This Whole Dry Fly Thing by Mark Usyk

I went to look at an apartment that was a thirty minute drive from work. I understand that to some of you a thirty minute commute is nothing, that you’re used to six lane traffic and a couple hours or more a day spent glaring through the windshield just trying to get somewhere you’d rather not go to and then trying to escape the same place at the end of the day. But I live in Upstate NY. I’ve had several jobs over my somewhat comical and at other times depressing, but never normal life, and for the most part through those several jobs I’ve never had to drive more than twenty minutes to get to work. For one of them if I put the gas pedal to the floor I could make it in just under four minutes.

The apartment was on the West Canada Creek, so in all honesty, I’d probably have considered closer to an hour’s drive if it had worked out. But the guy who was supposed to show it to me never showed up, so I took it as a sign. Anyone who was going to expect me to pay the rent on time but couldn’t keep his own schedule was someone I’d probably butt heads with eventually.

I sat in the driveway for half an hour waiting. I stared out the Jeeps windshield at the wide river ironically named a creek, considering how great it would be to come home, step into waders and then into the water not sixty feet from the back door and get skunked by stocked trout on a daily basis. When I gave up hope and left, I decided I couldn’t make the drive and not cast a line, so I pulled into the fishing access lot I hadn’t fished from in three years. I watched a fisherman drown worms for another half hour before he himself gave up and left. The whole time he was hoping a trout would find his worm held on the bottom by a row of slip shot crimped twelve inches above it, I was watching the occasional fish rise out farther in the slow and smooth current. When I wasn’t looking for a rise I was watching the tiny tan caddis flies, probably a size nineteen or twenty, fluttering about, seeming to be in a hurry flying at angles not quite parallel to the water but not steep enough to get them very high into the air either. Just when you think you’re struggling in life, it might do you some good to go sit by a river and watch a caddis fly struggle to get off the water and go nowhere in particular at a painfully slow and erratic pace. It kind of puts things into perspective.

It also helps to make you feel a little better, and dare I take the chance in saying a little smarter, even though I know I’m a moron in most matters, to sit and watch someone failing with live bait when the answer is happening right in front of them. You see the rises. You see the bugs. You have a 5wt in the Rod Vault on the roof and a couple tiny caddis dries stuck in the foam on the dash. You see the universe at work in front of you while the fisherman in the lawn chair can’t see why a trout won’t eat that worm. You want to raise your hand like the kid in grade school you hated that always had all the answers and looked so smug when yours was wrong and his was right. “Oh oh oh! I know! I know! I know!”

Instead I sat patiently, watching fish rise. Watching birds swoop at the same bugs the trout let slip by. Watching the frustrated fisherman shake his head in disgust. It’s not really that I was patient. I knew that I had the formula, and that I’m a horrible dry fly fisherman regardless. I figured I’d probably get skunked all the same. By stocked fish no less. Even though I knew exactly what was going on.

Finally the fisherman stood up and stretched his back, dumped out his worms, reeled in his line, and headed for his old Crown Vic with the fading navy blue paint and vinyl top. I stepped out of the Jeep and he gave me a nod. “Good luck, I give up.” I couldn’t tell if he said it as if he didn’t think I could do any better, or because he figured I’d go out there and catch what he couldn’t, but I’ve never seen an elderly guy toss a lawn chair in the back seat and peel out in a cloud of dust from a gravel lot in quite such a perfectly miserable… Well, if a car can have body language, it said he was done fishing. Forever.

I pulled on my waders, took my time snipping off and then tying on a slightly longer length of 6X tippet, and then pulled a fly from the dash. I don’t know what’s getting into me lately, but I don’t just keep streamers anymore. I always seem to have a couple dries stuck on the dash, in the headliner, or on the little piece of foam glued to the brim of my ball cap. That’s a couple more than I used to keep around, which was none. I even had floatant in the glovebox. It’s still full, and so old that the label has been gone for a couple years now, but it’s always been there. I never took it out as if in the back of my mind I figured someday I’d get into this whole dry fly thing.

I was in the river for few minutes, I’d made a handful of casts, and I was actually impressed with myself that I was almost making good natural drifts. Almost. I was thinking to myself about something that has now escaped my memory, but I know it had me distracted just enough that the splash out where my fly was made me flinch. I laughed out loud as I lifted the rod. I don’t know why, sometimes you just have to laugh, and what’s better to laugh at than yourself?

The little nine inch stocked fish jumped a good three times. He didn’t know he was small, he just knew he didn’t want to go where this bug was pulling him.

I made a couple more casts and then I just turned and walked out of the river. That’s about the time I realized the old man hadn’t left completely. He was sitting just up the gravel road, watching me in his mirror. He waved his hand out the window as he pulled away. It might have been a middle finger but I’d like to think it was just a friendly “nice job” kind of wave. I’ve been on both ends. I’ve muttered under my breath when I was the other guy, and I’ve offered my spot to the other guy as well. All I really know is that I’m looking for an apartment, preferably on a river, preferably stocked with dumb fish that from time to time will make me feel smarter. It’s a decent formula, almost as good as the ones presented to you on a river from time to time that make you think you have the universe figured out.