Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Dec 3, 2012

Standing thigh deep in the water of a Pennsylvania limestone stream I was enjoying the cold pressure against my waders. It was a welcome feeling during an otherwise hot summer. The morning had been slow to this point, with little-to-no hatch activity. Yet I had been able to pound up 3 fish with the always productive Elk-hair Caddis as first light had welcomed my presence. It seemed I had scarcely moved but to shift my weight for the past 2 hours as I glanced over the pool. I stood in the lower two-thirds of a pool that stretched for about 30 yards, positioned at the lower end of the run, with the flat water of the tail-out below me. Above me the stream of about 25 feet in width came off of a shallow bend, where it was confronted by three larger submerged boulders which formed the resulting pool. The water boiled over-and-around the boulders and channeled into a nice run of which I was positioned below. It was a relaxing morning, and to an observer would have seemed almost aimless in nature. Yet I was by no means aimless in my intent. I was contemplating changing patterns as I had seen several pale morning duns come off, when I glanced over the head of the run. As the morning sun began to filter through the tree tops and burn off the light mist that daybreak had formed, a small grin broke as well. There in the new light, was a small cloud of mayflies at the head of the run in their seemingly choreographed dance. Diminutive in size #24, they would soon be the focal point of both trout and I in the pool that lay before me.

I had been patiently waiting the arrival of my little black and white acquaintances known as "Tricos". Locally, they are a hatch you can set your watch by. And in the dog days of summer when the mid-day water warms to the point of shutting off any hatch activity, they can at times be the only action on the streams. Mornings and evening s are your friends, and any hatch activity to be found will depend on locating those productive waters.

These days however, find me searching those short windows of opportunity more and more regardless of summertime temps. It happens out of necessity and trying to identify the most productive times to be on the water within my limited windows. Between family obligations, sporting events, work and weather, my time is limited. All of these considerations make understanding the local hatches and waters more important. I never leave home without my gear, be it work or personal time. The time on the water is too valuable to find oneself with an opportunity and nearby water without an available rod. One never knows when a ballgame will get cancelled, an appointment will fall through, or work will provide an early day or long lunch. In each case, knowing the nearest water between where one finds himself home, and which one of those have a correctly timed hatch makes all the difference in the world. Knowing which water has the best evening sulfur or Pale Evening dun hatch, morning Trico hatch, or mid-day March Brown emergence can pay big dividends in the end.

Life goes on, and with it often times goes the days of dawn-to-dusk on a far off waters. I find myself searching for the "quality time" on the water, and less time concerning myself with fish counts. A morning where I can nail a hatch, and successfully fish it is a more important than big fish and limits. Three or four fish on perfect drifts, with the perfect pattern tied for that exact water is where fly fishing has most often taken me. Acknowledgement of this has taken me some time, and it didn't happen without a struggle. But frustration soon gave way to challenge. And with challenge was bred satisfaction and accomplishment. Now I find myself looking forward to those short visits to the water. I have grown to enjoy that chess match that whether win or lose has become what my fly fishing world has evolved into.

Before long I could see the egg-laying females drop to the lower end of the swarm at the head of the pool. Then a few rings began to form as I also noted some of those lower females were departing the swarm to drop eggs. My first cast received a roll. It may have been a refusal? Or was the fish simply targeting another unseen spinner floating nearby my pattern?  The second cast confirmed the latter, as the fish rose and gulped in my #24 Trico Spinner. And so went the remainder of my morning or at least for an hour or so, as I selectively targeted feeding fish. The hunt was on, and the morning produced a handful of nice fish as a result. Then the hatch disappeared, and I moved to the tail of the hole for a few more fish that were sipping the remainder of the spinner fall. A great morning! I reeled in and snipped off the tiny pattern as I worked my way toward shore and the truck. It had all ended just in time. I had an hour to be home for a soccer game that I wouldn't miss for the world.

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