Whip Finish


Ralph Long - February 13, 2012

One of my favorite items pertaining to fly fishing that I own is my float tube. So much so that I have refused over the years to upgrade to a kick-boat or U-boat even as my venerable "donut" passed into obscurity. So many of the attributes of the old donuts that folks used as reasons to upgrade were lost on me, so why change? I like the fact that you sit lower in the water, as well as the "lounge chair affect" you get when you let your feet float out to the front. I like the quiet finning you can do since you sit so low, and how you can actually use the bottom easier with your fins when fishing obstructed water. All reasons to get away from the donuts for most, but for me they are all endearing qualities, and never more than when I am stalking a flat of lily pads.

Lilly pads are one of my more enjoyable structures to stalk with a fly rod, and a low-riding tube is built perfectly for them. I like to slowly pick my way through them randomly, aiming for the larger holes and pockets, then splat a foam spider or popper in the middle and watch for the attack. Three or four casts to a pocket, then its back on the stalk for the next likely opening. Most productive for me are the evenings. That is when the larger bass can be found prowling the shallows in search of the day's entree. No longer content on the appetizers that can be found in the open water under the bright summer sun. It's durned near fly fishing nirvana in my opinion.

That is why this past summer found me once again in a small farm pond in Southern Pennsylvania with a few hours left of daylight and humming nervously to myself as I struggled to take my time getting in the tube as I watched large fish splash around in the lily pads below me. I came armed with a newly minted 8' 6 weight rod and a box of my Standard poppers along with a mixed batch of Foam-Butt Caddis patterns. I was looking forward to stalking the lilies. Now getting into the old donut tubes come with a feature that is both frustrating AND entertaining depending on whether you are taking part or just observing the activity. The hardest part is simply getting oneself "IN" to the tube, and then "IN" to the water, while in the tube. The process can take on many forms, but the most common I have witnessed is a cross between the Flying Yelinda's circus act and the Keystone Cops. This, in fact, is my personal favorite and generally how I carry out tube deployment and water entry as well. Never-the-less, I soon found myself thankfully dry and unscathed, riding in my tube as I kicked backwards towards the line of lilies scanning the bank for anybody who may be doubled over in laughter after watching me get ready to fish. It's like when you trip in public over something that is obviously non-existent. First you look down at the object that may have tripped you but you already know is not there. And then you casually scan your surroundings to see just who may have witnessed the stumble over nothing. All the while try to appear nonchalant, cool and collected, as if you "intended" to do things as such. And finding no onlookers doubled over in laughter, I focused on the lilies at hand.

Stopping just short of the edge of the lily pads I began the day prospecting the edges with a #10 Foam Butt Caddis, and was quickly rewarded for my efforts by a half-dozen fat bluegills. All of which were nearly jet black across the back with a sky blue flanks and a copper breastplate. All went well over palm-size and about 1" across the back. They fought like 2 pound large mouths and quickly had me finning in circles in my attempts to bring them to hand. How could a person not like this? I thought to myself as I released the last one and headed towards a pocket about 50 feet into the pad field. I picked my way slowly through the pads toward the opening and stopped about 20 feet short. My first cast plopped the little caddis pattern directly in the middle of the open water, and 8 seconds later it disappeared in a huge swirl! I knew it was a bass instantly by the pulsing run toward the lily stalks. Than seconds later as I put the brakes on him, he squelched all doubt by leaving the water 3 and 4 times. Several more runs later I was admiring a lean 16" largemouth lying across my tube apron.

With my 1st bass under my belt I went into autopilot as I searched the lily's methodically searching out the nooks and crannies I thought I was able to fit a fly in to. While repeatedly, the little pond failed to disappoint as it coughed up an evening's worth of fish. At one point I began to notice the swells of chasing bass and switched to a "Standard" popper. And on my 4th or 5th attempt drew the attention of a fish enough that it chose to run down my fly as well. As I lipped the 4lb fish in order to get a good look at it, I noticed daylight had just about departed. So turning my back towards the vehicle I began to fish my way back out. The result was a few more bass before I would clear the pads and a slow kick back to the bank as I de-rigged along the way. Another relaxing day on the water in my donut had come to a close. Soon without any issues the tube was in the back of the SUV and my gear was stored. It was then that a huge slap on the water made me spin around, in time to see huge rings formed by a leaping fishing in the middle of the pads. It seemed a parting gesture by the fish and I smiled and raised my hand in goodnight. I would be back, that much was for certain. To stalk these lily pads again.

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