Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Feb 11, 2013

Wading out into the stream the welcome comfort of the waters pressure against my legs brought me out of the world of work and distraction. I was back again, in that place where the negatives are washed away, and where all else is erased and the pursuit of taking trout on a fly is all-encompassing. Assuming a position along the nearest seam, I would be able to cast and fish the entire pool without moving. The sound of the water against my waders joined in with the symphony of sounds that although were many, still seemed like the subtlest of background noises. I thought on that as I searched my boxes for a fly to begin the evening with. Welcoming to the ears, these sounds were natural, unlike the sounds of vehicles and the bustle of people making their way through the world which rapidly become offensive to the senses. It is a cleansing of the soul that takes place each time I wade into a stream, serenaded by the sounds of the water.

I glanced out over the stream in search of hatch activity, yet knowing that I would likely not find any just yet since it was still too early for the evening hatches. The water talked to me from where I stood, with my rod tucked under my right arm, and head down in the concentration of picking the right fly. It spoke from the head of the riffle where it was accosted by exposed rock and forced from its intended path. It whispered to me as it turned slightly and attempted to crawl up the base of a downed tree on the far side of the pool, only to lose in its efforts and cascade back down into the main course. It gurgled along the rocks lining the far bank that left behind proof of the previous evening's rain by the high water mark that was still visible. And it sang a soft song as it tumbled downstream and out of site over the stone of the streambed. It all came together in a sound all its own, speaking a language that only those present in this place will ever hear, and fewer still that would understand. It was all there, as if a prelude to the concert that was about to unfold.

The rod came to my hand in light fashion and my first few false casts were completed as if wiping away the fog of the world. Then quickly it was replaced by a natural concentration that came with muscle memory built on countless repetition. With line cutting air in a near silent expense of energy the rod dropped, presenting my fly near the base of the ripple. The hackle rode the current as deftly as a milkweed seed rides an autumn breeze, dancing along its seams and pockets in hopes of bringing a trout up from its lie. Then suddenly and without sound a nose rose out of the broken surface of the moving water and engulfed the fly. I lifted the rod to set the hook and another sound was added to the waters song as the trout thrashed across the surface of the pool and then bore deeply towards the depths of the pools darkest section. The run of the fish brought another section of the symphony to ear as my reel joined in, the drag singing its tune in protest as the line was stripped away. All the while the rod pulsed in my hand which was felt through the Portuguese cork forming its grip as it electrified my senses and brought my focus even tighter to the task at hand. Applying pressure in an attempt to tire the fish, tension upon the fly line as it cut through the surface current could be felt through the rod. It told me about the headshakes, the rolls and the hard thrusts of the tail as it bore for escape. Though I could not see the fish, my mind's eye watched the battle unfold through the grip of my rod. We were connected. As I brought the fish to hand it splashed loudly until grasped and rolled over, where it instantly succumbed and went still. Removing the #16 Blue-winged Olive fly from its lip, I gazed at the perfection that is a trout. The brilliant colors danced beautiful in the light, yet they were a perfect camouflage when beneath the surface of the water. The sleek and elegant lines of its design shadowed the strength and power found within its scales.

I admired it for a moment in an effort to burn the memory into my mind. Then placing it back into the water, watched for a fleeting second as it paused briefly suspended below the surface before a quick flip of the tail took it from sight buffeting the palm of my hands with the water it left in its wake. Like a ghost that never truly existed it was gone along the rocks of the stream bottom. Yet the ghost of its memory hung in my mind and formed a smile on my face as I turned back upstream and searched for another target in which to cast. That fish was now stored away in countless memories borne to the fly rod and experienced on waters much like this. For a fisherman those moments may grow countless in number, yet no two are alike, understanding that each fish with its distinct beauty is gone once it slips from your fingers. Each fish is singular in nature existing only in the mind of the fisherman who set the hook, felt its life through the rod, and brought it to hand. Each dance among the waters symphony is unique and ours alone to hold in memory. And once we are gone those memories are left only to the sounds of the stream as a witness, and the telling of the waters.

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