Private Brook Trout Waters by Mark Usyk

Here we were, me and JP, on a privately owned lake on fifty-thousand acres of privately owned land in the Adirondacks, gliding away from a submerged dock after John gave a swift push off with his foot. I wasn’t going to fish the lake, not yet anyhow. I was the only one out of the three of us with a rod. It didn’t seem right to me that I should be the only one to give it a shot while John stood on shore and JP rowed me out, but I did have a new fly rod in my hand, one JP had built for me, and they both swore up and down that it was fine. They wanted to know, after breakfast at the cabin, if it was worth the short hike back as much as I did, so I reluctantly sat on the front of the flat bottom boat, the water swirling to our sides, paddles pushing us across a pitch black nothing below. The weeds had stopped abruptly about thirty feet from the dock and now there was no bottom, no features, no colors. Staring down into the water was like looking up at the night sky if all the stars and the moon were snuffed out like candles. If it wasn’t for the reflections of the trees and the mountain and the blue sky on the surface of the lake, smooth as glass on this end, it would’ve looked like nothing more than the absence of light. A black hole on the earth.

The night before John had caught a nice brookie out on the lake at the cabin. The daylight was all but gone, it was in that moment before pitch black but after the sun was completely gone when we could make out each other’s silhouettes and the whites of teeth during a laugh, and the reflection of the moon as a flash on the fly rods length, but not much else. The fish seemed like it was a good size simply by the splash at the side of the boat and JP said it was a good one as he removed the fly from its mouth, but beyond that all the details were lost. I’m sure it was a great fish as brook trout go, but not being able to make out the white trim of the fins, the orange belly, the blue halos around red spots, the grandness of a good fish is mostly lost when the details aren’t seen. We didn’t have a light.

That night we’d eaten a dinner the likes of which you’d find in a high end restaurant and then after John’s brookie we came in and stayed up late around the table playing poker and sipping whiskey and rye, breaking chops and telling stories. It was an odd but comfortable setting to me, the cabin in the middle of nowhere, leaning on the log railing of the porch looking out at the lake, but I wasn’t used to the three course dinners and the beds and the card games. I’ve read about trips like this but mine normally consist of a pup tent and sleeping bag, a pack of hot dogs and a box of granola bars. I’m not saying I couldn’t get used to this type of thing, although I fear that in the end it would soften me up too much and I’d start sneering at offers to fish local streams and camp in tents during black fly season.

Anyways when we woke up on this morning the wind was coming out of the south and after rowing all the way across the choppy lake and back without a fish…ok JP rowed and John and I rode, we decided the lake wasn’t much good for the day in its current condition. The great thing about a private club on fifty-thousand acres in the Adirondacks is that you don’t have to work very hard to find another lake to try. You just look to the well beaten trail at the back of the cabin with the nice sign on the tree that points to the next lake and you look at your buddies and when everyone shrugs their shoulders in the “sure why not” body language, you start walking. The idea was to make the sixth tenths of a mile hike to Deer Lake, check it out quick, and be back in time for breakfast. JP grabbed his camera, John a sweatshirt, and I of course grabbed a fly rod. The sign could have pointed to an active volcano, but I wasn’t going anywhere without a fly rod. I might do stupid things, but I’m no fool.

So here I was, standing in the front of the boat, JP giving me crap telling me I should learn how to cast so I don’t need to stand, John giving me crap from the shore, something about if I caught another good fish I wasn’t going to wake up in the morning, all in good fun of course, and I had a glass 7ft 3wt in my hand with a tiny streamer. It was a 5 piece pack rod meant for small streams so why not break it in on the lake. OK, maybe I am a fool, but it made as much sense as JP fishing one up in Labrador for monster brookies and catching a pike on the damn thing, so if he could do it, I could catch a little brookie on a lake with a short small stream rod. If there’s one thing I’ve come to believe, it’s just fish, just cast, you can’t catch a fish if the line’s not on the water, so I did.

The streamer wasn’t more than an inch and a half long. It wasn’t weighted. The line was a floating line. It was bright orange and a stark contrast to the black abyss it shot out across and laid on looking like a neon sign in a dark bar window. The water could have been ten feet deep or it could have been a hundred. The bottom, most likely a mix of rotting and decomposing rich, black plant matter absorbed any and all sun light that dared to try and penetrate the lake. The streamer slapped down like a tiny steak. I stripped line for about fifteen seconds, it was all the time the brook trout could stand to wait. The three weight doubled over, the attack was at the surface and violent, the fishes body twisting and thrashing and splashing. I heard John say something on the shore about “you gotta be kidding me” but I was too absorbed in the fight to get it all.

I held the brookie, easily as long as my forearm with my fingers stretched out and we took in the colors. The contrast of the white of the underneath of its jaw to the black of the rest of its head. The marbling pattern running the length of its back and the bright blue halos surrounding even brighter red dots, and white trimmed fins looking as pure as a fresh snow fall.

The fish slid from my hand and glided off into the black depth below the boat. I was grinning. JP was grinning, then JP said something I’ll never forget. “I can’t believe you just caught another great brook trout. You are kind of a dick.”