Whip Finish


Ralph Long - July 18, 2011

The little rod danced in his hands as he yelled over his shoulder to me that he had one on! With his right hip turned in to support the rod he hunched over the reel with the intensity of a pro as the fish fought for the depths of the pool. An epic battle ensued, and then suddenly it was there - the flash of yellow-gold and the markings of a brown trout of 10 inches displayed itself for us to see. My heart raced like I had just played a 20" hook-nosed brown. He glanced over to his left to see me crouching down with the net, and without words the tip of the rod swung in my direction as a quick dip secured the catch. A brown trout! I was finally able to breathe as I held the net up for him to see. His grin was ear-to-ear as was mine, and we bumped fists with a "yes!" that proved to grow the smile even more. At 7 years old this was Jacob's first brown trout, but it was also the first trout that he had fished for and hooked all on his own. Quite an accomplishment in my book, and something I knew personally would be carried with him his entire life. Like him, I was 7 years old when I caught my first trout. And like him it had come under the watchful eye of my father.

We took pictures of the fish itself and a number of both him and the fish together. It was then decided that we would bring the fish back to camp where it would be ceremoniously baked in foil over the wood fire. Then we would dine on his first catch. Likewise, the fish proved itself worthy of the occasion and cooked up perfectly for us to both enjoy and celebrate. We talked about all the different kinds of trout, the kinds he had caught before this one and where he could go in order to catch the others. He now had a brown and a brook trout to his credit and seemed to be interested in a rainbow as well. I informed him that it was a very reachable goal, and one that we should both pursue. He agreed. He also took the time to inform me that he wanted to start fishing "in the water", meaning he was ready to learn how to wade. All his previous outings had been from the bank just as this particular trip.

The whole sequence of events took me back to my childhood, and fishing with my father. It's almost impossible as a father for that not to happen, yet doubly so in this case since Jacob is physically my clone in appearance at his current age. Not that my own thoughts over-shadowed his. Rather, they enhanced his due to the fact that I was able to place myself in his shoes at that very moment. It not only led to a wonderful experience for him, but also proved to be a perfect moment for myself. Yet as with most 7 year olds fishing was quickly replaced by ice-cream on the way back to camp. Then it was on to riding the 4-wheeler with his cousins, playing manhunt as darkness rolled in, and stirring a stick into the fire after marshmallows were toasted and the evening slowed. All of which was a grand adventure for both he and I, and a time that will never be replaced.

That night as I lay in our little dome tent I listened for his breathing to signal that the sleep he was so valiantly fighting had caught up to him. Looking up at the stars through the mesh netting I was back with him under that bridge. It was there that I could see those blue eyes shining with excitement as his total posture changed showing that he truly enjoyed the feel of a fish on the end of his line. He felt it. That feeling that all who pursue fish with rod and reel experience. It's the sense of connection that is triggered each time we feel that rod bow to a fish. The sense that increases our heart rate and causes us to hold our breath as a fish runs into our drag. It's there for those who look for it. Will it always remain there? Though nobody can say with certainty, it sure is a great place to start. But more importantly was the smile. Held within that smile was much more than just a 7 year old boy holding up his first trout. His smile held both the past and future on display. It held the smile of his grandfather, who so loved to trout fish. So-much-so that he felt the need to pass it on to me with an unending patience, all in the hopes that I too would experience what he felt on the water. It worked for me and now there stood his grandson grinning from ear-to-ear. Within that smile I saw myself 40 years earlier holding up a fat rainbow on that very same water not 1/2 mile from where we stood. And for Jacob it shined with the potential of countless waters to wade and fish to be brought to hand. Where that single brown trout would never be forgotten, but would become the 1st of many.

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