Two Is One and One Is None by Mark Usyk

It’s been far too long since I did any real fishing. And by real, I mean going out with any actual time to dedicate to wandering a river, and with any actual hope of catching a fish. Back in November I took a day off from work, left the maintenance guy working in the factory behind for a Friday.  I took my Hobie pedal kayak north, on what I figured would be my last outing with it of 2022. It was “unseasonably” warm, whatever that means anymore I’m not completely sure. But I was sweating by the time I’d pulled it the third of a mile to get to the river that would lead me to the lake I was camping on. I made some casts on my way down river to the lake, but I didn’t feel so much as a bump.

On the lake I managed to hook into one pike. I don’t like using wire leader, so instead I use a heavy 80lb mono leader in front of my big streamers. But that 80lb mono is hard to tie a knot in. Maybe it’s hard, or maybe I’m just using the wrong knot, but when I tied that streamer on that afternoon, I tied the 80lb leader three or four times. And on the last attempt, finally happy that I’d cinched it down successfully, convinced it probably wouldn’t undo itself, I cut the tag end off too short. I looked at it, thinking if it tightened anymore with a big fish on, it might pull it through and I’d lose it all, the streamer and the fish. But I was impatient, wanted to just start casting. So I did.

All the while I was telling myself I was stupid, that when I lost a fish because of it that knot, I’d have nothing to blame but my own impatience. When the line went tight I questioned whether I was in a weed bed, but when it started cutting across the water, I knew it was a pike. I didn’t strip set soon enough, and the fish was swimming directly away from me when I finally decided maybe I wanted to actually catch it, and only then did I set the hook. I strip set hard, then raised the rod, and felt pressure for a second. Maybe two. No, it was only a second. Long enough to feel it but not long enough to feel like I had any chance.

 As I lost the fish my fly line sailed back at me landing lazily in a pile around the kayak, and I muttered to myself… “Told you so.” Only when I got the empty leader end to my hand I found that the knot hadn’t failed after all. The 80lb mono looked like it had gotten caught in a lawn mower. The large loop that had passed through the streamer’s hook eye was bit through, the knot still firmly in place. And I knew that even though it wasn’t my knot that failed, it was still my fault. That fish had the streamer in its mouth, pointed away from me, and when I’d strip set, I’d pulled the leader right across all of its teeth on the left side of its mouth, like running a string across a saw blade.

It just goes to show, that even when you think you know how you’re going to fail at something, there’s still other ways you haven’t thought of yet. When it comes to packing gear, I go with the old tried and true “Two is one and one is none” moto. If you only carry one of something, say a lighter, then when it runs out of fuel, you’re done. Unless you have a second way of starting a fire, like matches. Then your two ways has become one, but you still have one. The lesson I learned with that one and only pike that day in November was to expand “two is one and one is none” to include failures. In other words, how is what you’re attempting to do going to fail? And after identifying it, find another. And maybe another. Just because you think you know, doesn’t mean you know it all.

Mark Usyk is the author of three books, Reflections of a Fly Rod, Carp Are Jerks, and Not All Trout Are Geniuses. All three are available here on Come see Mark and JP January 20-22 in the JP Ross Fly Rods both at The Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough, Mass. Mark will be signing books and telling stories and we'll have a large line up of rods for you to check out and cast right there on the casting pond! See you there!