Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Oct 07, 2013

Sitting on an old trestle long abandoned by a defunct railway and now a historic pathway for trout fishermen, I looked at the water below my dangling legs as it passed silently by. I had fished through the morning and had enjoyed a relaxing successful time on the water. A solid handful of fish had willingly risen to my offerings whenever I was able to put together a decent presentation, and there's really not much more that a person can ask for in my mind. No huge fish, but none were what one would consider small either. Just a good day, that is, in the eyes of this fisherman anyway. The end result; I was as happy-as-a-clam and content with the world.

Now I found myself, as is an all too familiar habit of mine, pondering how I had gotten to this state of mind. I was not in a bad state mind you. I was actually in a particularly good place, yet a place I would have expected had I just landed a 20+ inch wild fish, or had a record day on the water. Neither of which had happened. I had experienced a good morning on good water, with moderate success. But things just couldn't have felt better. So as I said, I sat there pondering why. Not that I was in a mood to give any of it back. No sir. I was perfectly content with my "place". I was just being myself and wanting to know just how I had gotten there, maybe so I could knowingly place myself there again, maybe somewhere downstream along the rest of my journey when it was especially needed. So I sat kicking my feet like a 12 year old, and looking upstream out over the water.

Thinking about it, I couldn't help but think of my Dad. He always seemed to "glaze over" when he neared a trout stream. He could walk by a million ponds and never toss a line. But let him stand along a trout stream and that current always seemed to sweep him away. I think I inherited that ailment, although, unlike my dad I can get the same way on a bluegill pond as well. My Mom gets the blame for my wanderlust. At a very young age while growing up in the country we would leave the house alone as children at sun-up not to return until dinner time most days. She instilled the idea of "no schedules" and the need to see what lies over the next hill and always had time for us to show or tell her about our adventures. Yet while it had helped my fishing over the years, it is a trait not always looked upon in a favorable light through much of life. My family has taught me moderation. Admittedly, I have been a horrible pupil at times. But they have taught me that one must appreciate each minute you get on the water, and to be content with stopping, even if it is for a recital of tone-deaf 14 year olds. No longer am I like the puppy that gets loose and has an uncontrollable need to sniff and mark a mile of telephone poles before coming to a stop in exhaustion and having to figure out just where I am. These days when I get loose I head straight for the pole I enjoy the most, mark, then sit down and take it all in while appreciating the experience. Some call it a natural mellowing with age. But I don't feel mellow or old. And besides, I see too many folks much older than I am now still chasing around the streams with fish counters and getting in near fist-fights over who had the right-of-way to a particular pool. I think it's something else.

I thought back to another time when this same feeling had taken over, and oddly enough the moment came back to me in vivid recollection. I was standing in the Skookumchuck River in Western Washington nearly 20 years ago, just downstream of my good friend Troy as we fished for spring-run Steelhead. It was cold and raining, and the temps were barely a few degrees above snow. We had fish holding in the pool we stood over, but neither of us had hooked any of them. What we had hooked were a few whitefish and a couple of smallish sea-run cutthroat, and though nice to catch, they were not exactly what we had come in search of. Though we were dressed expecting rain and the elements, it was one of those saturating days when at some point no matter how prepared you were you look up and realize that every inch of your being is wet and numb. Troy had just landed and released another whitefish when he looked downstream at me in a blank stare, paused and then said flatly, "These rocks hurt my feet." We both stood laughing in the ice cold water, with rain pouring off the brims of our hats. Fact is, neither of us could feel our feet any longer, and in the state of physical misery we were in, our feet were the least affected. Then without even sharing a word, we both turned and waded out of the water and back to my truck. We chose not to get out of our waders right off, and instead flopped down the tailgate and hopped up on it to pour a couple coffees from the lukewarm thermos we still had. Sitting there in silence, sipping black coffee in the rain and watching the water roll by I recall having the same feeling.

The two moments however, only had one thing in common. In both, I was sitting on the water with my feet dangling. Maybe I was looking in the wrong direction? Maybe it's not so much the influences in our lives that affect our outlook on fishing? Maybe, it's the influence of spending time on the water that influences our outlook on life.

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