What Exactly Is Important by Mark Usyk

I keep the volume on my phone muted. Everyone has that one sound they can’t stand, and mine is a cell phone. The ringer, email notifications, text messages, I don’t care what the sound is associated with them. Even if I had them set to a favorite song, I hate hearing it go off. Hearing my cell phone going off is like getting found when you thought you had the best hiding spot. They’re necessary in today’s world, and I can’t stand them. Even hearing it vibrate sitting on my coffee table instantly aggravates me. But my irritation fades pretty quickly when the text message is about going fishing.

Last week my phone buzzed annoyingly late one night because JP was texting me to let me know that he and our buddy Wayne Weber were floating a small river the next morning, just in case I wanted to go. I fought the idea for a few minutes, it did mean taking a day off of work. I’d already used quite a few this year and there was still a lot of year to go. But, it did mean taking a day off of work. Twist my arm, I’ll cry uncle.

The fishing wasn’t the best the next day, it was far from it. But sometimes it’s not really the point as much as the excuse. I don’t go hiking usually unless it’s to get to water to fish. Likewise, you’ll almost never see me get on a boat without a fly rod in hand either. I don’t just “go for rides.” However, I’m well aware that on many days that I choose to go out the conditions are far from great, yet I still go. And on those days that I still go I catch very few fish or none at all. I still go. I need my time out there away from everything else, and the fishing is the excuse that gets me there. I fish pretty often these days. I’d be ashamed of the lack of lawn care, laundry, and house cleaning I get done if it was anything other than fishing causing it. But it is fly fishing keeping everything else at a minimum, so I’ve got no shame. I’m actually pretty proud that I’ve gotten to that point that I’m doing what I want to do no matter what kind of flack I hear from anyone else. Life’s too short to put fishing on the back burner for things you feel are less important. Maybe the better lesson there is figuring out what exactly is important.

We’d been on the river for about two hours and like I said, the fishing just wasn’t any good. The water was high and the fish just weren’t biting. I’ll make a thousand casts and then if I haven’t gotten anything, I’ll make a thousand more. But JP’s fly was secured in the hook keeper and he hadn’t made a cast in quite a while. The fishing had been the excuse. He was out here because of it, and nothing more needed to be said or done. But he did do something else. He asked for a beer at 8am.

The water was high and the fish weren’t biting. But there was still a better chance of catching them here than at work, so we went with the better odds. Wayne called it scouting for future guide trips. I called it a personal day. But I think for JP it was a mental health day. Whatever our excuse, we’d all flipped the bird to the work day and gone fishing instead. So when Wayne said there was beer in the cooler under his seat as he stood in thigh deep water lifting his nymphing rod from the raft, JP looked at his watch and then looked at me and said “I’ll have one, pass one back.” I don’t drink much beer anymore. But as I passed one back, I starred at the remaining cans in the cooler and thought hard about it.

We’d chosen floating a river with friends over work already. Drinking one of those beers seemed like a good way to end a powerful statement. I didn’t drink it because I wanted it. I drank it out of principle alone. It was its own statement.

It was 8am. We’d already passed through some class one and two whitewater. I’d already caught my first fish… a three and a half inch smallmouth bass, but let’s just call it an even four inches out of principle since we’re on the subject. We’d already passed through a couple miles of absolutely stunning landscape with almost no trace of humans except for a couple camps peeking through heavy forest. But at the moment I was passing a beer, people at work were watching the clock, impatiently waiting on the morning break.  Yeah, opening that beer and raising it to a friend in the back of the raft was more than just some cliché action repeated over and over in TV commercials. It was completing a statement the way a period completes a sentence.

Wayne ended up catching the only couple trout to be seen that day. Later in the day I caught my second fish… a big minnow. Probably three inches at least. JP? He did cast a few times here and there, but he mostly talked about life, to himself, quietly in his own mind. I’m pretty sure that’s what he was doing anyway. I’ve seen that look before. Quiet content. Reasoning with one’s self about one’s place in life. And should I have that second beer now or at least wait until noon? Is it too soon to make another statement?

Mark Usyk is the author of Reflections of a Fly Rod and Carp Are Jerks. Books about life, where fishing happens. Both are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and signed copies are ready for purchase on this website, JPRossflyrods.com