Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Jun 18, 2012

I walked down the hall and stood on the linoleum floor in the kitchen. At 7years old I wore only pajama pants, and the spring air had made the floor cold to my bare feet. Having just woke up to get ready for school it seemed odd that my dad, who normally left before daylight each morning, was sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and doing the newspaper crossword puzzle. With one eye squinted closed against the bright over-head kitchen light and confused I asked, "What are still doing at home?" He looked at me with a smile just short of laughter and said, "My job got rained out today and I'm going fishing. Wanna come along?" I couldn't believe my ears! "But what about school?" "I'll leave a note for your mom that you're with me", was his reply. I ran to the kitchen window and peered out into the grey morning. You couldn't see the rain right off, but the puddles in the lane were showing a light sprinkle. "When are we leaving", I blurted!  He laughed and replied, "Let me finish this coffee while you get dressed. Then we're outta here." In a blur I was gone.

With the gear loaded behind the bench seat of the pickup, in short order we were on the road. It was just me and him, and life really didn't get better than that for a 7year old boy growing up in the country. Especially for a weekday when all my friends would be standing in the rain waiting for the bus to arrive, while I would be fishing. We crossed over Jonestown Mountain and crossed over fishing creek. At Hickory Joe's restaurant we turned left. Then in just a short piece we were there. Today we would be fishing Forks, the location where Huntington Creek and Fishing creek merged. I had been there before on several trips, and knew the place. But today would be different. Today I would be fishing on my own. We would both have a rod and would both wade separately. That also meant I would be on my first solo run for doing all my own rigging and baiting.

When the truck stopped I bailed with a purpose, and after a few minutes of hopping on one leg in an attempt to get my hip boots on without getting my socks wet I was ready. The green rubber felt cold through my jeans, and the spring rain was pretty chilly through my baseball style wind breaker and hooded sweatshirt. I popped open the top spring of my nylon shoulder creel. The ones with the 12 inch ruler marked off on the snapped top flap. It held a small box of #10 loose hooks, a spool of 2 pound leader material, some barrel swivels, a plastic container of assorted split-shot, a case pocket knife, and a jar of Mikes Natural color salmon eggs. I was set. I pulled my rod out from behind the seat. It was a 5foot ultra-lite Abu Garcia rod with a Mitchell 308 reel and was already rigged. I adjusted my Case machinery ball cap, and waited for my Dad to lead the way. Following him down the muddy bank and along the trail through the short river bottom flat full of briars, I carried my rod backwards as he did to avoid the rod getting tangled. I thought it odd that when I slipped twice going down the bank in the hip boots he never turned around to ask me if I needed a hand. No matter though, since after all it wasn't like I was a kid anymore.

At the bank, we stopped to rig up. I watched as he selected his sinker, and likewise chose the same size. Then I skewered my salmon egg, making sure to pass through the egg sac as he had shown me before. We both waded through a shallow eddy, and stopped short of a seam of deeper flowing water. He said we would fish this run and pointed me to go upstream from him about 20 feet. I pushed my way upstream on the slick rocks as he watched, and when I had steadied myself against the current and looked back at him, he simply smiled and turned to cast his line. I did likewise.

Through that morning we never really left that spot. My dad seemed to hook fish pretty regularly, and soon began to drop many of them back in the water. I had hooked one fish of about 10 inches, pretty much accidentally, since it took my egg as I was reeling in to make another cast. It just didn't seem like a catch at the time, but the feeling of the occasional flop in my creel was still comforting. Then after most of the morning had gone by and I was pretty much soaked through, I felt the unmistakable TAP-TAP-TAP of a fish and lifted my rod to set the hook. This fish was a little better, and my dad quickly moved in to help net it for me. Soon, with a little coaching on his part I had the weight of a 14 inch rainbow in my creel. After some congratulations, he asked if I was ready to go. I stood there wanting to say no, but I was soaked through to the skin, my hands were half numb form the cold rain and creek water, and I had slipped at one point so my downstream boot was filled knee-high with water. I nodded and gave an apologetic smile in return. He gave me a nod of agreement and turning for the bank said, "OK Bud, lets head for the truck." After helping me drain my boot on the bank, he suggested I grab hold of the back of his belt going up the bank. Thank God, I thought to myself, because I was pretty concerned about that climb given my previously rough decline.

Sitting in his truck with the heater running full blast and the windows fogging heavily, he grabbed a bag from behind the seat. Out of it he pulled a red scotch-plaid painted Stanley thermos and an extra cup. He poured us both a cup of warm coffee and handed me a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich on my mom's home-made bread. The sandwiches were awesome in our hungry state, and my first personal cup of coffee tasted unbelievable. I instantly forgot about my cold and wet situation as we talked and recapped each fish. We talked for a good hour and I drank down 2 cups of that coffee before dad finally wiping the windows clear and heading back over the mountain to home.

That event in my life happened 39 years ago, yet is still as clear to me now as the day it happened. It was the first day that I felt like I fished "with" my dad. It was my first cup of coffee from my dad's thermos. It was my first trout caught intentionally and completely on my own. Yet the two most important things I took from that day are with me still. First and foremost, it is the earliest recollection that I can recall distinctly looking at my dad and thinking how much I loved the man. And secondly, with that one day of fishing in the rain he took a 7 year old boy and made him a trout fisherman. It's been 13 years now since my dad left us and much longer since I last cast a salmon egg to trout. Over the years that spinning rod was replaced with a fly rod, yet the feeling still remains the same as it was 39 years ago. Each time I'm out with rod-in-hand casting to trout I think about him, because he's the reason I still find myself longing to stand in water, and often I'm that same 7 year old boy, standing in the creek soaking wet and cold with one leg of my waders filled to the knee, knowing that while I truly want to keep fishing it's time to head for the truck, and a warm cup of coffee. Thanks Dad.

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