Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Sep 23, 2013

Pausing to look over the stream I took a seat on a large maple sweeper that had found the dry gravel of the summer's water its seasonal resting place. Perpendicular to the waters course it was as if nature had envisioned a need for a bench overlooking the long glide in front of me and simply placed the woeful tree in the center as a gift to fishermen. I had begun my morning at daybreak in order to escape the worst of the mid-august heat. The fish however, had only partially cooperated with my efforts. They initially seemed agreeable to rising steadily all morning which had me optimistic, yet they had refused to eat any of my offerings which resulted in a torment that most of us know all too well. By 10 am the sun which was beginning to find a direct path to the creek had the ball cap I was wearing thoroughly saturated in sweat. I pulled my vest off and hung it on the remnants of a broken branch in order to get to the back pocket and the water bottle that was hopefully still slightly cooler than body temperature.

The pool before me was on a long sweeping bend that wrapped around the tree I was perched upon. It made a nearly 180 degree turn before dropping into a huge plunge pool that tailed out into a boulder field. I had hoped to find the remnants of a Trico hatch here to plant myself over until the heat got to be too much, but it didn't look to be the case today. Until now I had only been able to bring one fish to hand all morning. A fat rainbow of 15-16 inches had decided it liked a #22 Griffith's Gnat better than the grey midge naturals that were the object of most of its attention up until that point. Aside from that the morning had been filled with refusals and outright piscatorial abstinence.

As I sat enjoying the lukewarm bottle of water, I was finding no rise-forms. Thinking I could switch to a nymph and dredge the pool top-to-bottom I scrutinized my box. Being a stubborn creature by nature I was hoping to find a pattern and stick with it on this final pool of the morning. My mind however, while it knew the water screamed "nymph", kept migrating back to a dry caddis pattern. The Penns Grannom pattern is one of my own that over the years has grown to be a favorite when confidence is low. I think we all have at least one of them. It's that pattern that seems to more-often-than-not save an otherwise fishless day. And regardless of whether it's time on the water, or sheer happenstance that brings it success, each time a fish raises to it the position within your psyche is more deeply ingrained. That fly for me, is the PG. It's a fairly basic and simple pattern, and a local variation of the age-old Fluttering Caddis. Tied with an olive-brown dubbed abdomen and thorax, it sports a natural CDC under-wing, a light elk down-wing and Golden badger hackle. In size #18-14 it's a near perfect match to a large number of the caddis hatches I encounter locally, and one that the fish seem to prefer. So once again I found myself re-building my tippet and tying on a #16 Penns Grannom, gathering up my gear and heading up to the head of the pool. My goal was to pound every inch of the run and presumably convince the finicky fish to leave their lies in pursuit of my caddis fly.

I began as if I was fishing over a steelhead run, hitting the near eddy first, then a couple passes through the heart of the run, and ending on a drift or two along the far bank. Then a few steps downstream and repeat the process. On my 3rd cast while in the heart of the run it happened. A 14" brown hammered the fly with no hesitation and instantly I knew the PG was at it again. It was as if there was a caddis hatch coming off yet not another bug or rise was to be seen, but fish were rising even from deep water to take the fly. Some wanted it skittered, some dead-drift, and some hammered the pattern as it drowned toward the end of the drift. It seemed that no matter what I did the fish keyed on the pattern, and the end of the run found me happy and smiling. The heat of the sun was gone from my mind and I had brought to hand more than a dozen fish in the past hour after an otherwise fishless morning.

I stood in the tail-out of the pool inspecting my tattered fly and wondering just what it is that makes it work? Was it an attribute within the pattern? Or was it the confidence it gives me when fishing it? Or should I even care? Like many folks speak of a number of patterns that have been handed down over the years as being their go-to fly, this particular pattern had obviously become mine. It had now entered that much heralded category alongside of banana splits, Pittsburgh-rare steak with a Guinness, and bacon and eggs most anytime. It was now officially my "Comfort Fly".

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