Whip Finish


Ralph Long - May 23, 2011

Standing ankle deep in the riffles below my favorite run on the Tulpehocken, I was half observing the water, and half relishing the warm air and the beginning of another season. Having been afforded a few hours on a thankfully dry spring day, I was trying hard to keep my pace slow and not get too anxious over getting started. So, I was watching the pieces of spring buds drift down to the water like confetti at a parade, and taking in the multitude of greens, whites and yellows that brought the streamside to life in a Norman Rockwell sort of way. I love this time of year in the morning. When not only is natures Spring in bloom, but the morning sun triggers everything from birds to bugs in what seems like a frenzied celebration of warmth    which in turn, tends to bring the fish to life as well.

Along the far bank I was expecting to see some hatch activity brought on by the slight glare of the suns reflection. Surely there had to be some fish on station in that seam? There always was in the past. I studied the water as I took a few more cautious steps into now knee deep water and was startled as a fish just upstream of my position made a splashy rise. Turning to watch for a few minutes I could see a dancing cluster of midges just below the riffles near the beginning of the runs inside eddy. Should I go with a midge? I contemplated maybe a #20 Griffith's Gnat that I could skitter along the riffle and guide into that seam? Almost without thinking I reached up and snapped my forceps to the end of my tippet, and then let them hang, securing my tippet but freeing my hands to search my boxes. Pulling my small clear double-sided midge box from my chest pack, I flipped it over to find my Griffith's Gnat selection. I like to tie a standard grizzly version, and another version for the local streams that carries a thread body in Light Cahill, and a medium ginger palmered hackle. It perfectly matches the little creamy-tan midge of the area.

As I was staring down into my box a speck of movement caught my eye, as a small mayfly danced into my peripheral vision. Looking up, my eyes were rewarded and a smile crossed my face! A Blue-winged Olive! I looked across the stream and pulled the brim of my hat down lower to fend off the glare. Low-and-behold, there was a nose and then another. Right where expected, the little olives were climbing toward the low hanging bough that shaded the small seam. Now, with all thoughts of chasing the midging trout in the riffles, my focus was on those rising fish along the far bank. Going straight for a known entity in my boxes, I tied n a #18 LTD Blue-winged Olive. The sparse little pattern is without question my fly-of-choice and more often than not, it works.

To fish that drift I would have to move slightly upstream of the fish due to the overhanging bough, and make a steeple cast with an extra bump, enough to pile up some slack on the water and give line for a downstream drift. In as much as I would love to say I nailed the 1st cast   I did not. Instead, I caught the only branch on my back-cast, which didn't hang up but did cause me to dump my cast a little soon. Mumbling to myself I let the line drift far enough away to not disturb the fish, and began my cast again. This time, the cast went as planned. The fly began its drift perfectly, but surprisingly it went rise-free over the expected area. Then, just as I was about to lift my rod for a 2nd presentation, I saw the turn of a fish as it pursued the escaping fly. The big nose rolled over my fly and one quick lift of the rod brought the fight of a fat brown trout to bear. Though not an exceptionally large fish, its heavy girth and 16" length had me in a poor position to fight back with the current how it was presented. So downstream I went, through the run and into the second pool. Once I had him in more favorable water he tired quickly, and before long I had the heft of my first warm-weather trout of the year in my hands. With a quick twist of the forceps the fly dropped away, and after a second or two of admiration it flipped from my hand with one strong surge and disappeared.

It was a good feeling standing there in the stream with the memory of the season's first fish fresh in both mind and hand. It brought forth a sense of belonging as again my place on the water was blooming alongside the dogwood blossoms lining the bank. There are times when predictable events can lead to boredom or complacency, but this as not one of those times. Though hard to explain, there are times when knowing where you are and where you belong, in a situation that you have played out countless times in the past yet fail to tire of, that makes a moment in time one of perfection. Not perfection "in" ones actions, but rather makes the result of one's actions perfect.

I dropped my hand into the cold early spring water and rinsed the fly with a quick swish, then pinched the water from the CDC wing. Moving slowly toward the bank and upstream to regain my casting station, there again was a nose, and just above the surface fluttered that perfect winged form of the Blue-winged Olive mayfly. A few false casts to ensure my fly was dry and I dumped another cast just upstream of the rising fish. In a short two feet of drift the fish met my fly head-on as the white mouth of a rainbow gulped it down. With rod bowed, the fish stormed toward the head of the run, then turning it shot like a rocket downstream. Yes sir    it was going to be a good season.

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