Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Mar 10, 2014

A year passes and another begins as again the cycle repeats itself, leaving behind a mental Fresco of waters. A painting in vivid display that rolls along through the walls and caverns of your mind reflecting many things in which you already knew would hold a place, yet many in which no significance was felt at the time. It's a painting of value which is permanently bonded with your memories. You cannot erase it. Nor could you truly affect its creation. Your part was in choosing to "be there" in those moments of time adjacent to the memory painted. By simply placing yourself in the path of the brush you affected each stroke, and each moment applied the pigment. Those colors are what carry through year-to-year for me. They are the continuity that regardless of the final painting, all was as it should be in the end. They lend a sense of understanding to my personal fresco.

My year always begins on the cold palate of a world in grey-scale, where nature adds it's occasional bright whites and soft Sepia's to make things "pop". All is subdued in my eyes. Even the movement and pace throughout the day becomes a color of the season. The grey hues paint the smoothness of birch in contrast to the course and gnarled black walnut. Distinct individually, but blending in a monochromatic nature that only winter can provide. Some fight it on their own grounds, wanting the color to return in its most pleasurable form. But I tend to embrace it for what it is. It's a time for care. Where a wading misstep cannot just make you recoil from the cold water, but affect your day in far more dramatic fashion. It's a time when even the silvers and champagne pinks of a rainbow's flanks provide the highlights to the shortened fights and willingness to come to hand.

As spring transitions into view green takes control. It is the exclamation point to the high waters and slightly too cold rain that carries with it the expectation of warmer days ahead. Fish take on the attributes of the weather, going from hot-to-cold just as quickly. A time of Spring Gobblers and the arrival of the year's first bugs, even though the conditions at times turn off the fish in the same breath causing one to take pause in the seemingly wasteful nature of an otherwise wonderful hatch. But when the fish turn on they do so with certain gusto that only spring can spawn. They are hungry just as we are, and they respond in kind. For me this is a time for streamers, violent strikes and memories of my dad, minnow bucket tight to his side and a fish on. Spring carries with it the many memories of traditional season openers and the artist takes a broad brush.

Summer, like winter, is a time to slow things down and pick our times. There are bright days and sudden thunderstorms bringing torrid and muddy waters. The heat takes its toll on both fish and fisherman alike, where a slower pace and a welcome sanctuary are keys. The long evenings bring heavy hatches in the fading light of dusk and frantic swallows soon to be followed by bats. Where you find one fish you will find them all, as the common need for cool waters draws them together. My summers are times of fiberglass rods, light tippets and stalking the dawn in search of wild brown trout before the first rays of sun touch the water. A perfect cast and a fish willing to rise to my dry fly presentation is what pulls the most vibrant colors of summer to view. It feeds me and makes the greys of winter stand in contrast that much more. They are days smelling of bug juice, sweated waders and fish, punctuated by a much appreciated cold beer during recovery.

Fall is both the peak and a fitting end to the season, and nature has a way of closing things out with dramatic flair. Nothing in nature compares with the colors of fall when even the fish take on the brilliant colors of their surroundings. The vermillion backs of native brook trout explode in contrast and the orange spots and buttery gold of brown trout are things to behold. Fish know when fall arrives, and they slash and chase as October brings the largest bugs of the year. The haunt of the deer woods pull me in separate directions through autumn, with each year declaring no clear winner. It's a time of my largest fish, warmest memories and a time for reflection. My approach changes and technical fishing is replaced by large caddis dries accompanied by tandem bead-heads. Both fisherman and fish scramble for the last vestiges of life before the leaves drop and the greys of an uncertain winter looms.

Each piece of the year is a wonder unto itself, worthy of celebration on its own merits. But when brought together on a piscatorial palate, for those willing to place themselves in the way of the painter, they form a work of art surpassing all value. Each year a new fresco appears in my mind. Each one different, yet all are special in their own ways. Included are children's smiles, special days, remembered fish, water shared with friends and pieces of myself. A masterpiece, painted perfectly on the walls of my mind, while standing in water.

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