Whip Finish


Ralph Long - June 06, 2011

Stepping out of the truck on the smallish forest service road bridge, I walked to the edge and peered upstream into a Jurassic Park type of setting. It had been a 3 hour drive around the south end of the Olympic peninsula and back up the west coast to a stream I had only received verbal directions to, but after careful scrutiny of my gazetteer and USFS map I believed that I had in fact found it. The small stream was approximately 10feet in width at the point where it crossed the road. Upstream, the overhead canopy quickly choked the moss-covered rocks and deadfall from view, and all that remained were the muffled sounds of what seemed to be a small waterfall or plunge-pool.

As an eastern trout fisherman transplanted in the Pacific Northwest I had been fighting with a desire for a mountain stream filled with wild Brook trout. After expressing that much to one of the local fishermen I was told that many of the coastal streams feeding the major tributaries held wild cutthroat of about the same size and veracity of my beloved Brookies. This one in particular was provided as a possibility if I was willing to climb a few boulders and hike a bit, with the reward being dry fly hungry trout and absolute solitude. That was all it took for me to be map in-hand and cruising the 1st chance I had through the Olympic National Park in search of my much sought after private stretch of water….so-to-speak. So, there I was after a skeptical first impression, stepping off into the waist-deep broadleaf ferns. I was carrying a 7ft 3-weight glass rod in hand and wore a small fanny pack carrying one small box of flies, a spare leader, a single spool of 6x tippet and a bottle of water along with a PB&J sandwich. My fly selection was sparse, since I had not planned on an extremely technical style of fishing to be found. I had tied and brought four #16 Elk-Hair Caddis, four #14 Yellow Humpies, and four #12 Ginger & Elk Haystacks. An even dozen of my favorite small stream patterns, with a few spares along to provide the expected donations to the surrounding forest.

Like expected, the underbrush was fairly thick and tangled for the first 20-30 yards or so from the road, but then things quickly opened up to a steady pace of small terraces as the terrain climbed gradually away from sea-level. The first pool I came to was the one I heard from the bridge, and it looked to be a picture-perfect example of what I was hoping for. I greased the little #16 EHC and knelt down about 5 feet from the water's edge. After studying the pools flow for a few seconds and stripping out adequate line into my line-hand, a simple flick of the rod placed my fly at the base of the small plunge. The fly hesitated for a second as it fought for guidance from the current, then quickly got picked up and swept towards the middle of the pool. That quick there was a rise which was followed by a farewell tail-slap, and my rod tip bowed toward the deepest portion of the pool. Hooking itself in its aggressiveness the little fish danced a grand waltz with that little 3weight rod as I rolled it side to side gently and finally had the fish sliding into the tail-out at the low end of the small 15ft long pool. Crouching in the ankle-deep water the fish came to hand gently in its entire splendor. Rivaling the colors and beauty of the eastern native brook trout, they made the speckled silver of their sea-run elders look pale and unattractive in comparison. And just like those small brookies of home, when released they instantly disappeared into their little pools like ghosts.
The moss covered rocks and trees kept things quiet with a feeling of seclusion yet not oppressively so, as one would experience with the frustration that comes with briar thickets or heavy underbrush. The feeling was a welcome one as I made my way upstream where I was pleasantly rewarded with a freshly minted 8" replica of the first in each pool visited. Taking a short break to tie on a new fly after donating my previous one to the tree gods of the rainforest, I glanced up to see another fisherman pecking his way upstream from the pool I had just left. I sat watching him fish the previous pool and smiled as he hooked a fish, and with a small "whoop" he celebrated out loud. For all I could tell it could have been the same fish I had just released, but I'm sure he had a few relatives living amongst the rocks in that pool along with him. The gentleman was inspecting his fly as he approached and didn't see me sitting there until he was almost upon me. He glanced up startled, and after realizing that I was not a threat, smiled and reached out his hand in greeting. We shook with smiles, but I could see a disappointment in his eyes recognizable only because he was probably seeing the same thing in mine as well. I was sure he had planned for solitude on the morning, yet the both of us had suddenly taken that hope away for the other. In short order we returned however to the fishermen that we were and began discussing the stream. He informed me that he fished the stream several times a year whenever he needed to escape the crowds on the larger waters, and he understood my search for the semblance of a brook trout stream. He suggested a plan of fishing our way upstream together and taking turns on the pools. Further suggesting that he take the next one, because the second pool up was a beauty and he would afford me that one as the newcomer to the stream. I graciously accepted.

We fished our way up for another 6-8 pools and had a great time. I found that being the spectator in this setting was equally as enjoyable as being the one catching the fish. And though we never did get past a first name basis, he was an excellent fishing partner none-the-less. Then with a smile, he announced that he needed to head back down due to an afternoon shift at work, we shook hands in mutual thanks for a great time, and I watched him fade away back into the rainforest as he made his way downstream. I continued on alone for a few more pools and to my amazement, the last several were the most beautiful of the entire stretch of stream. After releasing the last fish on the uppermost pool, I sat down to drink some water and eat the PB&J I had packed for myself as a snack. It had been a good morning, and one that I would not soon forget. Yet I was again looking forward to a slow trip downstream. As much as I enjoyed the company I had been graced with earlier, I had come to this stream for a little bit of piscatorial solitude. And selfishly, I was thankful that he had decided to depart first as I was looking forward to ending the day in just that fashion. My fly was a bit battered, so I snipped it off and tied on another and then smiled with the sudden realization that quite possibly he had understood that too. And just maybe, the excuse to leave early had been a gesture, providing me with what he knew I had been looking for all along just as he had been….The selfishness of solitude.

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