Whip Finish


Ralph Long - July 30, 2012

The air was cool in the pre-dawn July morning as I stepped to water's edge, and the soles of my waders settled into the gravel. I was in a tee-shirt, but realized that, in short order, the sun would rise and I would go from chilly-to-sweating in short-order. Alone on the stream with nothing to remind me of people, but for the occasional sound of a passing car on the nearby country road. It's my favorite time on the water, when all that is heard is the gurgling of water passing over rock, and the morning birds hopping through the streamside vegetation. I was stationed at the tail of a pool which looked to be about thigh deep at best, and approximately 30 feet in length. The creek came off of a long curving flat and funneled into a chute formed by 3-to-4 basketball sized rocks that appeared to have been placed there in an apparent stream enhancement project. They were far too perfect to have been natural, but never-the-less what had been done formed a perfect pool. I smiled to myself in thanks to those well-minded individuals. Hopefully their efforts would today bring a fish to hand.

I tied on a size #14 Elk-Hair Caddis. It was the tan version, tied with natural light elk hair, ginger rabbit dubbing and brown palmered hackle. Looking at it, I actually could not recall mentally selecting that particular fly. I was in one of those auto-pilot moments, where I naturally grabbed the fly that works more often than not. In reality, that particular fly accounts for about 50% of my fish caught each season. A fact most likely credited to the selection process I was applying this morning. A process wherein it felt more like grabbing your favorite hat on the way out your front door than any kind of a thoughtful selection. It's what you know. It's the ultimate comfort zone in which we seldom pause to question ourselves.

Looking over the water, there were no hatches visible in the air. I took another step to position myself, and did notice what appeared to be a smallish ball of midges hatching over the head of the pool. On second glance they appeared to be far too small for my temperament at the moment, so I discarded the consideration of matching that hatch. I could see no rise activity from end-to-end, so no casting targets were apparent except for the traditional lies I could see in the stream. I broke the silence of the morning with the sound of my reels drag singing to me as I stripped line out, feeding my initial false casts and providing me the length I would need to reach the top of the run. The fly landed flawlessly in the run, but to the inside where my drift would quickly curl inwards and drag into the eddy formed by the passing current. I quickly lifted the fly, and with a single false cast for alignment corrected my drift. This time my fly was where I wanted it to be and I watched the first S-curve of my leader straighten as the current grabbed my fly. It swung along the outside of the run, about 10 inches from the far side rocks. I followed the tuft of tan elk hair as I deftly stripped in the available slack line, an act that is as much second nature as bringing a fork to your mouth at the dinner table. It travelled about 8 feet, went around a small bubble formed by a submerged branch, and in a split second disappeared in a small boil created by a yellow-and-black flash. The Brown trout had been lying within plain view in the shallows of the far side of the stream, yet had been unnoticed until it began its accent to the surface. Natures camouflage had fooled my eye perfectly.
A quick lift of the rod created that all-familiar bend, and the jolt I experienced as the cork grip sent the pulsing of the struggling fish to my hand. It wasn't a big fish, but it must have woke up that morning feeling like it was since it I gave it the tip of the rod on the initial run to the head of the hole. Then as if on cue, it shot the length of the pool in an attempt to use the current and put up its best fight in the tail-out. It fought a lively fight, and I admired how much strength was in that small form dancing in the current. Brown trout to me are the most beautiful of the trout species, and this one was living up to that standard. A few rolls of the rod both left and right using the fish's energy against itself, and it was ready to come to hand. Kneeling in the gravel I lift the rod and glided the fish through the surface film to my hand. It was a gorgeous little fish of about 8 inches, with perfect coloration. The take and hook-set had been perfect, and the result of it all was displayed by the fly embedded in the corner of the fish's mouth. I admired it for a short second, flashed a quick picture, and watched as it slid from my hand and with one flick of the tail disappeared in the bottom of the stream once more.

I could have stood and walked from the stream at that point-in-time. It was as satisfying a fish as I had ever caught, and in some ways even more so. What the fish had lacked in stature, it exemplified in beauty. What I had lacked in fishing beauty had somehow been overshadowed with natural reflex. It's a process that I never tire of. Whether it is a thousand fish, or ten- thousand, it remains a process in which the beauty and natural value for me is not lost. That moment in time where I am in my perfect corner of the world, the fish is cooperating in his corner of the world and the fly ends up right where it should be. Set perfectly in the corner of that buttery-gold jaw.

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