Last Ramblings of a Trout Season by Mark Usyk
I figured it might be a now or never type situation when I told JP we should make a run up north to fish the stream we did our Trout Power watershed study on this past summer. It seemed like lately, this entire year generally speaking, that actually planning on going fishing was a rare thing. Spur of the moment was more common. Jobs, kids, kids sports, family stuff, new roofs, vehicle breakdowns, mowing lawns, there was always something going on. When an opening showed up, you took it right then or you might find yourself waiting another two weeks. If we didn’t go now, the chances of having a free day the following Saturday, the last day of the season here in NY were slim to none. So we headed north.
It was an overcast day, and the guy that guesses the weather on the news had thought that it might rain, but you can’t believe anything that comes out of the mouth of someone who has no need to be right at what they do for a living, so I figured there was an equal chance of rain or sun at this point. The cloud cover could go either way. The leaves were at their peak when I met JP in Inlet. When I got out of the Jeep already in waders he laughed at me with a puzzled look. Of course I drove over an hour up here in my waders. Hell, I go grocery shopping in these things. The truth is that I hate trying to get into them leaning against the side of the Jeep, the only place I fall more than in a river is when I’m half through struggling into my waders. And I’m impatient. Same reason I’ve got the Rod Vault on the roof. When I park I want to get out, grab my fly rod, and fish. I don’t want to get dressed and put a rod together. Life’s too short not to be ready to fish at any second.
We hiked down a trail that I hadn’t been down in two years and for the life of me I couldn’t remember where it was, so getting JP to come with me was a good thing for a few reasons. For one I just wanted to get him to go fishing for a day and quit worrying about work and selling rods and turning our Trout Power initiative into a non-profit and all the other stuff he seemed to be occupying his waking hours with lately. If his company motto is Simply Fish, then he’s going to have to do just that now and then. Plus now I knew where the trail was to take a back way into a good pool, and we could probably get some good pictures since there was two of us. It was a win situation for us the way I saw it. It was two good friends going fishing… Could it be anything else?
The water wasn’t too warm anymore like all summer long had been, but it was still pretty darn low. What’s good about seeing a stream or river like this when the water’s low is that you get a good look at the structure of the stream that you can’t see when it’s normal or high. Looking at it when the water is two feet below the high water mark on the banks and the water lines on the boulders strewn about show up like two tone stripes, I look for the deepest spots and then figure how much deeper they are when the water is where is should be. You can see rocks down in runs that you’d probably never know were there in better conditions, and of course it’s easier walking when the water is only around your ankles in places that it would normally be at your thighs. That being said, after a second year of low flows, let’s just call it what it is, a drought, it’s still a shame to see a great stream you know so well looking like a sick patient in a hospital bed, no energy, no breath, no glint of comfort in their eyes. Just wondering when things will turn around and finally get better for them.
I made sure that JP was actually stringing up a rod when we made it to the first pool, that he wasn’t just going to hike and take pictures. Then when I watched him cast from across the pool, I almost wished I hadn’t suggested it because I know I’m not a great caster, but he laid out an easy 90ft cast with gorgeous loops and a gentle landing that made my casting look like a barbarian a thousand years ago swinging around a spiked ball on a chain attached to a stick. On the other hand I’ve always had a fondness for helmets with horns.
We only found three brookies and JP called a spot where he’d pull a tiny smallmouth bass out like a pool player calls 8 ball, corner pocket, and then we hustled it out back to the Jeep so we could hit one more spot.
It was about a half hour walk down to the falls, I thought if fish were staging up to spawn that’s where we might find them, but the low water showed us everything on the bottom. Lots of rocks. No fish. I caught a fairly large, ok it was a damn big brookie, right here in June, but he was nowhere to be found this time around. I just wanted to try the pool right above the falls once before we hiked back out, something just told me I had to hit it before I left. The way the water flowed into and out of this one left a lot of slack water for the fast falling leaves to cover the surface on one side, and they were swept into it in the white water, so many of them in the stream now that they were suspended in the current throughout the entire pool. I hooked a few leaves but told myself just make more casts. I did catch a nice brookie finally, and then we hiked back out.
On the walk back out we talked about all kinds of stuff. Fish we caught through the year, people we’d met because of the Trout Power stream study, me trying to finish my first book, and how fast the leaves were coming down. Bright pinks, reds and purples were falling as fast as the rain can poor, and the trail was covered easily twice as thick as when we’d walked in. Our boots pushed through leaves like they do a fresh fall of a few inches of powdery snow, something we could only hope we’d get a lot of this winter to bring the water levels back. Rain was beginning to fall and it in turn knocked more leaves from the trees, the small pines beneath the canopy of Maples and Poplars were becoming buried in color the same way snow collects on their branches in the winter.
The windshield wipers slapped a rhythm on a washboard dirt road as we headed back in the direction of pavement and eventually civilization. JP was looking at pictures he’d taken during the day and he stopped on the last brookie out of the pool above the falls. He said something about hands. I asked him “What?” “It’s always your hands in my pictures.” Well, at least there’s something for me to fall back on when this writing thing and my day job fall through. I can be a hand model.