I feel like it’s appropriate to do a year in review type thing a couple days from the New year. But the rebel inside me says don’t do it, that’s to typical, don’t be typical. Nine out of ten times I go with the rebel within. Probably why I’m where I am today, but that’s besides the point. But this is also one of those nine out of ten. Sorry, I’m not going to count down my favorite fishing trips of the year, I mean would you really care anyways? They were my trips, not yours. You should be reliving yours, that’s the whole point of it anyways. I think. Instead of a year in review, I think I’ll share what I might have possibly learned over the past year. Put your notebook away, I’m not going to be sharing any fly patterns or favorite must have gear. We’re going deeper.
I think I might be some kind a hippie. Not like a tie-dye t-shirt wearing toking dread locked hippie, but more like a surfer-hippie. Not a stoner thing, a Zen thing. I think that’s what I learned this past year.
One of my favorite movies in high school was Point Break. Young FBI agent goes undercover to catch some surfer bank robbers. Lots of awesome surfing footage, crazy stunts, skydiving, one liners, cameos from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I just watched it today because I couldn’t sleep anymore. I’ve been sick for two days now. With as much throwing up as I’ve done, I feel like I did a few hundred push-ups. I should probably have the six pack Patrick Swayze did in the movie as sore as my abdomen is. But I’m getting off point. Must be the dehydration. Time to regroup.
The Zen surfer Bhodi, Swayze’s character, he lays it out there in simple terms. He’s trying to explain to this new, apparently naïve wannabe surfer what it’s all about, what he believes it is. Talking about some surfer punks they just got into a fight with he says “They only live to get radical. They don’t understand the sea, so they’ll never get the spiritual side of it.” He then goes on to state “It’s that place where you lose yourself and find yourself.” Laying on the couch, a cold bowl of chicken soup on the coffee table next to me and a bucket on the floor, holy shit. This movie just went from entertaining to downright relatable. And I’ve never surfed.
I got it. I get it. And this is exactly what I see happened to me in 2019. I moved on in my fly-fishing journey. It was never about catching big fish, or a lot of fish. Obviously catching fish with a fly rod is an experience all to itself, different from any other kind of fishing. But in 2019 I think I became some kind of fly-fishing hippie. I guess it could be worse.
Fly fishing to me from the beginning was really about losing myself. Leaving everything behind. Bad shit stayed on shore, at home, somewhere behind. Very rarely could I ever find it on a river, and I was never looking for it. But this year I know there was a change in me. I started trying to let everything go. I tried to get back to that high school kid that didn’t have a care in the world. When stuff went wrong back then my answer was always “Oh well. Can’t change it now.” As I got older that was replaced by four letter words, anger. In 2019 I think I started my trip back. Thanks to fly fishing.
If I wanted to go I just went. I thought I did it enough but apparently not quite. Here I am home sick from what should have been my first day back to work using a sick day because I’m actually sick! If I’d really done the year right, I’d have no choice but to go to work sick because I’d used all my sick days up fishing. But I did use almost all of my vacation days and personal days on rivers and lakes. So I can claim that victory.
I didn’t stress over work. It’s my paycheck, but not what I do to live. I make a living at work. I live out on the water with a fly rod in my hand. I tried not to stress over much at all. And fishing so much helped. A lot. I can drink beer again, eat a hot pepper without nearly dying within an hour. That means my ulcers are finally gone. I’d like to credit that to the way I ate this year, but no, I know the truth. I let my stress go. And with the stress went the ulcers. That’s time on the water, and time thinking about the water when I’m not on it. That’s losing yourself and finding yourself. I found myself this year. Right where I knew I was. But this year it was different. Maybe it was just a time thing. Probably was. All things take time. Especially fishing.
I’ve been connected to nature since I was a very young boy, but this year it was different. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I watched that movie again. I’d lost myself a long time ago, and that’s stayed constant for years. This year the second part finally showed up. I found myself. That’s what fly fishing is all about to me.
I step to the riverbank and pause. Where do I want to cast to first? And where do I want to enter the river to make that easiest? I spot the fishiest looking cropping of boulders in the run and know that’s the spot, but there’s so much water between me and them that I’m in no rush to get there. I make a cast from where I am on the bank, a dry fly and a flicking action. The cast isn’t far, it doesn’t need to be, the wet stuff is everywhere. On the third drift a brook trout takes it and my heart lifts. It honestly lifts. I’m happy. It’s not an adrenaline thing like fighting a steelhead or a carp, it’s simply happiness in a place I wish I could spend all of my time.
I remove the fly from its mouth while it’s still in my net. Keep it wet, get a good look at it before I release it. Its colors are amazing. Anything humans try to do with their art is nothing more than trying to equal this. Nature. Some come close, but it’s still only a copy. My cleats scape river stone as the current pushes against my knees. The forest canopy crowds in over the stream. While the sun may be bright above them, here under them it’s shaded and cooler. The fish feel safer under the canopy, and I completely agree with them. Here I’m totally safe from everything the world has to throw at me. I make my way towards the boulders slowly. Picking off a brook trout here and there. Today is a good day apparently, on other days I might not get a single bite. And it wouldn’t matter at all. I’ve lost myself, and in turn, found myself.
Mark Usyk is the author of Reflections of a Fly Rod and Carp Are Jerks, both collections of stories about life, where fishing happens. You can purchase them on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and signed copies are available on this website…JPRossflyrods.com. He finally cut his hair this year, but he’s still a hippie.