Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Apr 9, 2012

The bump on my fin normally would have meant nothing at all, except for the fact that I was in a pond and was not kicking at the moment. Whatever it was had hit me pretty hard, and my mind was calculating quickly just how big of a snapping turtle it may have been? That's when it exploded!  The water that is, and directly behind me! Had I not been strapped into my float tube by my bungee corded apron, I may have launched myself completely out of the thing, and onto the nearby shore. I quickly spun my tube around with a scissor-kick of the fins. There he was, the evil little bugger that had not only scared the crap out of me, but had soaked my entire back as well. The largest beaver I had ever seen was 10 feet away in the water, and staring me down. Then with a quick twist of its tail, it went back underneath the water and shot like a rocket back between my legs again to disappear up the channel and into the small feeder stream called Muck Creek. Troy's laughter could be heard across the entire lake chain.

Troy and I were spending the last few hours of daylight on a workday fishing the Chambers Lake potholes. It was a small chain of ponds formed by the Muck Creek channel as it wound its way through the weeds and cat tails prior to emptying into the main lake. The 3 small ponds ranged from about 1 acre, to 5 acres, growing increasingly larger the closer to the main body of water you got. The lake itself was known for the bass it held and the occasional cutthroat that spawned up in the creek, but trout really were the afterthought on the water with the local fishermen.

The uppermost pond again was only about an acre in size, and at times during the summer would be low enough that field grass and small reeds could be seen poking through the surface on well over half of the waters area. Having stood looking at it several times while watching the local kennel club work their retrievers in it the thought of fishing it had never even crossed my mind. Until one day after the dogs had finished up and all had gone home I stood watching and just before dusk a hatch began to come off. Walking down to the water's edge I used my hat to grab one of them and what I discovered was a #18 Callibaetis. I stood watching the hatch which became pretty heavy in short-order, and in the middle of the slow flowing channel I saw a swirl. And within minutes witnessed a half dozen more rises! The next evening found me back at that little pond, but this time with a float tube. It took a little work to get to the water through the cattails, but after a minor struggle I was in and floating. I quickly discovered that my fins touched the bottom in everything but the 6 foot wide channel. So, leaning back in "recliner fashion," I finned carefully. Tying on a #16 Elk Hair Caddis, I added a dropper of about 18" and a #18 hares Ear nymph. It proved just the ticket, as that evening proved to yield a dozen fat 14-16" wild cutthroat.

That event had taken place nearly 6 years prior to this days fishing. And after all of that time, I had yet to see even a single person fishing that little pond save for myself and 2-3 good friends. It had become our favorite honey-hole, and we liked it that way. I never fished it when another car was parked nearby, or any other event was going on. If so, I would simply head down to the main lake until it was alone again. On this particular evening it was Troy and I, and we were alone on the water. In the small pond we could fish pretty much back-to back leaving enough space to allow for back casts without interference, and each could cover a full 180 degrees of the bank. We were each fishing the dry-dropper rig and the evening was treating us well. On the small water it allowed us to talk in a conversational tone pretty much the entire time, and it seemed almost as if regardless of which one hooked a fish, it was a fish for both. I recall fishing until dark with very little movement at all in the tube, except for at one point we flipped around and swapped sides. I had one of my best evenings ever on that little piece of water and we both had several fish reaching into the 14-16" range. To this day I am still amazed how right in front of everybody there was water that in essence went unfished except for a handful of anglers. It's odd to think that were it not for stopping to watch a few retrievers work one evening so many days of excellent fishing would never have been enjoyed.

Yet times do change, and unbeknownst to either of us that evening would prove to be the last time either of us would share time on the water together. Was it an exclamation point to an end of our times as fishing partners? I tend to think not. We've kept in touch over the years, albeit long-distance, and at some point along the way with fishing partners, recounting a day on the water makes it a shared event even if the other was not present. Besides, I can still hear the slap of that beavers tail followed by Troy's laughter echoing across the lake as if it were last evening that it had happened, so was there really an end to the days fishing after all?

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