the size of a Tic Tac and it made me feel brilliant. Until that one rock put me in my place.
There was a pool I wanted to stealthily move up to and cast from a very specific position, but it was far enough upstream that I didn’t have to move with any secrecy yet. And because I was excited to make a cast to it, I took my next step with little care and much haste. Bad move dummy. I was on one boulder and made a step to another that was just out of reach of a normal step. So as my right foot reached out towards its next landing point on the top of a wet moss covered rock, I made a small leap off the current rock with my left foot. Just a little push off. A tiny hop. I bad idea.
My right foot, the one with the felt sole and not cleats landed on the flat angled top of the next rock and continued its momentum forward and up across the rock. It only took a second to happen, but I felt like I was hovering horizontally in midair, starring up at the trees above me and listening to the water below me rushing between the two giant marbles I was about to crash down on for a good five minutes. I’m pretty sure it happened in slow motion, like those fight scenes in The Matrix. I had enough sense to extend my arm straight up and hold my delicate fly rod out above me to keep it from the crash site, I’ve saved a few beers in my days and at this point it’s all in the reflexes, muscle memory of you will. But when I came down it wasn’t my head cracking on a rock that pulled out the grunt of pain, it was my Streamwalker Net tucked in my wading belt indenting itself into my back. The net was fine, but as I rolled myself off the boulder I knew that old Heraclitus was indeed correct, I was not the same man. I was older than the last time, maybe by only thirteen months, but it seems that the older I get, the faster I get older. I skipped the next pool. The fish in it had probably seen it all happen and at my age I don’t take embarrassment as well as I used to.
Mark Usyk is the author of two books. Reflections of a Fly Rod and his latest, Carp Are Jerks. He writes stories about life, where fishing happens. Both are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and signed copies can be purchased on this web site, JPRossflyrods.com.