Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Dec 19, 2011

Wading out to where the water pressure found my hip, I stopped with rod held under my arm and surveyed the pool. I was in no hurry on this autumn morning having lost the feeling to my fingertips in the chore of rigging due to the frosted air. A few moments to regain my fingers would be time well spent for sure. As I had begun to wade into the pool I disrupted the lives of a flight of Blue-winged teal, which now chortled quietly in the eddy formed on the far side of the pool along the high bank. While not content to remain along the tree roots in which they had been hiding they were never-the-less comfortable enough with my presence to not take full flight. Instead, they chose to paddle in the slack water, holding to their small flight while observing the waterborne intruder. Six in all, they were beautiful birds, and the chortling they made were a welcome sound to my ears as it was not unlike the babbling of a streams flow over small rocks. Hopefully they would accompany me for the duration of my stay.

Off to my right and in the small field across the way came the baying of a beagle. Though they were well over 100yds away I could still see clearly the hunters walking either side of a small hedgerow in the fresh-cut corn field. A father and a son, with the father controlling the dog as the son paced him on the far side of the hedgerow. I could vaguely make out the form of the side-by-side held over the fathers shoulder with his right hand, as his left hand worked as if conducting a symphony among his two players, the dog and the boy. After watching the show for a few minutes I turned back to the stream and the task at hand. Stripping line off the reel for a cast I noticed how my fingers had warmed almost back to normal, and the cork in my right hand had comfortable warmth about it that was hard to explain. On the 3rd false cast, the teal had about used up their patience with me and took to flight using the tail-out of the pool as their runway. They headed downstream in their initial run, then banked hard coming around at near head level as they shot upstream like a jet pilot conducting a fly-by. The whistling of their wings bounced through the air long after they were out of sight as I stood still to see just how long I could still pick it up.

The pool was not a large one, nor too deep really. It was only about 60 feet in length, with a rock outcropping at the midway point off the far bank. That was my target on this fall morning. The rocks formed a slight peninsula of sorts, and in turn created a fairly deep slot about 15ft long which always held fish late in the year. My indicator rig landed just off of that point where intended and my eyes followed it down stream, watching for the slightest of twitches or any hesitation. Not discouraged with a lack of fish on my first cast the rig was back upstream with a quick roll-cast in short order. It looked to be a repeat performance when the indicator made a slight hesitation upstream and I set the hook. A hefty fish bowed my rod as I lifted the tip high and played it against itself in the current. Slowly it came to the net, flashing its red-orange band of fall colors to the surface light as it stubbornly fought on. But as luck would have it on this fine morning the antagonist was the victor, and soon enough I was admiring a beautiful 16" rainbow as it slipped silently back into the stream.

Rinsing my hands quickly in the stream, the sound of a small gauge shotgun broke the morning's silence followed by a hearty laugh and the father congratulating the boy. I looked back out across the field to witness them both standing side by side holding up a cottontail as if it were a trophy stag as that little beagle danced around both of their legs, tail straight up and going back-and-forth. I smiled as I watched on; caught up in conflicting emotions as on one hand I was admiring something I could reflect on as a young boy as well, yet somehow feeling on the other hand like I was intruding on a very special moment for the 3 participants. The man turned the boy around and placed the rabbit in the back of his vest, then held his hand on the boys shoulder for a few moments before continuing on their hunt.

Remembering back, there were so many fall mornings such as this that when I wore the shoes off a young boy, though they are long past now. Yet even though time separates me from the memories, it is often the sound of a shotgun, the singing of a reel, or just the odd image of a brightly colored autumn leaf floating by on the current that places me right back at the start. The place where I can hear 2 car doors close at the parking area instead of just mine, his voice still carries in the morning air congratulating me as I hook up on a fish and his hand is once again felt on my shoulder as we admire game taken in the field together. I see him both with his light blue fishing cap standing in hip boots, and with his side-by-side slung back over his shoulder watching on. At times I wonder at whether or not it's because he was born on October 10th, or whether it's because of all the things we shared between us during this time of year? Either way it doesn't really matter, but the memories are always the strongest when carried on the whims of autumn.

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