Whip Finish


Ralph Long - August 29, 2011

It was a hot and steamy Saturday morning in central Pennsylvania as I stepped into the cool waters of the local tail water stream. What started out as a bluebird morning had quickly turned threatening, as the clouds closed in and overcast skies were accompanied by stifling humidity. I had been wading these familiar waters all morning in technical fashion, trying to get finicky trout, which up until now had been fairly docile, to actually eat one of my patterns. To this point- I was experiencing little success on the matter however, and was becoming increasingly leery. Something seemed to have them off a bit. Was it the recent cooler rains? Or maybe the week's pressure had been heavier than normal? Either way, I had encountered standoffish fish at best, willing only to short-rise at my presentations. Or barely sip a fly in, causing me to set the hook far too hard and accomplish only ripping the lips off of them instead of actually landing any fish.

It had just finished raining, but the water appeared clear and unclouded. The sky was threatening again and the moisture in the air hung like a Chinese steam bath causing everything you wore to instantly cling to clammy skin. Working my way up the run in my naïve state I was both please and frustrated as I hooked and landed a small sunfish, and then a small smallmouth. It was nice to catch fish, but I was after the brown trout that were known to haunt these parts, and this was just not adding up. Where were they? Why were they not feeding? I quietly eased up the run to the deeper part of the seam that surely would hold some trout, yet cast after cast produced nothing. Fish that I knew must be there turned nary a head towards my offerings. The clouds got darker, and I could barely make out my fly on the water with the limited light. I chose to change flies and go to a light Elk Hair Caddis. Surely this pattern would be easier to track in the shadows of clouds and wet overhanging limbs.

I decided to leave the deeper holding waters of the run, and turned to the shallows of the riffles without thinking. My first cast presented my Caddis in a scant 6 inches of water. What was that? Was that a boil near my fly? I looked around to find myself standing in the best water, and fishing in the least likely water. I was uneasy about my situation and then it happened. On my second cast to the same location my fly was consumed by a fish that, when rising, presented half of its body out of the water, turning like a great white on a small seal it slammed my fly and then left its mark with a loud tail slap as it headed for deeper water! The resulting battle ensued and I was quickly rewarded with a leopard spotted brown trout of 16 inches. I watched it slip from my hand into the shallow water and turned back towards the shallow haunt he had come from. I chose to stand my ground and make another cast from my current position. The fly hit the water, and in less than 2 inches of drift again was hammered! The fish left the water in a violent roll, attacking mercilessly on the unsuspecting caddis and tail-slapping  as it splashed it's way upstream in a bid to escape through the barely 4 inches of water. It was to no avail, and this fish too came to hand though reluctantly. A little taken aback by the aggressive nature of the fish and their unlikely holding water my next cast made it about 2 feet into the drift when I spotted the wake moving in like a torpedo cruising just below the surface on a fast attack mission. Then, as it neared my fly the jaws opened and shut like a croc hitting a wildebeest, going into a violent head shaking few moments of uncertainty. The water boiled as the fish shook its entire being in an attempt to rip loose, rolling repeatedly and then in a last act of defiance shot out of the water 3 times before rolling onto its flank and coming to hand.

I released the fish with shaking hands, and that quick it was over. No fish rising to be seen and repeated casts to the area produced no activity at all. It was like the feeding frenzy had ended. The attack was over. Not feeling comfortable I turning my back on the water, and reeled in my line backing toward the shore. Until next time!

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