Whiskey and Bad Knots by Mark Usyk
I opened my eyes to almost complete darkness, coming out of one of those sleeps that was heavy enough to make you forget where it was you were for a few seconds. Near pitch dark. I could barely make out the silhouette of the Yeti cup on the coffee table next to me an arm’s reach away. I was on a couch, twisted up in an old army surplus sleeping bag. OK, I was in a basement on a couch. Now I remembered. I slept good. Must have been just enough whiskey the night before. Or too much. I guess it depends on how you looked at it.
I rolled over and closed my eyes again, not really thinking I should go back to sleep because I wasn’t awake enough to actually rationalize, but then the thoughts entered my semi-conscious brain. It was before sunrise…You’re awake early enough. You should probably go fishing. I reached over and blindly felt for my phone in the dark. What time was it? When the screen lit up in front of my face it was blinding. My eyes struggled to bring anything into focus, but there was a message. Check out this video of Greenland.
There’s something about the combination of living in someone’s basement on a couch and a spectacular video shared by someone on the other side of the world of fishing in yet some other country that can really do things inside your head. To the inside of your head. I felt like a waste laying there on the couch in the dark with the tiny screen in front of me. The footage of mountains flanking a river valley in Greenland, eagles soaring, chasing arctic char, it put me in my place. Which is to say, it told me at 5:35am on a Saturday morning, I was not in my place.
I got up. It was still dark. Good. I went out to the Jeep and as the engine fired up and the power made it to the radio Gloria Gaynor was belting out I Will Survive. My hand went for the tuning buttons but then pulled back. It was cheesy. A little painful. Ironic. But it fit on so many levels. I let it play to the end on my way out of the neighborhood. Then the DJ rolled into REO Speedwagon’s Keep on Loving You and I decided there were too many songs about love and not enough about fishing. I pushed the tape into the tape deck and AC/DC wailed. If You Want Blood, You Got It.
We’ve got a few well-known local creeks here and for no apparent reason I drove to one that I haven’t fished since I was in high school. Let’s just say that was a long time ago. A long time ago. I parked behind a bar and for the next hour as the sun crept up I made halfhearted casts to pools and riffles that looked fishy enough but didn’t seem to hold any fish. I’m not saying there weren’t any. I know they’re in that creek. I just couldn’t find them. I wasn’t really into it I guess. I was just going through the motions. The trash twisted in all the trees from the flooding that had raised the creek over ten feet during the summer,, the cell tower and the changing LED bill board visible past the bridge looking south, the tail lights and bumpers of the cars looking down on me from the car dealerships along this stretch, the noise of the traffic passing by. They just weren’t what I was looking for I suppose. I was still on a creek with a fly rod, but when it’s not doing anything for me, which for the record has never happened before, it’s seriously time to do….something.
Back in the Jeep, back to the neighborhood. I was going back to the couch when I decided I wasn’t done and pulled off the road next to one of our other, probably better known creeks. I tied on a crayfish pattern with dumbbell eyes and fished the drop off on the edge of a sand bar. I stripped the fly across the bottom at a snail’s pace in a place that was too dark and deep to see the bottom. If I couldn’t see anything, then I could only imagine there must be fish there. I needed that more than to be able to see that there really wasn’t anything down there at this point. When the line went tight I breathed a sigh of relief.
Three fish. I got to see three fish. The first two were decent smallmouths. Decent meaning they were smallmouths, they were real, and they were on my line. The third fish was a nice fall fish, around fifteen inches give or take. I got them each within a few feet of me. I lost all three right there when the tippet broke, or my bad knots let go. Whichever it was, after the third one I decided to let the whole thing go. I walked back to the Jeep and spent the rest of the day watching my oldest son’s soccer and then double header baseball games.
I stood there watching kids having fun on the winning side and kicking dirt on the losing side. I’d been on both sides too many times to count or even remember in life. I’m not sure if I was kicking dirt after losing all three of those fish, or if I was just indifferent to the whole experience. But I’m still thinking about those arctic char in Greenland. And I’m wondering where I put that little book of fishing knots that I bought a few months ago. I should probably find that.
Mark Usyk Is the author of Reflections of a Fly Rod. Available on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and signed copies available on JPRossflyrods.com