Stocked Trout Matters by Mark Usyk

I’m guilty of fishing more or less one creek for the most part this year so far, not much variety. It’s next to the Little League field, so it was convenient with two boys always at practices. It’s within walking distance from the house, so it’s a fast and easy target for a quick few casts after work. And even though I know the creek like the back of my hand, as cliché as that is, all the flooding this year has constantly changed its character. So the fact that none of the deep holes that I knew so well are left, none of the downed trees that rested in perfect positions to swing streamers past in the currents are where they used to be, and the mud flat that used to be just upstream of the bridge is now a slow deep pool that’s deeper than I am tall, all this I seem to use to justify in my mind the fishing of the same creek all the time. I know where I am on it, but it always looks different, it’s always changing. So I tell myself that it’s ok, I shouldn’t feel bad about always parking in the same two places and always wading the same stretches, they’re always different. But deep down inside, I know I’m a slacker. I used to get up and drive an hour or more in different directions just to fish someplace else. This year I’m lucky to fish at all.

I left my last job because I was always working ridiculous shifts, and I worked every weekend. So it’s not very often, hardly ever actually, that I work on a weekend these days. In the past year I think I’ve worked three Saturday mornings. Fortunately I’ve never been motivated by money which means I’m not the guy you’re going to see kill himself with overtime. If I’m surviving I’d rather have my time to do with it what I want. On the other side of that, unfortunately I’ve never been motivated by money, which means I’m forty-one years old and I don’t have any. But I do have a few fly rods… And there’s always one in the Rod Vault on the roof ready to go, and usually one or two more in the Jeep broken down in their tubes just in case.

A couple weeks ago I did work a Saturday morning. It was down the street from work when I left that I found myself sitting at a red light, staring through the windshield in a daze contemplating my current state of affairs when I realized I really didn’t want to go home. And as I came out of the daze, woken up by a horn from the car behind me because the light was green, I found my eyes focusing on the guard rail of the bridge I was about to cross, and then on the water below it. I’d never fished this creek here, in honesty I’d hardly ever fished this creek anywhere, and it was probably the next closest creek to home from the Oriskany Creek. I got honked at one more time as I made the last second decision to hit the brakes and make a hard right. I wasn’t going home. Not until I made a few casts.

Our buddies Doug and Lucas are always sending us pictures of nice browns they catch in the Sauquoit Creek. But even though I know there’s some good fish in it, I really wasn’t feeling like trout. I’ve been in a smallmouth mood lately. I’ve been in the mood to fight I guess, which is what smallmouths do best. But here I was on a trout stream. I was so unprepared for it that I only had one dry fly. I searched the Jeep for a few minutes and it seems that all I keep on hand is streamers and a couple poppers. I made a mental note to correct that as I came across the one and only dry fly hidden in the foam by the heater vents under the feathers of a large streamer. I stuck the dry on the brim of my hat, and headed towards the sound of the water mostly drowned out by the noise of passing traffic.

It didn’t take me long. I stood just under the bridge on concrete with half an inch of water covering it at best. Wondering how waterproof the soles of my safety toe work shoes really were, half expecting to feel dampness any second, and caring have as less. It didn’t take long, to see the first rise.

The first rise was near the far bank which wasn’t far at all. A twenty foot reach at best would put the fly where it needed to be, and it seemed too easy. I made a cast upstream above the small, most likely stocked fish. It was a good cast. The fly landed softly being the first cast, not having soaked up any weight yet. It rode high on the slow current, directly in the path of the trout I could see on the bottom in only maybe a foot of water. The trout lifted off the bottom as the fly approached, the way I dog might stand up from a lying position to inspect someone walking past on a sidewalk, it came within striking distance as the fly floated over it, turning with it as it passed, following it for a few inches, and then turned back and returned to the bottom. Like I said, it seemed too easy. I’ll insult the intelligence of stocked fish quite regularly, and then get beaten by a brain the size of an immature green pea, which once again humbles me the way everyone needs to be humbled now and then. It’s not enough to make you feel like a looser, just enough to remind you that in every situation there are losers.

The same thing played out over and over for the next half hour or so. A good cast, a good drift, a rise and inspection, and a refusal by a dumb nine inch stocked brown trout. I looked closely at the small caddis imitation between my thumb and index finger several times. Each time I thought to myself that it looked real enough to me, that it should look even better to a dumb animal, and that neither one really mattered since it was the only one I had.

Under the bridge on the far side along some riff raff a fish kept rising in little splashes. I could never see what they were rising to which told me they were probably taking emerging insects just below the surface. I also thought that since my dry fly was now sinking that it was maybe standing a better chance of working. I had a fish rising without caution, most likely feeling safe in the dark shadow of the bridge along the cover of the far side, and I thought since it was darker, there was the chance it couldn’t get such a good look at my fake bug. I hoped anyway. After all, I’d been getting my ass kicked by small, dumb, stocked fish for thirty minutes now, so what did I really know? I waited for it to rise again, then made a cast practically right on its head before it even had a chance to turn back for the bottom. The line went tight.

It’s possible that the trout grabbed the real deal and then saw mine in the next split second and just got caught up in the moment. But it’s also possible that my cast was so on top of the trout that I landed it right in its mouth. After so many other fish disregarding my intentions this is the kind of thing you just can’t rule out. Sometimes that might feel like the only way to make a trout eat your fly…force feeding.

It was an unimpressive fish, your typical nine inch stocked brown, and on a 6wt it’s even less impressive. It made me think that maybe I should be keeping the 3wt in the rod vault instead, or that even better, I should finally buy a new triple vault so that I could keep the 6wt, a 3wt, and maybe a glass 5wt always locked up and ready on the roof. That thought led me to realizing that I’ve gotten lazy. I was only fishing the 6wt because it was already together and I didn’t want to take the time to string up the 3wt. And that got me thinking that I had bigger problems than having to string up one of my many fly rods, which eventually made me mad that now I was fishing, but thinking about my bigger problems. The struggle is real.

It was the only trout I was able to catch. I was casting to dumb stocked fish that were actually pretty smart when I saw something out of the corner of my eye and turned to see a pretty young woman with a big smile on her face. “OH, are there really fish in that?” As humbled as I was for getting put in my place by a bunch of tiny pet trout, when a pretty woman asks if there are any fish in the creek, the fact that they’re little stocked fish and that they’ve kicked your ass for the last forty-five minutes doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is “Yep, there sure are, I just let one go right before you showed up.”