Crooked Tables and Ugly Flies by Mark Usyk

I made this coffee table out of some scraps. Two rough planks, a little warped but mostly flat, and a downed tree a beaver worked hard to chew down that I stole from it one fall day. The teeth marks give it character, I guess the warped planks do too. And the long nails I un-mercilessly hammered it all together with that I left tall enough to pull out. I figured someday I’d pull it back apart and put it together right. I pounded those nails at least two years ago. Maybe this year I’ll pull it apart and do it nicer. Yeah. Sure. A small book of fishing knots is pushed underneath the leg that I cut three quarters of an inch too short. I was looking all over for it a couple months ago. When I finally spotted it there keeping the table from rocking from my shoddy workmanship I decided I didn’t really need it. I’m good with my clinch knot and perfection loops. I guess I don’t need to use any other knots after all. It’s got just the right amount of pages to do the job, there aren’t any other books that work quite as well.

You can’t even see the top of the table right now it’s covered in such a mess of fly tying debris. But at one point I’d gotten motivated, bought a wood burner, which is basically a soldering iron packaged and labeled as a wood burner from what I can tell, and drawn six fish on the table’s top. I thought about sealing it in poly, but then I thought I’d probably want to keep adding fish to it, so I held off. I held off long enough to finally realize that the state of the coffee table is probably how it’s going to be now for the foreseeable future. Who knows, motivation could show its face again at some point and I could be filling in the empty spaces around the fish with flies and bait fish and maybe even some bugs here and there. Sure, it could happen. But most likely I’ve become just comfortable enough with it that this is its finished state. Warped top, protruding nail heads, one leg shorter than the others. Reflections of a Fly Rod was and still is the only project I’ve ever actually finished, so why change that now?

But the pile of fly tying materials… It seems to have a life of its own, I cannot control it no matter how hard I try. I clean it up, put things away and brush the scraps off the edge into a trash can with my hand, but no matter how good my intentions, it returns to the same state of confusion as if it were the concierge at the check in of a fancy restaurant. One moment sir, I’ll return momentarily.

I tell myself I’m only going to tie a few Woolly Buggers. I’m honest, not lying. I mean to tie maybe three or four. It’s not that I need them, I’m just passing time and they’re simple enough to do the job. I go to my drawers where materials are separated and labeled neatly, and return with only what I need for the buggers. One small bag containing the size twelve hooks that just seem like the right ones to use for no particular reason. Some things are just that. Right, because you say they are.

I’ve also taken one bag of marabou. Olive looks buggy. I’m feeling good about the olive. Some days I’m feeling black, some days I’m feeling brown. I’ve even grabbed white on a whim, and, gasp… red! Red feels like cheating, like tying a complicated San Wan Worm. But add a hackle wrapped spiral from tail to head and for whatever reason the fly is more or less respectable. In the water it still looks like a red worm more or less. Ok, a red leech. But for whatever reasons, leeches are more respectable than worms in fly fishing. We’ve got some strange ideas, fly anglers. If we tie on a lead headed jig hook where the lead is formed permanently on the hook “You can’t do that, that’s a jig, not a fly!” But, if you tie a tungsten bead or weighted fish head onto hook, that’s acceptable. I don’t get it, yet I still follow those rules. More or less.

I’ve selected one small bag of brown strung hackles. I think the brown over the olive adds to the buggy appearance. And green thread. That’s only four items pulled from the drawers.

I’ll sit and tie some buggers. I’ll put in a fly fishing DVD of some type. I usually sit in silence, no music, no TV, but tonight I’m feeling like some background noise. I probably won’t actually watch it any more than to look up now and then between steps to see what I’ve been missing, and before I know it, the film will be over and it’ll be back on the title screen, playing the intro music over and over in a loop. I’ll let it do that at least fifteen times before I finally grab the remote and push the power button, at which point the room will grow silent. And that’s when I’ll realize it. I’ve tied five flies over the past hour. One Woolly Bugger, and four streamers. No two are alike, and the coffee table is once again in a state of despair. I consider cleaning it up… But what’s the point? I’ll just get it all back out again tomorrow. Most likely. Especially if I decide to go fishing. Then I’ll have to tie something up that I already have in a fly box, something I don’t need that I have to have that I probably won’t even use. And I don’t know what that might be yet, it could be anything scattered across this table. Of course the chances are just as good that it’s something in a drawer I have yet to get out. You just never know. I also don’t know where that first wooly bugger went. It’s here… Somewhere.


Mark Usyk is the author of Reflections of a Fly Rod. A collection of 61 short essays on life, where fly fishing happens. It’s available on Amazon and Barnes and Nobel, and signed copies are ready for purchase here on this web site,