How to Set Yourself Straight By Mark Usyk

My brother lives in Washington, and I went out there for his wedding a little over a week ago. I’d never been to the northwest. So It goes without saying that I’d never fished in the northwest either. So I guess it shouldn’t come as much surprise… When I packed my luggage, I threw in a fly rod.

A couple days after the wedding and a day before I left for home my father and I rode up to the Cascade Mountains with him. Matt has lived out there for close to ten years now, and he’s the kind of guy who’s not only traveled around and seen and done a lot of stuff, but he likes to learn as much as he can about where he is. He finds the history fascinating and worth remembering. I guess he likes stories just like me. So on the drive to the mountains I enjoyed our conversations about what he knew about the areas we were driving through. I hadn’t seen him in probably at least five years. That ride was long overdue.

Up at Diablo Lake, a man-made reservoir created by the construction of Diablo Dam, we pulled off and spent the most time in one place that we would for the entire day. We found a rocky shoreline, I strung up my fly rod, and made some casts. I didn’t expect to catch anything, catching something really wasn’t the point. It was seeing a place I’d never seen before on the other side of the country, and being able to say I made some casts there when I got back home. I didn’t expect to catch anything. And then as my third cast with a woolly bugger touched down a small rainbow jumped clean out of the water about forty feet farther out than my cast had reached. Matt, sitting over to my right on a piece of driftwood broke the silence with an exclamation. “Did you see that?! We’re not leaving until you catch a fish!” Seeing the trout jump, and seeing other subtle rises, now I expected to catch a fish. I clipped off the bugger and tied something small and brown on, the closest match I had in the sparse fly box I’d tucked in a shoe in my suitcase.

For the same reason that I’d brought the fly rod across the country, I’d tucked a pair of water shoes in my suitcase…just in case. And I’d worn them up there. So took them off, removed my socks and rolled them up, placing them next a log with the fly box on the rocky shoreline, and put the water shoes back on. Then I walked into the water, about knee deep. Standing in a northwest mountain lake in October, casting a fly rod to rising trout, and not being able to help but be impressed by my surroundings, I was fishing, making more or less graceful casts in a beautiful, new place. I couldn’t get a fish to look up and eat my fly. And I just knew it in my heart, it wasn’t going to be my day on that subject. On many days fishing success comes with a positive mindset, and this just wasn’t one of those days. I wasn’t thinking about the fishing as much as just taking in the amazing setting in which the fishing was occurring. Eventually I put the bugger back on and started fishing different depths and changing up the speed of my strips.

I’d look up at the mountains while I stripped fly line, then look back to the water. The mountains towered over us, and I couldn’t help but feel small. Which I’ve thought for a long time is something that’s important for people. Our egos and sense of importance can become inflated; it’s a human condition most suffer from sooner or later and from time to time. Standing somewhere and feeling small is one of those things that can remind you of your place in the world. But standing somewhere feeling small while in amazement of the beauty is something that sets me straight. I know exactly who I am in those moments in those places. I think more people need to experience it. The world might be a different place if everyone could.

I finally saw a trout following my bugger at one point after a lot of casting. It followed, I stripped slowly, it grabbed at the fly and I felt the tug. Then it turned and the line went slack, then it made one more short strike, only grabbing the tail as if to make sure it really wasn’t something it wanted, let go and turned and swam away. The silver fish faded off in only a couple seconds and I never saw another. But the point wasn’t catching. It’s something I hoped for of course, but not something that ruined the day when it didn’t happen.

There were the mountains all around me, mountains I’d never seen. There was the clear, mint green water. Cold mountain water I’d never stood in that I now knew what its cold sting felt like. There was my father standing back watching me cast and admiring our current position in life. And then there was my brother. Matt admitted on the drive up that he hadn’t been up to the mountains in three or four years. And while I fished, he found a piece of driftwood to lay against, and he sat in silence. He only broke that silence twice while I fished for forty minutes or so. The first when we saw the fish jump. And the second time was a while later. He was just laying there against that bare, sun-bleached log on that rocky beach, almost motionless as he was quiet. Looking around. When he finally said something again it was said just above a whisper and matter-of-factly. “I haven’t done anything like this in way too long.” And that’s when I knew I’d done something good for someone else by saying I wanted to fish a little and asking him to show me around. The conversations while we drove and that silence on the lake, they set us straight. It’s all you can really ask for.

Mark Usyk is the author of three books full of stories about life, where fishing happens… Reflections of a Fly Rod, Carp Are Jerks, and Not All Trout Are Geniuses. He’s currently about seven stories into his fourth. You can purchase them right here on the JP Ross website while you look for your next rod to take you on your own adventures. Look for Mark to be telling stories and signing books in the JP Ross Fly Rods booth January 20-22 in Marlborough Mass, where you’ll also be able to cast a JP Ross rod right there on the show’s casting pond! We hope to see you there!