I was feeling it. Stress. Frustration. Depression. Everything bad, nothing good. It’d been a long month. Hell, it’d been a long “well over a year” to be honest. I hadn’t fished yet in 2024, and I’d only fished a handful of times in 2023. Coincidence that everything seemed to be collapsing around me? Everyone would have an opinion. I texted JP and Kimball on Wednesday; “Anyone wanna fish tomorrow? Rain starts Friday.” Neither was able to on the short notice. I went alone. I was cool with it. I’m pretty good on my own. Better than standing in a crowd.
I didn’t get out on the water until about ten o’clock Thursday morning. I’d wanted to get up and out earlier, but I just couldn’t get up and move fast enough. I woke up and then called work to tell them I wouldn’t be in, then laid there a little while longer. I was living my life on my terms for a day, so I laid there for another hour. Because I could. It took me another hour to get all my stuff together. My waders had been hanging in the kitchen by the back door since September, but I couldn’t find my felt bottom boots. They ended up being out on the front porch under the church pew, right where I last took them off. I tied a couple tungsten headed bugger looking things with rubber legs. No specific pattern, just some marabou and crap tied to a hook the way I used to tie. Off the cuff. No real plan. If it looked buggy it might work. I never followed any rules. Not in life, not in fly fishing. I just did my thing. Sometimes it paid off, sometimes it bit me in the…
I parked the car and started walking. This was Kimball’s stretch. We booth felt it was our creek, but my stretch was a whole lot farther downstream. His stretch was prettier. And quieter. Just what I was looking for. I started casting to all the normal pools and bends, letting the bugger thing drop and dead drift. I hate nymphing. I’d rather fish streamers and make them move, swim. But a bugger can be fished either way. You can strip it like a streamer, make it swim, or you can dead drift it on the bottom like a nymph. I don’t know why, maybe I actually wanted to catch a fish, so I dead drifted it. It bumped along on the bottom and I snagged a few times but never broke it off. Somehow.
I found fly fishing years ago had the ability to stop my mind from wandering through all the stuff I didn’t want it to wander through. And that’s why it had taken such a hold on me. In my car I crank up music as loud as it’ll go when I’m alone. It drowns out what needs drowning out. On the water with a fly rod, I don’t need the noise to drown out the noise. The line looping in the air and the concentration of what might come next does it better than anything else ever has. But on Thursday it wasn’t working. I was wandering, surveying my surroundings and probing the creek, but my mind was dividing the time between where I was physically and where I was mentally…why I’d called in to work. I guess somedays things just won’t stand to be ignored and demand attention.
I was thinking about all the B.S. that had gone on in the past year or so when in a small riffle at the head of a small pool, no more than maybe eight feet wide, my line went tight. Not having felt a fish in about five months my mind immediately went to “it’s snagged. Damn.” But then the rod pulsed and the line began to cut its way through the water towards a log and I finally realized where I stood in life at that moment; on the opposite end of a good trout.
I had ten and a half feet of fly rod in a heavy arch and then I remembered I was fishing 5x tippet, and I loosened the drag slightly. Of course, then the trout started moving towards the log, and so I took back the drag I’d given it. I started talking to the trout as if it could hear me and understand, something I’ve always done but it’d been so long that it seemed funny to me as I did it this time. “Don’t go under the log, please just don’t go under the log. Listen, I’m going to let you go, I swear. If you’d understand I’m going to let you go you could end this a lot sooner by swimming into my net. You know that, right?” But the big trout went under the log. As any big trout would. The problem was I’d gotten a look at it and knew how big it was. So I didn’t want to lose it. Then the reason I didn’t want it to go under the log happened. The line stopped moving. I could make out the shape and the shine of the trout down there in that pool under the log, and it was not a direct straight line to where my rod tip was and where the line entered the water. The line was caught on something. My heart sank.
I stood there wondering what to do. I could just break it off. I also wondered if I might just take a swim, walk right in with my net and try to net the fish that was on a short leash attached to some unseen branch nub. And as I stood there contemplating how cold the water was and the possible outcome of that scenario, the line must’ve slid off the branch it was crossed over, or maybe another fish saw what was playing out and gently moved the line from the obstruction. I’ll never know. The trout moved down stream out from under the log, my 4wt fly rod still doubled over, until eventually I was able to bring the fish to my net. A net that I thought would be fine but was on the edge of being too small.
I forgot about all the stuff I couldn’t forget about for the rest of the day. The creek did that. My fly rod did that. And the trout did that. The first fish I’d caught in five months after spending years writing books about calling in sick to go fishing and taking care of your own mental health. I guess anyone can forget anything under the right circumstances, which then are actually the wrong circumstances. I’d go back into work on Friday. Feeling better, more like me again, finally. Then I’d fish through the weekend. Because that’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s what I need to do. It’s who I am and why I am who I am. I texted a photo of the trout to JP and Kimball. Kimball replied, “You’re Back!” Yeah, I was back.
Mark Usyk is the author of three books full of stories about life, where fishing happens. All are available right here at JP Ross Fly Rods.