Big Water, Part 1: Island Time by Mark Usyk

I was supposed to be on my way to North Carolina. Instead I was launching the kayak on an Adirondack lake an hour and a half from home. It’s really something when you realize that there’s riots and viruses spreading all over the country and you’re disappointed in having to fish the Adirondacks instead of the Outer Banks. I guess that’s how I know I’m truly disconnected from the rest of the world at this point. But the disconnection is on purpose, so I guess I was right where I wanted to be, body and mind.

I was moving across the lake at what I thought was a good speed. Faster than paddling a canoe. Pedaling the Hobie wasn’t any more effort than walking, but it seemed to be moving me faster. No complaints, it was one of the reasons I’d spent the money. I had my 9wt in my right hand, a rod JP had built me a couple years ago that I’d only taken out a handful of times and hadn’t really caught anything on that warranted a 9wt. I didn’t expect to catch anything that big today either, but between the streamers I was going to fish and the wind I expected to run into, the 9wt seemed like the right choice for the easiest casting. I kept the kayak moving at a good pace. My left hand stayed relaxed on the rudder control on the side of the boat, a slight adjustment every now and then kept me pointed at the island I planned to fish around. As I finally came within casting distance of the back side of the little island I thought to myself “I’m on island time now.” Under an overcast sky I stood on the deck of the kayak and began making casts.

I cast over the top of the submerged boulders in the typical dark tinted Adirondack water, sending streamers shooting under overhanging trees and stripping them back, picturing in my mind at any given moment smallmouth bass launching surface ward to smash my fake bait fish. But it wasn’t happening. After half an hour there was finally a tug, but the 9wt only half heartedly arched, like a person not fully invested in an action but carrying it out because someone was watching.  I brought a really nice rock bass to hand but it was still only a rock bass on a 9wt fly rod, caught on a streamer close to half it’s length. I always laugh at fish that try to eat a fly half their own size or more, but it happens almost regularly. We’ve all seen it, and we all ask the fish the same question… “What were you thinking?” They never answer. But talking to fish somehow makes the whole experience even more personal. You know if someone stabbed you in the face you probably wouldn’t want to have a conversation with them, but we somehow like to think that talking to the fish negates the whole stabbing thing. That it makes us friends somehow. I can only imagine the fish swimming back down to it’s fish friends after the release. “Can you believe the nerve of these guys?! He stabs me, right in the face, then starts talking to me like we’re old friends! I’m telling you, these humans…They’re nut jobs!”

After one complete circumnavigation of the small island I decide to cut across the lake to the shore. Maybe the shoreline will be better. But as well as the kayak cuts across the choppy water, I can’t find any weed lines once I get there. Everything seems late this year I keep telling myself. It’s July and there’s no weed beds? I make casts to where the weeds should be. As if what should be will make it so. At least it’s overcast, the sun isn’t cooking me. And I could always be any number of other places instead of on the water. We all know the bumper sticker.

I stop for lunch and reach into the cooler strapped down behind the kayak seat. I usually don’t eat anymore than a granola bar when I’m out fishing for the day. This new kayak and all it’s space to carry stuff, it’s going to spoil me. I grab a bottle of cold water, a bag of potato chips, and a can of baked beans. The kayak bobs and sways on the lake as I fork cold baked beans into my mouth straight from the can. Some people wouldn’t touch this lunch. Truth be told, it’s better than what I live on at home on many nights. I toss all the trash back into the cooler, fish more shore line, and pedal around the lake for a couple hours. Not even fishing, just holding my 9wt, my left hand on the rudder control, my feet working the pedals moving me across the water. It occurs to me… I’m crossing the lake on foot in July. That’s pretty cool.

Later in the day I find myself back out at the island where I started. Maybe things will be different. “Sure”, I tell myself. “And Monkeys might fly out of my butt.”

Coming around the back side of the island I find a small ski boat anchored, two guys in shorts and sunglasses, no shirts, just sitting there with spinning rods and lines in the water. I can here them talking because there’s no wind. Everything is fairly still now. I hear the one on the back of the boat say “Ahh, missed it again.” And then the guy on the front says “Yeah, they must be small.” I’m standing and letting the kayak drift. So I make one more long cast, the two inch long gray streamer shoots out and I’m satisfied with the distance, I sit down, hold the rod tip out to the right, and start pedaling. I swing out around them at least sixty feet, maybe more, letting them have their spot in peace. We nod at each other as I pass by out on the lake, a good distance between us.

In my mind I’m done, I’ll troll like this back to the boat ramp where I’ll load up and drive home, when suddenly and violently the rod doubles over and tries to leave my hand. With my left hand I turn the rudder full right and swing the kayak around facing the fish that is at that moment leaping and shaking, just like the hundreds of pictures of bass you’ve seen on doormats, wall plaques, t-shirts and coffee mugs. And for a split second I wonder if this fish has ever been a model before. It jumps three times, each time it seems to be trying to impress me more than the last, and when I finally get it to my net at the side of the boat, I’m happy to finally have a fish that was almost deserving of the 9wt.It feels like a four pounder, which means it might as well be ten...I'm a fisherman after all. I hear the two guys on the ski boat as I’m releasing it. “Well, that was a nice one he just got.” “Yeah, I wonder what he caught it on.

I figure since I can hear them that they can hear me. “Luck. I caught it on luck. I’d give you some but I think that was all I had. Think I’ll go home now.”

On the ride home I’m coming up with a plan for the next day. I’m supposed to be in North Carolina. I’ve got five more days. That means five more lakes as far as I’m concerned. Life could be worse.

Mark Usyk is the author of Reflections of a Fly Rod and Carp Are Jerks. Stories about life, where fishing happens. You can find them on Amazon in both paperback and now as e-books as well! And for signed copies shop right here on this site, Make sure and check out our killer t-shirts while you’re at it. Designs that tell everyone you unplug to reboot and reconnect, printed on lightweight UV rated shirts and only $17.99!