The Beginning of the End by Mark Usyk

I believe the last time I fished with Jerry was on the Oswegatchie River, many miles north of here. The whole day is a blur at this point but I know we were there because I was the company welder and one of our guys had taken a portable band saw to a gate and cut the posts off at the ground because the back hoe was too wide to fit through it. This was a brand new fence and gate mind you on a cell tower site that wasn’t even finished yet. I imagine when Dave, the back hoe operator, tried to drive in that he was in the frame of mind most of us were always in on those jobs. No surprise that something wasn’t done right, and no regrets as he walked to the back of his truck for the generator and the saw, a cigarette between his lips and an air of no cares given. Just another day dealing with someone else’s mistakes, just another trip for a couple more guys to fix something else. Not my monkeys, not my circus. But of course it did give Jerry and I a job which in turn afforded us some time on an Adirondack river, so there wasn’t much complaining on our part.

I know at that point I wasn’t fly fishing consistently yet. I was still carrying a couple spinning rods and only one fly rod that I didn’t take out of it’s tube much yet, and that on the Oswegatchie that day after we welded the gate posts back together and piled the gravel back around the bottom like nothing ever happened we caught quite a few smallmouths just below where the river flowed out of Cranberry Lake. We were both fishing spinning rods, we both caught a bunch of fish, and yes, while I was out wading the river and hitting all the pocket water I could and Jerry was playing it safe from the banks…I fell in.

But now that I think about it, that wasn’t the last place we fished together. The actual last place was later that night. The hotel we’d found to stay at up there was on a golf course. There were two ponds on the course right behind the hotel and we checked in at dusk. As soon as it was dark we ran a stealth mission out the back door and over a wooden fence to crouch by the ponds and cast into the pitch black. The reflections of the stars and the moon gave us the only evidence of where the water was it was so pitch black out there, and after about a half hour on each one, we decided that we should’ve gotten a better look at them before the light was completely gone because there was no evidence of fish life at all. Or frogs, or bugs. They were probably chemically treated golf course ponds, with the way the lawns were trimmed perfectly up to the edges and the fact that there wasn’t so much as a weed poking out of the surface anywhere, not a cattail, nothing. But who could blame us for trying?

I haven’t worked with Jerry in at least three years, but we’ve kept in touch as much as social media allows, more than with some family I suppose. It’s funny how this world works. Jerry, like a couple of the other guys I used to climb with, has picked up the fly fishing bug. A couple of them blame me, but hey, I could’ve led them in worse directions. I could have steered them into hard drugs that turned them into undependable, broke liars always looking for their next fix, but, oh…wait. Damn. Well, at least as long as they brush they won’t lose all their teeth this way.

So a couple of us have been trying to find time to hit some water together. A couple still climb, a few of us don’t. So some are still on the road all the time, and the rest of us always have different shifts at different jobs, families, life, stuff to get in the way. But Jerry and I, we finally made it happen this morning. The air temperature was only 53 degrees and it was still dark in the woods as we walked in, but it wasn’t half as cold as I thought it was about to be when we first stepped into the river, shorts and sneakers. No waders. 53 degrees. We both would probably like to think that was just two guys refusing the idea that we’re getting older and proving we could still take it, but in all honesty on my end anyway, it was just me having all these years under my belt and proving nothing more than I still haven’t learned anything. But…I didn’t even shiver.

Jerry wanted some help sorting out his casting, I had no idea if I could teach him anything, but after watching me cast a couple times and after me watching him and spewing out a couple tips that I hoped I could explain well enough, and simple enough, he had a decent loop going every now and then that kept getting better, and then his first fish on the fly rod, an eight inch smallmouth…We’ll call it ten.

I’m no teacher. I’m no guide. I’m not sure that I could be called anything more than competent at best with a fly rod but when you’ve got that and good friends, the rest might all be worth nothing more than diddly squat in the end. And speaking of the end, I slipped him a tapered leader and told him where to get more, and then told him to go grab another fly line and a spare spool for his 6wt. Yep, I may as well have sent him to a meth house… The beginning of the end.