Patience by Mark Usyk

When things finally come together they feel like a fish pulling against you at the end of your line…

Patience. By definition it’s the capacity to accept or tolerate delay without getting angry or upset. My Grandmother used to tell me it was a virtue. As a high school kid in ripped jeans and a leather jacket it was the only hit song off the Guns-N-Roses “Lies” album, and today, twenty-eight years later, patience is something I seem to be in short supply of. Whatever it is I want done, I don’t want to screw around, I just want it done now. It needs to happen now. So that I can move on to more important things. Like fishing.

The only place I can find my last remaining bit of patience anymore is on the water with a fly rod. And lately, I’m finding it harder and harder to get there. Where everything else seems to wear my patience thin, errands to run after work, getting the boys to baseball practices on time, loading and unloading the dishwasher when I just want to get to writing or flies that need to be tied, the rattling exhaust under the Jeep in the morning and the rushed and frantic tightening of the clamp holding it in place to silence it, where I find my patience is at the end of a looping fly line. So the irony? That’s when I can finally get through all the crap a life can throw at you as a parent, as an adult with a job and responsibilities, as an assistant Little League coach at the beginning of the season, and as the owner of a seventeen year old vehicle that can sometimes have its little hiccups, when I can get past all that and find an hour to string up a rod and walk out back to the creek, and find that in three weeks the water still hasn’t cleared up from the spring melt flows. I’m finally ready. The creek isn’t.

And then one night, just as the last hues of reds and purples were filtering through the trees across a hidden horizon and the full moon was illuminating everything in a pale blue, I happened to be idling the Jeep across the bridge over the creek in town on one more errand. If there’s no one else on the road I’ll almost always slow down if not completely stop just to take a look. In the day time you might catch the dark shape of a decent carp on the sand flat of the inside bend, or the splash of a smallmouth or a fall fish as they chase a meal, but so far this spring the water had been high and brown. I couldn’t see the color of the water in the moon light, but I knew from only an hour earlier that it was still brown, so my idling across the bridge wasn’t so much me looking for signs of life as it was me pleading with the creek in my head to just hurry up and clean yourself up already. It’s taking too long.

I guess that’s why it shocked me when I saw the fish jump. It was a bass. I know this because the silhouette was perfect, the fish having no detail except the crisp and exact shape of a smallmouth against the moon light’s reflection on the water. The Jeep was barely moving across the bridge so it didn’t take much more than me hastily tapping the brake pedal to bring it to a sudden stop. If it wasn’t for the seatbelt I’d have probably bounced my head off the windshield. I took it as a sign. Clear water or not, the fish had to eat, and they were ready.

The next day after work I found myself leaning against the chain link of the baseball field fence, the boys warming up in two lines facing each other. Just playing catch. The sun was finally warm on my face, and bugs actually hovered above the grass, mosquitos biting at my calves. Finally. I was thinking about that fish the night before at the bridge, and at some point it became apparent to me that the sound of baseballs slapping leather gloves sounded an awful lot like bluegills smacking bugs off the bottoms of lily pads. I swatted another mosquito and came to the realization that there’d be no time to fish for a few days still. That bass at the bridge knew it. That’s why he jumped. Smallmouths are trouble makers.

Easter morning Holly was lecturing me in the kitchen about my lack of patience. This time because of the strict diet I’d been put on only days earlier by a doctor who’d informed me that I had an inflamed esophagus, ulcers, and a hiatal hernia. Apparently, when a doctor tells you that you need to take care of yourself, they actually mean to take care of yourself. It’s not like when you see someone out somewhere and they say take care of yourself as a way to end the conversation politely. I was supposed to avoid all dairy products for ten days, and anything spicy, anything with sauce, anything citrus, soda, coffee and beer among other stuff for who knows how long. I was griping about having to drink not milk-milk with my cereal and avoid anything with flavor all together (at least that’s how I see it) and she was giving me the old I know you don’t have any patience but you need to have patience while your insides heal up speech. Then she asked me if I was going fishing.

I sat patiently and read some of John Gierach’s new book while Holly went for a run, and now that I think about it, reading about fishing is probably about the only thing outside of fishing itself, or tying flies, or writing about all of it that can slow my mind down and settle my impatience.

When Holly got back my impatience returned, and I was struggling into my waders, getting mad at the time it was taking to rig up my rod, just generally continuing on being impatient. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s looking on the dark side of everything. If there’s another, it’s having no patience. Everything I was doing was taking too long. I had Holly drive me over to the bridge up the creek a little ways because I didn’t want to waste any more time walking, and as she pulled away I hopped the guardrail and hurried down the embankment. I tripped through a patch of saplings and stumbled across the rocks at the water’s edge, crossed the mouth of a tiny feeder creek and cursed at the mud trying to suck the boots off my feet and slowing me down, and finally found myself standing on the bank of a slow run just below some good riffles.

The water wasn’t perfectly clear, but it was beginning to clear up. Finally. I could make out about two feet of visibility, and I figured that was about as good as I was going to get, I didn’t have time to wait for it to get better. My patience for waiting on the water was gone. I made two false casts because three would have taken just too damn long and I let the black cone headed Woolly Bugger sink and drift down stream out of sight in the deep run. I wiggled the end of the fly rod, watching the energy transfer down the line, as much to give the bugger some life as because my impatience told me I had to do something. The line paused and I lifted the rod tip. The rod bent and danced a little dance, a fish fought at the other end. I forgot about nothing going my way, about everything taking too long. Time stood still.