Small Trout and Lonely Beers by Mark Usyk

I had the boys for the weekend. A few years ago that would’ve sounded so odd to me. But it’s normal now. It still sounds odd to me, when I say it, but I move on a little quicker with the after thoughts now than I used to. Ok, that’s a lie. Either way, I had the boys for the weekend. It was a really nice day before the clouds moved in and the rain started. So we walked the canal trail.

I got to the bottom of the street before I realized I was missing an opportunity, and as we crossed the bridge over the creek on the way to the canal I looked down at it, as I always do, and told the boys to look. The water looked great. “Do you want your fishing poles? You can fish the canal while we walk if you want.” Jake turned in the front seat to look at Carter behind him, they both nodded in agreement, I did a U-turn and we grabbed their ultralight spinning rods out of the garage. I had a 6wt in the car if I wanted to fish. At the parking area to the trail head I left the 6wt behind. I’m more into watching them fish these days than fishing myself when we’re together. I can fish when I’m alone.

The Barge Canal is long and straight. A walking path runs parallel to it. It’s convenient. Close to home. Two minutes if the light in town is green. We walk here fairly often. Carter caught his first smallmouth on his own here. Today they won’t catch anything but it doesn’t seem to matter to them. Thankfully. I don’t know if they got that from me or if they’re just hiding disappointment when they don’t, but if they are, they’re pretty darn good actors. Most likely it’s in their blood. The not caring about getting skunked. I don’t care if I don’t catch anything. And I can remember my Grandfather letting a bobber sit for hours and not complaining once. Of course they might be hiding disappointment if you look at it that way too. My father never showed any emotions while I was growing up, he just got stuff done. He bottled everything up. I do too. Show nothing. Smile and nod. So there’s a chance if things are in your blood, they’ll be good at that too.

Jake makes more casts than Carter. He tries a little harder to get in a good place to cast and ends up soaking a sneaker. I tell him it’ll dry in the sun on the porch, may as well keep fishing now. Carter climbs a bridge piling to get a better vantage point. Neither catch anything, but they see a small bass and a school of sunfish swim out from a submerged tree along the bank and we decide that if the weather is good on the next weekend I have them I’ll carry the canoe and they can cast to the banks from the middle of the canal. Again it feels odd as I say it. The next weekend I have them. But they don’t seem to flinch anymore when I say it. They’ve gotten good at this “new normal.” What a stupid saying.

It’s raining when I drive them back home at the end of the day. I help them get their bags out of the back and at their door I tell them I love them and I’ll see them on Tuesday. The windshield wipers are on their highest delay setting now. If it rains any harder I’d have to succeed defeat and turn them on to the first full speed.

At home I walk back in the house, my shoulders a little damp from the rain. I sit on the couch, look around. Think about writing. Then realize I’m not motivated quite enough to actually do it. I get up and turn the laptop on anyway. Just incase something clicks. I walk into the kitchen, and on a little countertop next to a stack of fly boxes find a whiskey bottle that has one tumbler glass left in it if I’m lucky, and leave it there. Not really in the mood for a glass. I go back to the living room, back to the couch. I look around again. This is no good. Maybe I need a dog. Maybe a cat. It’s raining outside still. No, I don’t need a pet. I just need to go stand in the creek with a fly rod. I grab my hat with all the woolly buggers stuck in the brim, a raincoat, and in the garage I put on my waders and boots. I pick up my 4wt and head out the back door.  

I’ve got a decent trail beat down still from the house to the creek, but that will be gone soon once spring actually arrives. The weeds will be taller than me, all the bare scrub brush will be full of leaves. But right now it’s easy walking. I’m at the creek in less than three minutes, if I had to estimate a guess.

The water is still cold, and with the rain I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s dropping a degree or two since the high, sunny point earlier in the day. My odds aren’t good, but if I based my fishing on the odds, I’d still be on the couch. This fly fishing thing isn’t about the odds to me.

In the big slow pool I’m waist deep, casting across and letting a black bugger with what I guess is just the right amount of flash, dead drift. I retrieve it straight upstream to me with slow deliberate strips. I do this several times, hoping for a tug, but not too much. I don’t want to look desperate to the fish. I hide my hope these days. That way maybe I might look a little less let down when nothing happens because I didn’t look like I was very hopeful to begin with. I’ve been told I’m a pessimist more than once. The way I see It, if I don’t expect good things then I’m never disappointed when nothing good happens. It’s how I’ve learned to win over time. It works all over life for me. I don’t really need it on the water since I don’t care if I catch anything, but I’ve gotten so good at it everywhere else in life that it just come naturally everywhere. On the creeks included.

But then there’s a little tug, and then nothing. I know it was a fish, and a smile creeps over my face. I know I missed it, and as I say out loud to myself, “That was definitely a fish,” I make another slow deliberate strip, I never pause in my rhythm. And there it is again on the next strip, only this time the tug continues with more tugs. I expect a fall fish, because that’s just what I seem to catch a lot of here. But it’s not fighting hard enough. I see brown. Not big. And for a second I think it’s a small smallmouth bass. But again, it’s just not fighting hard enough. It ends up being a brown trout. Nine inches or so. Most likely stocked, if you care about such a thing. Somedays I do, but not today. On a lot of days I’m traipsing through the north woods looking for wild fish, but that’s just not always possible. Like today. And so I’m happy enough to catch stocked fish when they’re there. It’s the only fish I catch. I’m fine with it.

Back in the garage I pull my waders off, find my pants underneath are just as wet as the outside and realize that I probably can’t put off new waders much longer, if I want to stay dry anyway. I open the garage refrigerator, the “beer fridge” and find two lonely tall boy Blue Lights. I take one inside, set it on a coaster next to the lap top, and change out of my wet pants. I sit down at the laptop, raise the can to my mouth and place it back on the coaster. Looking at the lap top, I don’t know what I have to say, but it seems as good a time as any to say it. I’m glad I went out. Glad I fished in the rain. I could’ve just sat on the couch.

Mark Usyk is the author of two books, reflections of a Fly Rod and Carp Are Jerks. They can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and signed copies are available on this website, JP Ross Fly Rods. He writes stories about life where fishing happens and can usually be found on a local creek doing his best to waste a perfectly good life on nothing more than the hopes of a tug and the occasional fish.