You Can't Catch Smallmouths With A Push Mower by Mark Usyk

I don’t know what my new neighbors think of me, but I’ve got an idea. Since I’ve moved into this new house and the leaves covered the trees and the grass began to grow, I’d say everyone else has mowed their lawns twice a week for at least the last three weeks. I think I’ve mowed mine twice. Not twice a week… Just twice. There’s more important things to do as far as I’m concerned. After all, there’s a creek about a hundred yards out behind the house. And you can’t catch smallmouths with a push mower.

I thought I was being clever when I bought my lawn mower last month. My lawn is small, really small. I could probably get away with cutting it with a long pair of scissors and raking the clippings into a zip lock bag, if I were the kind of person that thinks grass clippings should be bagged and disposed of. But I’m not. I absolutely hate mowing the lawn. So when I bought the mower, I felt so smart. I wasn’t going to pay for a self-propelled push mower for so little square footage, and then I considered that gas powered push mowers that aren’t self-propelled aren’t the easiest things to push, so why even spend the money on a gas mower at all? If I was going to have to push it why should I have to put gas in it? I bought one of those old school reel mowers for seventy bucks. Pushes no harder than a gas push mower, but doesn’t use the gas.

I felt like a genius once I really started to analyze the situation. It’s quiet. Which meant that I could mow early in the morning or later in the evening without waking up the neighbors, without being that guy in the neighborhood. And not needing to mow during the day meant that while everyone else was mowing, I could be fishing. I could flip on my front porch light and mow by the dull yellow light and the illumination of the street light on the corner, while fishing all day. So far I’ve carried out half of the strategy. I’ve fished all day, I have yet to mow at night. Or early in the morning for that matter.

Besides being close to my boys, there was one other reason I bought this house. It had been vacant for about two years. The lawn was never mowed, so I figured everyone had gotten used to it and I might not get the stink eye from the neighbors. What better place could I find close to my boys than a house with a creek behind it and neighbors who’d gotten used to a lawn that was never mowed? I haven’t gotten too many dirty looks yet, but while I was stringing up my fly rod on the front porch the other day the guy across the street did walk over to introduce himself and welcome me to the neighborhood. Joe’s a real nice guy. So nice in fact that out of the blue while eyeing the streamers stuck in my baseball cap he offered me a free lawn mower that he said he doesn’t use anymore. What a nice guy. I asked him if he fished much, he said no. He didn’t have much time. Always working around the house.

Coincidentally, the fishing has picked up in the creek over the past month. Last weekend Jake and Carter wanted to fish both days, and who am I to tell them sorry but I can’t right now, I have to mow the lawn. I’m trying to set a good example, trying to be a good dad, and telling them I’m too busy to take them fishing is, as far as I’m concerned, an absolute tragedy each time an opportunity is missed. When I’m on my death bed, I don’t plan on reminiscing about how perfect the grass was. I plan on telling about how every time Carter would hook a decent fish when he was a young boy that he’d always turn and look at me with disappointment on his face and tell me “I’m snagged on something,”  and gesture to me to take the rod and unsnag it. Only for me to feel the rod shudder and hand it back to him in hilarious excitement, “You’re not snagged, it’s a fish. Reel!”

Last week one afternoon after I’d gotten home from work and they’d gotten home from school they asked if we could go fishing. I heard a mower running a few houses up, and looked at my lawn. I didn’t really care what it looked like so I told them to get their old sneakers on while I got their spinning rods out of the garage. They put their wading sneakers on and then grabbed their baseball gloves and patiently played catch in grass half way to their knees while I strung up my 6wt. I plucked a couple streamers from the dash of the Jeep and stuck them in my hat, then we walked out back using the dirt road to the Little League field to get to the creek. Our shadows, two boys and their father with fishing rods kind of felt a little Mayberry-ish. I liked it.

When we got to the creek they stood in ankle deep water and cast their marabou jigs to the shade on the far side, targeting the deeper and darker holes and trenches. I set my fly rod down to watch them, and never made a single cast for the next two hours.

They’d space themselves apart enough to not cast over the other’s line, but close enough to carry on some of the most casual and entertaining conversations you’d ever hear between and 8yr old and a 13yr old. They talked about everything from last year’s Little League season to fishing for bass down on the farm in Cobleskill to what they thought was going to happen in the next Ant Man movie. They sounded like two old friends out fishing. Exactly the way it’s supposed to be.

When they would move, they’d offer to hold the other’s fishing pole as they climbed over fallen trees or up a slippery bank, and they never once got mad or argued. They were two brothers, two sons, every now and then needing a dad to get a jig out of a tree branch or off a rock on the bottom. My fly rod stayed standing against trees or lying back in the tall grass the entire time, while I stood in the background and observed a perfect afternoon. I became part of the story only when the net was needed, a handful of times at most.

A couple days later on a Saturday, the lawn a couple inches higher, we were on the creek again, but this time I rigged up a fly rod and actually fished. It’s really something to realize that suddenly you’re making casts, and so are your boys, and you’re not helping them at all. It’s not a dad helping and showing his two sons how to fish… It’s a dad fishing with his two sons. I hooked into a decent smallmouth and Carter netted it for me.

We had a Little League game tonight, otherwise I guarantee you that we’d have been out back fishing. The lawn is really tall right now. It’s like night and day, my disaster of a yard compared to the freshly cut lawn of my neighbors butting up to it. It kind of looks like a scaled down version of a field that ends where a forest begins. The sun’s coming up early enough now that I could probably cut it for the third time this year in the morning with that quiet little reel mower before work. But, the sun’s coming up early enough now that I could probably get an hour of fishing in on the creek before work. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.


Mark Usyk is the author or Reflections of a Fly Rod, sixty-one short stories about life, where fishing happens. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and signed copies available on this web site, He is currently working on his next book.