I was at work, thinking about fishing over the weekend when I happened to look out a window. The snow that had covered the not yet growing early spring grass overnight had disappeared do to the rain we’d gotten all morning, and now the rain was beginning to turn back to snow. I was leaning over an office chair with my hands on its back talking to JP when I noticed the heavy wet snowflakes mixing back in with the falling rain. I shook my head and remarked about the creeks swelling because of the weather, and JP recited the old April showers bring May flowers adage. My hands grasped the back of the chair more firmly, as if they were telling my mind they were ready whenever it gave the order. I told JP what they were plotting. “Well the only thing April showers make me want to do lately is throw chairs. I look at this snow then rain then snow then rain junk and it just makes me want to throw stuff.” We both chuckled.
I wanted to fish. He wanted to fish. The rivers were rising as we spoke, and getting colder with all the snow melting and running off into them. I said the problem with throwing a chair out the window now would be the splatting sound of it burying a leg in the muddy lawn. JP agreed. “Yeah, it would sound like shooting dog poop with a bb gun.” I gave him a sideways look. “Don’t tell me you never did it.” I had no reply, somethings are better just left alone. I walked away thinking about casting to a raging cold creek, and shooting dog poop. Not the weirdest thoughts I’ve ever had in my mind at the beginning of trout season, but it ranks up there at the top.
Every year you hear the same things. This April is so horrible! It’s so unpredictable this year! Winter just won’t let go this year! This April is the worst in years! I don’t remember an April when we got snow this late in a long time! The truth is, the same things get said every year. I was talking to Tom, our head toolmaker at work about it, and he agreed. He said he’d been watching the ice on a pond near his house, and it seemed to him that it would get thinner and thicker. Build up and thin out, like usual. And he figured that in reality, it seemed about right on schedule with past years. Maybe in another week it would be ice free, give or take. We decided that there might be some deviation in the weather from year to year, but as a whole, this is about what we should expect. It’s not that it’s a bad April, no. We’re just impatient.
On Saturday morning I picked up Nikki and we drove north in the Jeep. I could’ve gone south, but I know the north better, and my favorite streams are found there. Not south. Where we’d gotten maybe an inch of snow overnight, I wondered what it was like in the lower Adirondacks and figured there was no time like the present to find out. What we found as we drove would dictate how far I went. It didn’t take me more than about thirty minutes, probably less, to decide there wasn’t much point in driving very far north. Snow covered the landscape in several inches in open fields long before we ever got close to the park border, and in the woods where the sun didn’t penetrate and the trees kept the wind at their tops there was easily over a foot of white stuff still. By the time I turned off Rt28 and headed towards my first go to brook trout stream I found myself pulling the four wheel drive lever a few times to stop the Jeep from fish tailing its way up the winding hills of a lonely back road.
I turned off onto a secondary dirt road to check out a camping spot next to the river where there was a trail we could follow along its banks, but the snow banks were easily three feet high blocking the camp site entrance, and while I figured I could bust through it to park, there was a good chance it would take the winch to get back out. This is where age trumps youth. In my youth I would’ve just hammered down on the gas pedal and plowed my way through, knowing the winch would get me out. Today, with enough experiences behind me, I refrain from actions like that, knowing that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The winch should be used in situations presented by outside forces, like the time JP and I found a large fallen beech tree blocking our path to a bass pond. To do stupid things simply because you have a remedy installed on the front bumper shows you haven’t learned anything in life yet. To hold yourself back knowing that you have a remedy on the front bumper shows that you realize it’s there for a reason, but you don’t need to go looking for reasons. I parked the Jeep up where the gravel road and dirt roads met under a blanket of white and we walked down to the single lane bridge over the river next to the camp site.
Standing on the bridge, looking down at the tannin stained water coursing through the white terrain, I couldn’t help but think it was a sight something like this that brought the necessity for the word contrast in the human language.
I’d fished this spot more times than I could count on my hands most likely, and I knew it pretty well both up and downstream. But seeing it like this, flanked in billowy white, the trees themselves even trimmed in snow more perfectly than any artist could ever imagine let alone put on a canvas, it was like looking out on a place I didn’t know but had heard of. It seemed familiar, in a distant way. Like déjà vu, only real.
I looked down from the bridge. The water was high and moving fast, hiding most of the pockets I would normally cast to. The features of the banks, the fallen trees and the rocks I would use to make my approach to the river itself were all washed out, hidden and disguised as nothing more than white nothing with hints of shapes here and there where a shadow might try to distinguish form but come up just short. Up and down stream I looked, and I considered that we could walk back up to the jeep and struggle into waders and give it a shot. But the trudging through the snow, the struggling to find footing hidden under white, and then the wading of the cold and frigid water, they deterred my ambitions. I was beginning to feel down on myself for looking for reasons to not go through the motions. But that was it, I knew it would just be going through the motions. I stood there and stared at the amazing picture before us and then it hit me, the real reason I didn’t want to leave the bridge.
A couple years ago I found myself on a lake in my kayak, actually not far from this spot. The water from that lake actually fed this river in a bit of irony. I was alone on an early morning. The sun hadn’t yet come up but it was light. That time between night and morning, just on the cusp of morning. The water was so still, like a sheet of glass, and the lake and woods around me were so quiet like the dead space between songs on a record player, that the sound of my paddle breaking the surface of the water, and the waves it sent out disrupting the perfectly flat surface, they made me feel super conscious of everything I did. They made me feel like an invader. Like an outsider. Like a tiny smear of mud on an otherwise completely and perfectly clean and white wall. I wanted to move across the lake, but every time the paddle touched the water I withdrew it and waited for the rings it created on the water to move out and fade back away to stillness. I sat there motionless for the better part of what was easily half an hour, not wanting disrupt my idea of perfection.
Now I stood here on the bridge. I knew I could put waders on and string up a fly rod easily enough. We could carefully pick our way down through the snow. We could indeed get downstream to the calm pool, where if we had any chance at all of finding a brookie to take a nymph it would be there. I knew after all that, with the catching of a fish or most likely not, that the last thing I would see in my mind as we climbed back up to the bridge and looked back out over it all before we left would be this gorgeous scene… with our footprints slashing across it like ugly scars on perfect skin. The truth was there. It wasn’t in the chance for success or failure, it was in the inevitable fouling of a perfection.
We drove around the back roads for another hour. I showed Nikki a couple more of my favorite spots, and tried to explain what they would look like once the snow was all gone and the green had taken back over, but we all know words just can’t do these things justice, and that she just knows in the least now that I like these places. She’ll have to collect her own impressions another time, after the snow is long gone.
As we traveled the snow covered gravel road and its twists and turns on our way back out to the highway, she asked me something about my favorite fish, and I got the same reaction I get from many people when they ask me. I love brook trout, but it’s as much if not more, because they are here, in these beautiful places. If the bass were here, if the pike were here, hell, if there were nothing here but bull head or rock bass... I’d still drive an hour to get here. Because it’s about the “here” as much as it’s about the fish. Probably more.
Mark Usyk is the author of Reflections of a Fly Rod, available on Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and signed copies ready for purchase here on JPRossflyrods.com.