I saw someone while I was out grocery shopping a few months ago. It wasn’t someone I knew very well, but someone that read my blogs. It struck me as a weird question when it was asked… The stories you write… Do you really write about real stuff that you’ve done or do you make a lot of it up? I kind of chuckled and asked why they would think I made my stories up, besides my being a fisherman and knowing that fishermen exaggerated sometimes and were known to all out lie at others. But no, really. Why would I make this stuff up? Then he back peddled a little, probably thinking he’d offended me. I could kind of see it in his eyes. He said “No no no, what I mean is you have such detail in some of them. I read it and I feel like I’m there. Do you really remember all the little details of a fishing trip that was weeks ago or last year?”
I question my own memory all the time, that’s no lie. I have to fill out a time sheet at the end of every day at my day job, and a lot of the time I really have to scratch my head trying to remember the last eight hours. It makes me wonder how it is I can remember everything I do about the insignificant things in life, like a day spent on a creek that I caught absolutely nothing on. I guess that day in the grocery store, I guess that was a valid question. It was a few months ago and somedays I haven’t thought about that question at all, but then there have been others that I really have wondered how much of this stuff I’m making up because it’s what I want to see in my head. But today I remembered some detective work I did last year that almost completely backs up my claims to be writing about things I actually remember. That when I write about a canoe trip from two years ago or a trip to the family farm with my Grandfather thirty years ago I really am remembering this stuff. The fish was 6lbs and 22 inches. And I remember.
Last year sometime. The date doesn’t matter. The detective work and the results do:
The year was… well, the year was fuzzy. But I thought I was… well, I didn’t know how old I was because I didn’t know what year it was. I knew I was little, like not in school yet little. I knew it was a vacation my Mother and I took to Florida to see my Grandparents. And I remembered that I was sitting in the back seat of my Grandparents car. Straddling the transmission hump. I didn’t know if I went into the store with them or waited in the car, I just remembered a comic book being put in my hands and I remembered studying the cover. At such a young age I didn’t know the characters on the cover and couldn’t read the name, but as I got older and read comic books and clung to that memory in the back seat of a hot car in Florida I learned that the main character on the cover was called Man Thing. A Marvel Comics hero. He was standing in a swamp and accompanied by several little characters that I couldn’t remember in detail, but I knew I remembered Man Thing, standing in a swamp, and little guys around him. For whatever reason I’ve had this short, maybe ten second memory stuck in my head for most of my life. It’s possibly why I have some type of connection to comic books, super heroes, and the toys that share space with fly fishing tackle scattered through my house today at forty-three years old.
Anyway, last year at some point I decided I needed to know what comic book it was, and what year the memory was from. I decided it was before kindergarten, but couldn’t be too much before, so I went to the all-knowing Google. I searched Man Thing comic book covers 1978 and came up with nothing. Then I searched Man Thing comic book covers 1979… Jackpot! After a few swipes, Micronauts #7 came across my small phone screen and the feeling was one of relief. I did indeed remember what I remembered. I have no idea why. I just remember it. Among so many other insignificant things.
I really do remember all the details to my fishing trips. I remember catching walleye on chunks of hot dogs on Fish Creek at my great aunt and uncle’s camp on family weekends. I remember drives to the Judge’s camp, a good friend of my Grandfather. Collecting worms by a stream that passed by a barn. Bull frogs in the weeds along the bank and a goat that couldn’t be trusted once you sat on the end of the dock. I can remember throwing whole slices of bread to the coy fish in my Mother’s Parent’s pond with the frog fountain in their back yard, and always asking to see the gas powered toy air plane that lived in a cabinet in their house that was my uncle’s growing up. It had a mouth with teeth painted on it and my Grandfather would always open the cabinet door to let me look at it but never touch it. I remember it all and so much more.
Maybe it’s why I’m a writer. I don’t remember anything important. I can’t remember anyone’s birthday, mine included sometimes… It’s not just yours. I don’t remember if I paid bills half the time, I have to check. I’ll even admit to forgetting picking my kids up at school a time or two over the years. But I remember why I forgot to pick them up. I was day dreaming about memories. True story.
The first fish I caught on my JP Ross Beaver Meadow 3wt were a handful of tiny little pumpkin seeds. They were in a pond behind the hotel I was staying at somewhere in southwestern NY. They were on dry flies, I was casting just beyond the tall grass that outlined the pond, which had dead trees, faded gray from the sun, standing all across it. The lawn was soggy, my logger boots with the steel toes and shanks squished with each step, water pressed up around them out of the grass. The fish were only slightly larger than actual pumpkin seeds. I sent JP a photo of one in the palm of my hand, the accompanied text said “It’s broken in.” I don’t know how long ago that was, but it wasn’t yesterday, and it wasn’t five years ago. Years is all I know. But I recall it all as if it was yesterday, or last year at least.
I like to say that I think most everyone could write, at least a little, if they only found something that they could connect to on a very personal level. I suppose that comes from my own experience, but I’d like to think it’s somewhat true. For whatever reason, fishing is one of the couple things that my mind seems to latch onto and not let go of, so I write about it. I have to write about it. If I didn’t, I could only imagine that my head would become so congested with useless memories and information that I myself would become completely useless. I have to get it out. Make room. My mind holds three things long term… Anything fishing, movie lines, and, crap… I’ve forgotten the third. That almost makes me feel better. But I’ll be up all night trying to remember what it was. It’s no doubt somewhere in between Forest Gump apologizing for getting in a fight in the middle of a Black Panther party and a pike I hooked into on the Owasco River in Auburn NY below a deck full of people eating dinner off the back of a restaurant right in town.
It was lying on a sandy bottom out of the current and I dragged a Wollybugger by it, hopping it across the sand ripples, little puffs of sand with each hop. The pike let it pass but turned with it, watching, backing up as it pivoted. I let the bugger stop, come to rest in the wide open only a couple feet from it and it moved in for a closer inspection. It stared it down, I gave it another small strip and it moved in, tipped on its side, and with flared gills picked it up off the bottom. The head shakes were violent but not in a “let me go” kind of way, more in a state of confusion. More like “How can such a little thing be so strong? It broke me off after about thirty seconds and glided upstream about twenty-five feet where it came to rest in a shaded spot. I thought about giving it another shot while the people on the deck overhead talked about their work days and music played through outdoor speakers. I can still feel the dampness and cool air in the shade of the deck, I still remember wondering if I was supposed to be there or if someone would come out and tell me to leave. I remember it all, like hundreds of other days on the water in as many other places. I really do remember all those details.
And I’m going to go on eBay and find that Micronauts issue #7 too. I’m pretty sure I need it hanging on the wall in my writing corner. Next to the print of that 21 inch brown I remember from that July 4th morning on the West Canada Creek with such vividness.
Mark Usyk is the author of two books, (so far) Reflections of a Fly Rod and Carp Are Jerks. Both have been said to be stories about life, where fishing happens. Find them online on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and signed copies ready for purchase on this site, JPRossflyrods.com.