The Older I Get, The Better I Was By Mark Usyk

In my mind it seems to have been a lot simpler when I was a kid. Fishing that is. It’s funny how your outlook on things changes as you get older, what you saw then, and what you see looking back then now. A typical fishing excursion back then, let’s say in about the 8th grade, would have been a spinning rod and a small plastic tackle box. One of those boxes with plastic dividers, stocked with a mix of soft plastic worms, jigs, spinner baits, and the classic and sure bet bass slayer, the Hula Popper. I never left home without a Hula Popper. If you don’t know what a Hula Popper is there can only be two excuses. One would be that you’ve never done anything but fly fish, that you never picked up a spinning rod, and that I could accept. The other excuse would be that you’ve never fished, that you’ve had your head somewhere it doesn’t belong for your entire life, and that most likely you and I would never have anything in common to talk about. I’d also question why you’d be reading this if you hadn’t the faintest idea as to what one was. Let’s just say it’s a hard plastic thing that may or may not resemble a frog wearing a grass skirt, with treble hooks. Moving on.

I’d head out the door with the spinning rod, the small tackle box, a pair of needle nose pliers swiped from a mess of rusty tools left on the garage floor, work boots, jeans, a baseball cap, a pocket knife, and a big ass survival knife on my side. The pliers were obviously for removing hooks from fish and fingers, and the work boots and jeans were because I wasn’t going to get all bit up by ticks and mosquitos. And as a long haired rocker kid I wasn’t going to be caught dead in shorts. The pocket knife was to cut fishing line tangles and whatever other small blade work might present itself, and the big ass survival knife? Well, in the 8th grade anything can happen. You could end up lost and have to chop down a bunch of trees and build a log cabin for the night, you could be attacked by rabid beavers, or in the worst case scenario, the Soviet Union could've finally made their move and invaded and we would’ve had to go all “Wolverines!” In the 8th grade a big ass survival knife was the answer to just about everything. If you were going out into the woods, or the back yard for that matter, you had the big ass survival knife. Plus, there was that extra bit of fishing line and a couple hooks in the handle. So technically it was a fishing tool.

I caught a lot of fish back then. Lots of bass. And Bluegills, and Bull Head. And Bull Frogs for that matter. It was a different kind of fishing but yet it was still the same. It was about going out and proving that you could outsmart an animal that had a brain the size of the tip of your pinky finger. It was about leaving your parents back at the house and doing something on your own, no supervision. It was about not caring what the popular kids at school were wearing. It was about doing what you wanted to do and no one telling you that you were doing it wrong. When you got skunked, you lied and said you caught a couple. When you had a good day in the woods on the side of that lake behind the no trespassing signs you felt like you owned the place, like the world was your urinal, piss on everyone who thought you’d never amount to much. Out there you were you, there was no show to put on, no speeches to be heard, and no one to tell you that the teeth on the back side of that survival knife were just about useless. You’d figure that out on your own and just like lying about fishing, you’d swear later on that you cut down 4 trees ten inches across with them to make a bridge to get across the mouth of the creek feeding the lake.  

Some things don’t change. Fishing is still my way to break away, to battle animals with little brains, except they seem to win more these days, or maybe I didn’t really catch as many as I remember back then. The older I get, the better I was syndrome I like to call it. It’s still about no supervision. Leaving the man behind, not punching a time clock, not taking direction from someone who doesn’t know me for anything other than another number in the company. It’s still about not giving a crap about the popular kids. Whatever the latest reality show is, making some moron famous for no other reason than being pretty, and pretty stupid, you can keep it. And it’s still about doing it my way. These days it’s with a fly rod instead of a spinning rod, but it’s all about doing my thing. All the facebook banter on the fly pages about “You’re doing it wrong” is left right there on the internet when I hit the water. Reading some of the “you’re doing it wrong” comments turns facebook into “facepalmbook” for me because there’s no rules other than your local laws. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. There’s a right way for people to breath, and that’s above water, because we don’t have gills. There’s a right way for people to eat and drink, and that’s by putting it in your mouth, because it won’t get where it needs to by shoving it in any other orifice, and even if it could, some people’s heads would be blocking the way. But there’s no right way to fly fish. You have a fly rod, you have a fly reel, and the rest is up to you. Where, when, and with what is your way.

The only thing that’s changed for me is there’s no big ass survival knife on my side when I go out anymore. I’ll burry myself in a pile of leaves if I get lost overnight (the only thing I do more than get lost is fall in rivers), I carry so much gear now that the little bit of line and the couple hooks in the handle would be trivial at best, and fly line would most definitely get tangled around the handle at the worst times. So no, there’s no big ass survival knife on my side anymore. I leave it in the Jeep. You never know when you may have to build a bridge to drive out.