This weekend actually started a few weekends ago with a group text. You know, the kind of group text with four fishing buddies all trying to nail down a date for some fishing? The kind where the texts are a mix of serious questions broken up by serious ball breaking? To the point where you find yourself waiting for someone to answer a question but they never do because it got buried in a string of someone busting someone else’s chops, enough that everyone forgot there was a real reason to the conversation in the first place.
But three out of the four of us were able to make the weekend work, and so the plan was set. Not to fly fish, although I knew because of where we were going that I could easily convince JP and Wayne that the Ausable needed to be fished before we left town. No, the primary reason we made the long drive was to ice fish a pond Wayne needed revenge on. His first visit hadn’t been pleasant and I’ll leave it at that. Don’t worry, this blog story is bound for the next book as a full chapter and there I’ll share the full tale of his spectacular failure. But for now, we’ll say his first trip didn’t go as planned and so JP and I were going along not as fellow ice fisherman but as fishing buddies, one who wanted to make burritos over a grill on a frozen Adirondack lake and the other who just saw it as a perfect excuse to unplug and get some seriously needed time outdoors. Plus, like I said, I meant to make a few casts on the Ausable before we left. Not to catch a trout, that would be pure luck this time of year. I wanted to do it out of principle. It was there, half way between the Hungry Trout where we were staying and the pond we were ice fishing. It was out of principle.
The lake was locked under eight inches of ice. The snow was coming down heavy as we made the shore line and stepped onto the hard water. We pulled two sleds, and there was no wind to keep our eyes squinting through slits in ski masks or our chins buried in our chests staring down at trudging snowshoes. Masks weren’t needed at all, something with an extra important meaning these days. Beyond the forest bordering the lake, mountains could be made out, not in great detail, but I thought more like old faded black and white photos. It’s odd, but old black and white photos seem many times to have more character than today’s high-definition digital cameras. Maybe it’s what’s left to your own imagination, or maybe they really do. Either way, those mountains were easily a few miles away, but seemed a hundred miles away behind the blanket of falling snow.
The bright blue shanty and the tip-up flags seemed to be the only color in this otherwise black and white old-time photo of a harder life. Harder doesn’t always mean worse. And I remember that on days like this. The walk in, snowshoes, sleds, about a mile, the limited visibility, the cold, it seemed harder at first glance. But it’s somehow easier than getting up and going to work in a warm building most days. And these are the observations that tell me who I am.
I’ve caught two perch jigging in the shanty so far. No tip-ups or tip-downs have gone off yet. JP is between the shanty and the shore busy cooking chicken and vegetables for the burritos he’s been waiting to cook out here, his real reason for coming along. And Wayne and I are just standing there, looking out at the holes, waiting for a flag, waiting for a rod to tip, something. Wayne tells us that if we see one of those tip-downs over the shallow water move we’re going to see some excitement as he runs faster than we’ve seen him move to date. A minute and a half later he yells “TIP-DOWN!” and takes off running as fast as one can on a frozen lake covered in snow…fast enough to reach the hole in time to hand line up a nice brown trout, his first through the ice. It’s always great to witness someone’s first anything when it comes to fishing. Because a first is literally something that they’ve never done before, and that to me is a big part of getting out there into wild places and experiencing them.
The burritos were good too. Also a first. I’d never eaten burritos on a frozen Adirondack lake in a heavy snowfall, and JP had never cooked them in those conditions either. The day may not have many fish, but I consider it a victory all the same.
We Eat dinner a few hours later at R.F. McDougals Pub downstairs from the Hungry Trout where we ate dinner the night before. I have to say, The Hungry Trout was a fine dinning experience, and McDougals is a more laid back pub experience, and dinner at both was great. That being said, JP’s burritos were top notch, and as good as they were, we decided that they probably tasted even better because of what we went through to have them. There’s truth in things being better when you work for them. And there’s truth in the idea that work is work, but doesn’t seem as bad when it’s work being done because it’s all you want to do in life. Surrounded by trees and mountains, work is something different. And when the pay is a fish through a hole in the ice and a burrito cooked out there in the open snowfall, work doesn’t seem like all that much work.
The next morning before we leave Wayne and I rig up our rods and layer up before pulling on waders. We drive down the road, pull into a fishing access pull off next to the river, and the two of us do our best to dredge the bottom of what open water we can find while JP, camera in hand, records the morning for posterity. The trees are heavy with snow, evergreen branches weighed down with white precipitation hang low, again the river and surroundings seem to be a black and white photograph. And again, I don't mind in the least. Ice and snow covers a lot of the river.
In some places like the bigger, slow pools it's frozen over as if it's trying to disguise itself as a small pond. In others it's moving fast enough to resist the freezing, but not entirely. The ice still forms along the banks and the boulders, and grows slowly outward over the water, covered by snow, making you have to choose each next step as if your life depended on it. In the least…it might. We fish for about forty minutes or so as far as I can figure, and we don’t catch a thing. Well, that’s not entirely true. At one point I'm dredging the bottom with my bead headed nymph when suddenly the line goes tight, and I lift the rod for a hook set. The rod arches, and the line quivers as it begins to move down stream. It ends up being a four-foot-long stick, but I know in the first moments of the hook biting the wood that I felt it swimming and trying to get away. I’m sure of it. And it felt great. Standing in a black and white photo, a mountain down river looking as if the river was flowing right into it, and a good bend in the rod attached to a false hope, I couldn’t have felt much better. Life is good.
Mark Usyk is the author of Reflections of a Fly Rod and Carp Are Jerks. Both are available on Amazon in both paperback and e-book formats, and signed copies can be purchased right here on jprossflyrods.com while you’re picking out your next fly rod that’s sure to lead you on your own adventures. Remember two favorite mottos…
- You weren’t born to pay bills and die.
- Someone has to do the fishing.
Now go and live your life!