Whip Finish


Ralph Long - May 19, 2014

Sitting on a large freestone boulder I looked out over the pool in front of me and worked my left hand in hopes of a bit of control returning to it. The tremor was worse today, and although it wasn't keeping me off the water, it was certainly hampering me in my efforts. I needed to tie on a #18 Blue-winged Olive emerger, and the effort had become fruitless after about 15 minutes of frustrating attempts. SO, rather than ruin my entire morning in a rage of stubbornness that I was obviously born predisposed to, I chose instead to take a seat. The boulder looked out of place, a much coarser stone than any of the smaller river stones surrounding it. I wondered just where its journey had begun. From what deposit upstream of its present position did the waters dislodge it? Sitting awkwardly in the middle of a gravel bar certainly was not the starting point nor would the existing position be its last. Though it may gather moss for a period of time, my intuitions told me that eventually the storms would rage once more and the boulder would find its way just a tad bit further downstream. Like it or not, it was at the mercy of nature's cycles. I was, however, thankful for its existence none-the-less, and relaxed against the massive weight to ponder just what had landed me upon this solid perch.

At times in life a seemingly immovable object can be a blessing of safe harbor, such as this rock was now, or it can be a perceived obstacle one smashes himself against in futility. Wasting effort and self, striving toward a conclusion that is in itself unattainable, that is a position where I had often found myself in the past. And although wisdom acquired in loss is often so clear in hindsight, I did in fact break myself in many ways striving for the unattainable. Thankfully, with that hard-earned wisdom there dwells an acceptance; not the destructive acceptance of failure or a lesser station in personal being, but the acceptance of knowing when something is unwinnable. Once that point is reached, you can finally step back and see just how many previously unseen jewels are staring you square in the face.

For many years I had always fished hard. Covering a lot of water and priding myself in spotting the best lies, and finding the fish through persistence. Often fishing water successfully only to sit back later and not be able to recall clearly a single step along the way. It was the aggression of youth seasoned with a little bit of knowledge and a dash of that unstoppable drive to win. Unfortunately, along with that unstoppable drive came the highest of highs, when victorious, shaded by the lowest of lows whenever failure reared its ugly head. The price of youth is high, and when the collector comes around one can be humbled to the core. Thus was the case as I sat myself on that rock. In my youth I had earned my beret, the respect of many and most importantly the love of my family. Failure was never an option. And the word "Quit" was stricken from the English language as I knew it. Yet as I sat looking at my hand, I knew in my heart-of-hearts that this battle was unwinnable. When suddenly, a bit of hard-earned wisdom stepped forward and slapped me in the face. This was not a battle. This was life. It was the passing of waters over time and wherever the waters carry us there is a perfect view to be had. It may not be the view you had expected, but it is still perfect.

So I sat. With my fly box now stowed I watched the fish rise across the pool. They were indeed rising to Blue-winged Olives, so I had been correct in my initial assumptions. I watched a nose again break the surface rising up to take a fly as it struggled in desperation to take flight. The violence of death often witnessed in nature, yet it was done so with the beauty of a ballet, that was seemingly played out at that very moment for my eyes only. I saw the swallows working overhead as the sky blossomed into a million colors of a spring sunset colliding with the night air. Taking it all in I reveled in the display as all thoughts of my tremors and the ailments of age faded. When I finally looked around me, the light was fading and the hatch had diminished. A slight mist was forming over the tail-out of the pool as the cooling of the night air met the still warmer waters. There were a few fish rising steadily in the glassed surface of the pool as I calmly tied on a #14 Elk Hair Caddis and walked to the water's edge. The casting stroke came naturally as the double-tapered line presented a perfect cast a few feet in front of the lead fish. As the little blonde fly passed over where I believed the fish was holding he indeed complied, rising up and sipping in my offering. The rod danced and the heavily spotted brown fought doggedly as I slowly began to sense he was tiring. Kneeling in the shallow water of the tail-out I unhooked it and felt its life surge as it kicked from the palm of my hand. Standing, I placed the bend of my hook on the hook keeper as I noticed the tremors were gone for now. They had not stopped me from fishing. They had instead offered me a ringside seat to a wonderful display of nature, and then in its closing act had provided a fish willing to rise.

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