Opportunities by Mark Usyk
I took Friday off. It’s what I do anymore these days as commonly as putting gas in my car or doing laundry or mowing my, well, wait…I take Fridays off more commonly than I mow my lawn. I have the days to take, so I take them. I wasn’t born to pay bills and die. I say it a lot, I mean it, and I act on it as often as I can. This past Friday was no normal personal or vacation day though. I just turned forty-five and at work we get a day off within thirty days of our birthday. So I’d originally meant to go fishing. Naturally. But then Nikki called me two nights before because she’d hit a deer, so being the good friend I am I went to check on her. Since she was only a couple miles away. You know, wait for the sheriff to show up with her, check out the damage to her car myself, follow her home since she only had one headlight left, and take the deer of course.
The thing was perfect. More perfect than if it had been a perfect shot through the heart. There was no damage. It looked so perfect in fact that I kept imagining it coming back to consciousness as it was in the back of the Subaru and the two of us reenacting that scene from Tommy Boy. Me, standing outside the car on the side of the road in a state of disbelief, the buck doing it’s best to destroy the inside of my car while attempting to escape. He was dead enough though. A car to the old noggin at fifty miles an hour will do that. So on Friday I spent the day cutting it up and packing it all in the freezer. I’d hoped to make it to the river before the end of the day but these things don’t always work out. Saturday didn’t work out either.
On Sunday I slept in until nine-thirty. Something I don’t normally do. Forty-five must be hitting me hard. I had a couple things still left to do before the weekend was over, but then I looked out the window and saw snowflakes in the air. I went from rubbing my eyes and pushing the blanket to the end of the couch with my feet to complete wide-eyed attention to what was going on outside in a matter of seconds. I have this thing about fly fishing while snow is falling. I hate winter most of the time anymore. But I love it if there’s snow coming down and I’m standing in a river. I brushed my teeth, ate a donut and washed it down with a glass of milk, and hastily gathered my waders, a fly box full of nymphs and buggers, and that 10’ 6” 4wt prototype JP had built two years ago. I was moving too fast, fumbling around like a comedic Abbot and Costello episode, but I finally made it out the door and pointed the car down the street.
Twenty-five minutes later I parked on the shoulder of a country road alongside a trout stream and was rigging up the 4wt as a jogger passed, giving me a look like he thought I was a little crazy standing there in waders with a fly rod as the snow was falling. Who was he kidding…I wasn’t the one running right past the trout stream now was I?
The water was clear. So clear that since I didn’t really expect to catch anything anyways, I figured the clear water pretty much sealed my fate for the day. They’d see me coming from a mile away. But not only did I totally ignore the fact that I was sure I wouldn’t catch anything, but I began fishing, working my way downstream where the fish would be facing my approach in such clear water. I know the right way to do things, I just ignore them a lot of the time. And now that I’m forty-five, I feel as though I can start blaming my age for my stubbornness.
The 4wt I was fishing is one JP built two years ago for a three-day canoe trip. He thought having such a long rod would be handy on the small blue line we were floating because where there wouldn’t always be a lot of room to cast on the Alder lines stream, you could just reach out and drop a fly where you wanted to. And it worked well of course. But then I kept the rod and fished it for another two seasons and found that it was good for everything. Nymphs, dries, even decent sized streamers. I’d been fishing it for trout, bass, pan fish, even pickerel a couple times. It became my go to everything rod. (We named it The Peacemaker and it releases in January.) My grandfather used to say that anything that was meant to do more than one thing didn’t do any of them well, but I think I finally found that one thing that the saying didn’t apply to. I thought about tying on a tiny heavy nymph, but then when I looked in my fly box there was this pale yellow, almost white bugger that screamed at me to fish it. Chris Murphy had given it to me in late spring on an Adirondack brook trout trip and I hadn’t used it yet. No time like the present I thought.
I’d made it about a hundred yards downstream from the car when the snow quit falling. About that same time the line went tight, and I wondered for a couple seconds if it was a fish or another snag like the last five times. The line pulsed and moved up stream. It was a fish. In the crystal clear water I got to see most of the fight, it would turn circles then reverse them, run upstream then down, and when I finally got it in the net it’s orange belly was every bit as bright as it had been while out there fighting in the middle of the creek. The spots, especially the red ones, where of the typical broad-shouldered heavy brown that you see in photos and paintings. It was a good fish. Not a monster. Just plain good. Or anything but plain good.
I was out there on the creek for at least three hours. I landed six fish, missed three. The three I missed were all small. I’m pretty sure one of them actually had a hold of the bugger’s tail and only let go when it saw me. The rest were all big shouldered and heavy. Nothing big as in “long” but what they lacked in length they made up for in heft.
I hadn’t planned to go fishing on Sunday, but when it popped in my head I had nothing and no one holding me back. So I recognized the opportunity and took it. Immediately. That’s how I think you have to handle life to get the most out of it. When an opportunity presents itself you just better jump on it. I’ve got too many regrets of missed opportunities. If I’d only figured that out years ago, I’d have some good stories. Or at least more good days. Maybe even some more good fish.
Mark Usyk is the author of Reflections of a Fly Rod and Carp Are Jerks. He’s currently working on his next book titled “Not All Trout Are Geniuses.” His books are available on Amazon as both paperback and e-books, and signed copies are available here on jprossflyrods.com.
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