It’s an urban creek. One I’ve only been fishing for two years. It’s not very pretty, running right through town, collecting all sorts of junk that gets blown into it, thrown into it, washed into it during floods. And there’s probably just as many red and yellow bricks from old buildings long gone as there are river stones in the most wooded section I fish. It’s not quiet either. If you’re looking forward to chirping birds and the rustling of leaves in the trees on a fall afternoon, keep looking. Traffic is what you hear on this creek in this spot. But it becomes background sound, white noise to me. I know it’s there, but it doesn’t bother me. I fish the creek out of convenience. It’s here. It’s close. And it has a few trout. If you know where to look.
We were hanging out, outside the rod shop. Mitch had brought over a little portable pizza oven and naturally we were talking fishing when the creek got mentioned. I ended up spouting out a five-minute dissertation of my experience with the large browns I’d found scattered along the section in question, one in each pool and nothing more than that. Exactly one large brown was found in each pool, a total of five pools in a few hundred yards. I made my case for how challenging it was, how the clear water made it next to impossible to sneak up even from down stream and that the only way I could catch those fish was from well down stream with long, perfectly placed casts, and luck. JP remarked that he was surprised I thought it was such a great creek to fish and I corrected him. “It’s not. I’m not saying that at all. It’s not pretty, it’s noisy, and there’s a lot of junk in it. But there really are big browns in it. And some of the graffiti under the bridge is pretty cool.
The next day after work I found myself with some free time. Not something I’d had much of in 2023. I’d gone and gotten too busy…me. The guy who wrote three books on the principle of calling in sick and going fishing. The guy whose moto had become “You weren’t born to just pay bills and die.” And I’d done it to myself. Danielle had some stuff going with Freya and Ollie for Pop Warner football, and she said that I should be fishing. There was no reason not to. She was right. I’d stressed myself out and come down with the Shingles a month earlier. I still couldn’t sit for any length of time and work on my wood burnings yet. My right eye blurry, double vision fighting any kind of focus, especially the fine line and details. So I put on my waders, strung up my fly rod, and went to the creek.
The first three pools showed me nothing. No movement, no flashes, no dark shapes to stare at and study, wondering if they were fish or rocks. Nothing. I’d caught a large brown from each pool over the past two years, but it didn’t look like there was much promise today. In each pool I’d caught an eighteen-to-twenty-inch brown, except the next one. And I was fairly sure that this fish that had eluded and outsmarted me in this pool for two years now was the biggest of them all. I felt this because I’d seen its dark silhouette move from cover three times in the past, down deep. One of those times I thought I might have moved it with my fly, but I couldn’t be sure. Just like I couldn’t be sure that it was the biggest of them all because I hadn’t caught it. But not being able to catch a fish many times surely means it must be the biggest.
The creek did a quick zig-zag just before the head of the pool, so the water flowed in from the left side instead of straight in. It flowed in from the left, creating a strong riffle and seam over a drop off with a sandy bottom, then the current ran into a wall of rock and was redirected right, into the body of the pool. I’d made the cast fifty or sixty times. Probably more. But this time I felt more hope. Somethings can’t be explained, and probably don’t need to be. It’s better not to question hope and just go with it. The pool was about fifteen feet long, and I made my cast from about twenty-five feet downstream of it. The water was so clear that to get any closer was certain failure. And even at twenty-five feet downstream of it, I wondered if I shouldn’t be thirty. It was a long cast under the tight quarters of overhanging trees, but it was a good cast. I’d lost the sounds of the traffic to concentration now. The weighted Woolly Bugger dropped gently into the first couple inches of the head where the riffled current hid its entry, and the fly line dropped almost perfectly parallel to the water, landing as gracefully as I could hope. Of course the Shingles in my right eye was showing me two white fly lines laying on the water where there was only one, and I was distracted for a second about remembering to go see an eye doctor, but then snapped back to paying attention to the fishing. I knew the bugger was quickly sinking as the leader and line followed the current.
The end of my white fly line pointed out the path of the fly down deep. It drifted under the rough surface current, turning at the rock ledge and, hopefully only an inch or two off the bottom, directly into the middle of the pool, right past the large boulder the trout spent it’s days sheltering under. I’d caught the rock more than once losing good flies to snags that wouldn’t let go, and as I knew the bugger was now passing it, I asked the universe to let it pass without interference. Then the line stopped. I lifted, first figuring I’d caught the overhang the trout hid under, but then the line moved, and the rod pulsed! There was a roll, a flash of gold down deep and I couldn’t believe I’d finally, after two years, gotten the fish to eat! And then that fish untied my knot and returned back into it’s hiding place, leaving me standing there to think about walking back down the creek at dusk with no head lamp and my poor vision, and how seeing two fly lines where there was only one should’ve also made me suspicious of the knot I’d tied more by feel than sight, and the thousand other thoughts that come from such a pinnacle moment on a creek. Maybe in another week I’d try again. Or maybe next year. My grandmother always said patience was a virtue.
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 can all be found right here on jprossflyrods.com. He’s currently working on his fourth book, Trout Don’t Have Thumbs.
Hope is at the end of every cast.
You can’t catch fish if your line isn’t in the water.
You weren’t born to just pay bills and die.
Usyk Was Here