I put the car in park and opened the door, stepping out into the waste high uncut hay field. I eyed the muddy ruts passing between the old gate posts of a gate that hadn’t been closed in more than a year now. Times, they change. I never thought twice about those ruts when I’d drive the Jeep down here. But now I had the Subaru. Everyone told me I’d love it when I was thinking about buying. “It’s a Subaru, it’ll go anywhere! You’ll love it. It’ll get you out there, don’t worry about it. They rally race them you know? It’ll go places.” I don’t care what anyone tells me. This Subaru I’m driving these days isn’t going to get me places the old Cherokee would with the four inch lift and the mud tires and the winch. I poked the ruts with a stick. The bottom was solid under the water… But what was going to happen when I hit the end of the ruts? What if I started sinking into fresh stuff? I didn’t have mud tires, I had street radials meant for pavement. I didn’t have ground clearance, well, not like the Jeep did. I figured I had three choices. One, park here and walk the last three quarters of a mile to the lake. The canoe was heavy, too heavy for that. Two, turn around and go home. We’d driven an hour and a half to get here. We weren’t going home. Or three, get a running start and hope for the best. Hope that everyone was right. I turned off the traction control so that it wouldn’t cut the power when the tires started to spin.
Mud flew, water splashed, and the canoe stayed firmly in place on the roof rack as the Subaru proved my doubts to be nothing more than thinking the worst. But I still wished I had the Jeep.
We climbed the last hill, passed through the last gate, and pushed through an old pasture that had turned into an old hay field that had finally turned into an abandoned dream. I was careful to drive around the saplings and thistle bushes. With the Jeep I’d just plow straight through them all keeping a somewhat clear two track path down the hill to the lake. The Subaru had a painted front bumper. Plastic. Low. I missed the heavy steel winch bumper with the peeling black paint and rust.
At the lake’s shore where we always set up camp, I was standing on the rear tire loosening the ratchet straps to take the canoe off, and Jake was reeling in the first fish of the day. We’d been out of the car for three minutes at most. I remembered doing the exact same thing as a kid when I’d come here with my grandfather. I watched him out on the little peninsula, framed in by two huge Weeping Willows on either side. Our family had used those willows for longer than I’d been alive for shade and firewood, a fresh cut branch to skewer hotdogs over a fire probably as often as shade.
Carter sat in the front of the canoe, Jake in the middle, and I paddled from my station in the rear. “Aren’t you bringing your fly rod Dad?” I’d told them no, at least not yet. Maybe later. My fly rod was still in the car, still in the tube, the reel still in the case. I didn’t even entertain the thought of stringing it up. I wanted my boys to catch fish. I paddled. They fished.
The wind was pretty brutal in all honesty. They were fishing with deer hair jigs they’d tied themselves and Ugly Sticks. Even if they’d wanted to bring out the fly rods, it would’ve been a lost cause. On one side of the lake, if I hugged just close enough to the shore to stay out of the wind but far enough for them to cast along the edge, we could stay out of the bad winds. More or less. Even then, the boys would be hammering the big blue gills that seemed to be at the end of every third or fourth cast, the canoe sitting mostly still, and then a wind would come from a different direction across the small lake and it was suddenly as if we were being pushed by a truck. We’d move twenty feet in as many seconds, and I’d have all I could do to put on the brakes. But even in the wind, even in the big gusts that were twenty miles an hour or better, the fish were biting.
They were mostly blue gills, and some were pretty decent. The large mouths that were hitting were all fairly small, but Jake and Carter don’t really care about the size or the kind of fish. When you get them out there in that canoe, they become something like a well-trained and choreographed Special Forces team. They cover water fast and proficiently, they communicate their intentions clearly, and they get the job done. I’d put the shore on our right, keep it about thirty feet off and slowly paddle, doing my best in the winds and the heavy gusts to track as straight as possible.
One of them would cast towards the shore, usually within a couple feet of certain jig death, that’s a snag in the overhanging bushes, while the other one would make his cast out into the open water off our left side. If both casts were reeled back to canoe side without a fish, then they would switch, the one who last cast to the shore line now casting to the open water and vice versa. This was carried out around the outline of the entire 12 acre lake in two outings. In between hot dogs were speared by fresh cut willow branches and cooked over a camp fire in the same cast iron barn trough that my family has kept its fires in by the peninsula for again, more years than I’ve been alive.
Jake and Carter’s system, one they came up with together with no input from me, worked so well that on several occasions they were both hooked into fish simultaneously, and on several others if one missed a fish, the other got it seconds later because they were timing their casts so perfectly that the fish most likely didn’t realize the old switcheroo had taken place, or they were just so angered by the constant barrage that they had to do something, and when a fish has to do something the only thing it can really do is bite I guess.
About the time we realized the winds were only getting stronger and that the dark clouds had moved in to block out the blue sky, the boys had just added up their catch numbers and were well over fifty. I hadn’t made a single cast, had never even strung up the 7wt, and hadn’t even thought about it once while I was doing my best to keep us within casting distance of the best water. Nobody cared how they were fishing or with what. Nobody cared what kind of fish they were catching or how big they were, and nobody cared that the wind gusts would sometimes send a 1/16oz deer hair jig in the opposite direction it had been cast in. The only thing that any of us cared about was that we were there. That we were all there together.
And that was how I started my “Nine days of straight fishing and no work” tour of New York State. I had one more day of fishing with my boys, and then I’d be off to the Adirondacks, the Delaware River, the Salmon River, and whatever else caught my eye. But I couldn’t have chosen to start it off any better way than to not even put a rod together on the first day. I felt like a damned genius.
Mark Usyk is the Author of Reflections of a Fly Rod and Carp Are Jerks. Stories about life, where fishing happens. Both are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and signed copies are ready for purchase on this website, JPRossflyrods.com