No Shoes...No Problem by Mark Usyk

I saw the bear poop at the last second, only nearly avoiding it with my sandaled foot. “I called back through the trees to the stream behind me “Hey, I guess this is a bear trail. We got poop.” Then I pushed on through the young intertwined spruce trees, pointing my fly rod through the most open spots in the branches I could find, the trees still grabbing fly line and guides every chance they got.

I pushed my face through evergreen branches, wishing I’d brought more black fly dope, figuring most of it was ending up scraped off and left behind on pine needles at this point. I looked down to maneuver my foot to a safe looking spot on the next rotten moss covered fallen tree trunk and laughed at the sight of the sandals on my feet in such unforgiving terrain. I wasn’t wearing sandals because I hadn’t planned on bush whacking through Adirondack backcountry, I actually knew I would be from the beginning. Nope, this was just the card I’d dealt myself by months and months of procrastinating. I’d known my waders were getting bad. Each time I wore them they seemed to leak just a little more. But when I had the money I opted to buy a new fishing kayak instead, and to get the waders next time. Next time hadn’t come yet.

Then two days before leaving for this trip I’d worn the waders fishing the creek out back and found just as much water in them as in the creek itself. So I’d hung them up for the last time to dry on the front porch before probably tacking them up to the garage ceiling as a reminder of a few good years of fishing stories. Then I’d gone digging for the water shoes I’d warn last year, only to find the soles falling off. With no time to order anything online and no stores open, I turned to my last resort, my old sandals. A pair of neoprene socks would be the only barrier between my toes and the dangers of unseen river bottom rocks and hidden tree roots and deadfalls in the deep woods of the Adirondacks. As I thought about almost stepping in bear poop with my sandals and now looking down as I perched one on a rotted pine tree carcass, I decided this was all a good thing. I was still out there, doing what Chris and John were doing in wading boots, and I was still smiling. I told myself “This is how you rebuild your pride. By doing stupid stuff that gets the job done and doing it well.” `

The brook trout were more than willing to eat, as long as you threw something big and ugly apparently. Small flies seemingly went ignored but the bigger the dry fly the better. I had no idea what fly it was I had tied on, but it was easily a size 14 with enough caddis wing and hackle to cover a size 12 hook. The brook trout didn’t care what its name might be, they just clobbered it. The same went for Chris and John, whatever they were casting was of decent size and some of the takes were shocking.

More than once Chris dropped his dry fly no more than six and a half feet away to tend to his fly line or reel for a moment, and a brook trout would show up, slap the fly, then hurry off before Chris could so much as even think about raising the rod. He’d look at me in disbelief, I’d laugh, and then a fish would rise somewhere else as we looked at the rings on the water below the tip of his rod in disbelief.

It’s no secret that in the Adirondacks brook trout actually like a dry fly skittered across the surface, but out there it was working so well that we began to make jokes about the strategy. “What fly you got on?” “I don’t know what it’s called, but do you remember fishing Hula Poppers and Jitter bugs when you used to fish with a spinning rod? They work just like those lures. They just don’t look anything like them. And you’re not supposed to fish them like them either. But they’re basically the same thing today.”

A couple times as we reeled in to move on or to change the fly simply because we were bored with such easy fishing and wanted to try to find the wrong fly to make it more challenging, brook trout attacked practically at our feet just as the fly was lifted from the water and I decided that perhaps I should be doing a figure 8 with the dry fly at the end of my rod tip like you do for musky at the side of the boat.

There were other times I thought they were acting like a pod of Orcas. Orcas have been known to hunt by drowning other whales by simply driving them down below the surface with their noses and bodies, not letting them come up for air. More than enough times to say it was becoming common we had brookies nosing our flies underwater and keeping them there for a few seconds as if to see what the fly would do and nothing more. And another brook trout took my dry fly so violently at one point that watching from the bank John just looked at me and laughed. I don’t know if cocaine would do the same thing to a fish that it does to people, but if it does, that’s exactly what that brook trout looked like it was on. It breached the surface raising the big dry fly on its nose, tail walked across the water like a dolphin at SeaWorld doing a show, then did a summersault converting into a triple lindy before finally coming down on top of the fly in a spectacular reentry that could only be compared to a magnificent car wreck. I looked at John and said, “That was completely uncalled for.” And I meant it. Those fish were off their rockers… Says the idiot who hiked and bush whacked well over ten miles of Adirondack back country in sandals.

Mark Usyk is the author of Reflections of a Fly Rod and Carp Are Jerks. Both books full of stories about life, where fishing happens. Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble,, and signed copies are available for purchase on this site,


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