I'm a Horrible Dry Fly Fisherman by Mark Usyk

I don’t know why, but for some reason I always thought things would get easier as you get older. You know, the longer you do something the easier it should get. The longer my boys play baseball, the better they get. The longer you’re at your job, the easier it gets. You start off shaky and unconfident as a teenager behind the wheel, but the longer you drive the easier it becomes. So my question is after 40 years why is it becoming harder to find time to go fishing? The logic I just laid out dictates that it should be as easy as turning on a coffee pot at this point in life. But then again last week I “brewed up” a cup of hot chocolate in the Keurig and added two spoons of sugar thinking it was coffee to take to work. So that blows that theory right out the window. And in case you’re wondering, hot chocolate does not need any more sugar.

It’d been about fifteen days since I’d been fishing, and it didn’t help that 16 days ago I’d caught a very nice and very large brook trout during our Trout Power event. So after more than two weeks without fishing after catching a really good fish I was jonesing for the cast and the strip pretty hard. I spent the better part of a slow midnight shift scrolling across Google earth satellite on my phone, north to south, east to west, zooming in and zooming out. I had to go someplace the next morning, I couldn’t wait any longer. I kept coming back to this tree filled pond on a flood plain that connected to the Mohawk River when waters rose over the banks. I decided the next morning I had to go. The next morning about an hour after pulling in the driveway… I found myself with a shovel and a pile of dirt in the front yard instead. If there were any fish in that pond, they were safe from me.

Emails had been flying the previous week about fishing the following day, the morning of the 4th of July, so I still had that. After one more midnight shift of course. After yet another, even slower and more boring shift sitting in a quiet and shut down production plant babysitting the place, making sure nothing leaked and flooded or sparked and burned I found myself staring at the steering wheel of the Jeep in the parking lot, my time card still smoking from swiping out. A long boring night does almost the same as a busy hard night, it makes your eyelids heavy. I wondered if I should just skip the twenty-five minute drive that was going to get me a couple hours fishing and just go home and take a nap for a little bit. Then I came to my senses. The motor turned over, AC/DC cracked through sixteen year old door speakers and rubber rolled forward. About half way into the drive I thought to myself “You idiot. It’s your own fault that it’s so hard to get on the water these days. You let it happen.” It may be a little more complicated than that but for the most part, yea, it’s my own fault. I’ve gotten lazy with excuses.

Other than where I was parking I didn’t know where I was going. When I pulled to the side of the narrow country road under the shade of ancient hardwoods there was JP waiting for me by a red livestock gate talking to another friend who lived down the road. They talked fishing and some politics, we weren’t on the water so politics were ok, and Bill’s blue healer came over and said hello while I struggled into my waders. We said our good byes and left the politics outside the gate as we started our walk to the river. We walked across a cow pasture on a well beaten path used probably hundreds of times a year, cows looking on chewing the cud and flipping ears and tails at bothersome flies. There wasn’t a posted sign in sight and as we talked I couldn’t help but think that if we were out west somewhere doing this we’d probably already have a shot gun pointed at us by an angry land owner. My faith in NY got a quick and quiet lift right then. JP said Caddis Flies were all over the river and fish were rising, he’d already caught a very nice Brown. John, Mitch, and Smitty were on the water as we spoke. It all sounded great to me but it didn’t leave me with much hope. I fish streamers ninety-nine percent of the time. I’m a horrible dry fly fisherman. And I’d never fished this section of river before with any success. I’d never been to this exact spot but that hardly mattered to me, I was set up for a beautiful morning of failure in my mind. But on a river, to me even failure feels not so bad.

The section of river was at an island and we crossed our side of the split to get to the far side of the island where I could see Smitty now. He was upstream, waist deep, and an orange fly line formed perfect loops in the air. Mitch and John were somewhere upstream above the split. I switched out my Medalist with the sink tip line for another reel with a floating line and JP pointed out the large Caddis bouncing and fluttering on the surface out on the current and I tied on an Elk Hair that we thought matched the size about right. As I planned my first cast a fish rose, straight out from me, then another up by Smitty, and I braced myself for frustration. The fish were rising just into a slower current where quarter sized foam dots spotted the surface. Between me and that slower current was a faster current which meant of course that I would have to mend my line to keep the faster current from dragging the fly across the slower stuff. Did I mention I’m a horrible dry fly fisherman? I considered just tying on a streamer but fought off the urge and began to cast. I struggled.

The fish were rising hard now, violent takes that showed Trout backs rolling and sometimes smashing through the surface like a stunt man getting thrown through a glass table, and while one fish kept at it up by Smitty another continuously taunted me straight out about thirty-five feet. My drifts weren’t good, my mends screwed up the drifts even more and after about twenty minutes of this I tied on a streamer and continued to fail my own way. John had showed up and waded out just above me and we both agreed, at least when you don’t catch anything with a streamer all the casting and stripping makes you feel like you’re doing something besides watching.

I looked up stream finally to see Smitty with a bent rod. From where I was it looked like a good Brown, and I almost went over to see it but stopped and thought how cool it would be to have a double hook up so I kept casting. I didn’t hook a fish. The Trout kept breaking water in front of me. I think he was laughing at me. I’m pretty sure of it.

Smitty asked John and I if we had any La Fontaines. I answered with a bit of a laugh, “Do you really think it’s going to matter in my case?” I heard laughter from the bank. Smitty said most definitely. It’s the go to fly on this river. Well, he guides it, he should know. So He gave John and I each these little tiny hooks with six or seven deer hairs on each one over a tiny bit of dubbing that trailed off the back end like the shuck of an emerger and we stood there and almost got caught up in small talk of who knows what, when that damn fish jumped again, and I mean jumped. I swear I heard it yell cannon ball. JP looked at John and me and said “Will someone please go get that fish?!” I laughed and as I started to wade back to my spot I sarcastically said “Yea, sure. I’m going to go get that fish now.”

I knew I still couldn’t manage my line properly for more than five or six feet before the second current and my pathetic mending miffed up the whole thing, so I changed my position. Kind of like bowling where you move over a couple boards to account for your curve, I moved upstream about five feet hoping it would be enough to get my short lived decent drift over the right spot. I made three more casts and they seemed to drift at the right speed, over the right spot. Now I just needed the right dumb trout to make the wrong move.

Boom! The fly disappeared in a ruckus of orange and tail fin and I lifted my 5wt. The line went tight. JP came down to see it as it took a little line off my reel and I palmed it, I’d never had to do that for a trout before. It stayed out in the current but I was gaining and you could see the fish clearly, it thrashed and swam circles, fighting against this unreasonably strong bug. Smitty grabbed my net and when it finally met the trout the fish didn’t totally fit. There were oohs and ahhs, and I thought it was a pretty nice catch, these guys all seemed more excited than me. John measured it fast for me while I kept it wet. Later on driving home it would finally hit me that what had happened was I’d caught my biggest trout ever on some tiny little hook. In the end I released a 21” Brown and called it a day. I wasn’t going to top that and a couple guys had to leave anyhow. John said after the brookie I caught during Trout Power and now this one that he wasn’t going to %$@#! fish with me anymore, and then JP repeated the sentiment as he picked up his pack and rod on the bank. I laughed. “Come on, they were both total luck!” The ribbing continued. It was good to be on the water with great friends. But I told them the way I see it, JP brought me to this place, and Smitty gave me the fly. It was everyone’s Trout. Some days I’d rather be lucky than good. But I’d rather be lucky around good friends.

Trout photo credits- Jordan Ross