Pillowcase Brook Trout by Mark Usyk
I’d met Mike up north, a trip we’d been planning for a while now. I’d been following him, trying to keep up with his truck through a series of S turns, on a road I didn’t know, focusing through windshield wipers slapping almost perfectly to the Tom Petty song playing on the radio. The rain had turned to snow and then back to rain a couple times. It was no surprise even though it was May first. Spring dies hard in the north country.
I was wondering how far we had to go when Mike pulled to the side of the road. I pulled to the shoulder behind him and he walked back to my car. I lowered my window, the snow tapering off to a few flakes here and there disappearing into wet blacktop. “Yours or mine?” I cocked my head in question. He asked again, this time clarifying. “We’re taking one vehicle from here. Your car or my truck?” “Oh. Yeah, sure. I guess I can just ride with you then. Let me grab my stuff.”
Out of the back seat I grabbed my gear. A fly rod tube, a fly box, a dry bag with a change of clothes and my lunch. I walked to the passenger side of the truck. I got in the front seat and looked over to see Mike holding out a pillow case. “Put this over your head.” It was at that moment that I realized there were two scenarios that could play out from this point. One, Mike was a fisherman serial killer who used the hopes and dreams of huge trout to lure his prey to their deaths. Or two, this was the first time I’d ever had someone tell me they had a secret spot with huge trout in it that was actually true. I weighed the two, and then decided that even if he was a serial killer, the hopes of hog brook trout were as good a reason as any to meet my maker out in the middle of nowhere. Honestly, I’d thought for a long time now that when it was my time to go it would happen out in some remote place with a fly rod in my hand. I just hoped if this was where it was going to end, it wasn’t going to involve an ice pick.
After a series of left and right turns, possibly enough lefts that we may have made a couple u-turns and back tracks most likely to throw me off if I’d been counting off seconds and remembering lefts and rights, the truck left the pavement and I felt a softer ground under the tires as the engine shut off. I heard Mike’s door open, he asked me what I was waiting for, and his door slammed shut. I pulled the pillow case off my head and saw trees. Behind us was pavement. To the left through the trees a river. No ice pick. So far so good.
Once again I was following Mike, this time on foot through the forest. We talked as he looked at a GPS every now and then, pushing through evergreen branches and stepping over rotting dead falls. When we came to a small stream he said we were close. I would’ve cast a line to the stream and been happy. We crossed it and kept moving.
When we got to the river I couldn’t help but feel a little intimidated. It was big, wide. It was still high because there was no water line above the water. Water smashed over the tops of boulders that I imagined easily protruded from the river a foot or more during the summer. We rigged up fly rods with full sink lines and big streamers. I hate full sink lines, but in this flow, and to get to the bottom of the deep hole that was supposedly just below the raging rock garden in front of us you were going to need everything you could take advantage of to do it. So be it. If it was easy everyone would be here doing it. And we were the only ones to be seen. Of course there was still that serial killer possibility.
Mike landed the first brook trout about half an hour after he’d perilously made his way out to the farthest boulder we dared to try and reach in the swift river. I he worked his way back to the shore while fighting it on his line the entire time. The rod kept a good bend, and line peeled off the reel several times. It had been a while since I’d heard the scream of a drag. The idea that it was supposedly a brook trout doing it seemed farfetched and unrealistic to me. We were in the Adirondacks, not Labrador.
I couldn’t believe I’d netted what looked to be about a three pound brookie. I’d caught only one that was close to it in my life, but it wasn’t as heavy a fish. Mike’s fish looked like something you’d see in a magazine from a trip to some faraway place. I netted it, we snapped a couple pictures, and after reviving it watched it glide off from the slack water we stood in back to the fast current and it was gone. We cheered each other for a job well done and high-fived, and then Mike told me it was my turn. I made my way out to the rock.
It wasn’t all that long before I was fighting my own goliath, and I’d forgotten all about that ice pick that may or may not have been in Mike’s pack basket. I’d gone from a pillow case over my head to standing on a boulder in a hard flowing river fighting monster brook trout in all of about forty minutes. It was really something realizing this was indeed one of those fish stories that you get told that you know are never true, that actually was true.
Between the two of us we landed two brook trout in the three pound range, one a little smaller but still a trophy, and we each lost one as well. It had been a light drizzle for a couple hours when it began to come down harder and steadier. We hadn’t felt a fish in a while and had lost several streamers to snags, so with the rain getting heavier we decided to call it quits. The walk out was a lot of talk and speculation of how many fish might actually be in a hole that size. If only the river wasn’t running so hard we might have been able to get out farther on boulders that would have allowed us to target more of the hole. But there was definitely no complaining. Only speculations and reliving the fish play by play.
At the truck we ate our lunches and broke down our fly rods. When I jumped into the front seat I looked over to see the pillow case again. “Put this back on, or you’re never making it back to your car.” It was said with a grin, but it wasn’t a psychotic grin. It was the grin of a fisherman who knew a secret and knew that I knew it now too. I counted in my head both times. He made six more turns on the way out than he did on the way in. Hey, I tried.
Mark Usyk is the author of two books, Reflections of a Fly Rod and most recently released, Carp Are Jerks. Both are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and signed copies are ready for purchase on this site, JPRossflyrods.com