Whip Finish


Ralph Long - October 24, 2011

The stream is one that I had paralleled along the highway for years while travelling between my home and the place in which I was raised. Each time I look at it and think, "There has got to be trout in there". But up until now I've left it as just that, a curious thought brought on by a passing glance. This summer however, my curiosity got the best of me. So, I was at the computer looking at maps and trying to figure out the name of the stream. Locating it on the map was easy. But finding the name or any information for that matter was a far different story. The one thing I did notice right off was that the Fish and Game commission did not stock it. That in itself may have ruled it out for most folks, but I was actually hoping for brook trout, so maybe this would still pan out well. All the maps placed most of its length in state game lands as well, so what more could I ask for? A stream of about 2 miles long, that forked about 1/3rd down its length, and seemed to empty out into a marshy section of meadow. I was all over this one.

So off I went. Armed with a small box of wet flies and a 3wt rod, I was in search of those little jewels we call Brookies. I'm partial to a handful of wet flies when I'm chasing small streams, and that was all I had brought with me for this trip. The assortment included, Cow Dungs, Black Gnats, Hare's Ears, and Briar Creeks. All tied in #14 except for the Gnats which were in #16. They are probably not the be-all or end-all of a brook trout box, but they are all like comfort food for me. I have confidence in them. I know one of them will catch fish, and it takes the tough decisions out of the equation for me. Maybe it's a carryover from the days of my youth, when Royal Coachmen wets and Parmachene Belles were the soup-de-jour for a youngster with nothing but few dollars' worth of baling money in his pocket, and only one small tackle shop to buy from? But nevertheless, over the years I've come to know that as long as I do my part, these patterns will produce fish. 

Arriving at the interstate location where I always notice the creek following the road, I pulled off and parked as far into the grass as I could. There was no gravel area or signs of previous use to be seen, which either meant I was wasting my time, or had just found the best kept secret of the area. I was going to be wet wading, and my rod was already uncased with a fly on the tippet, leaving little to delay me hitting the water. So in short order I was over the small wire fence and into the woods. Instantly the cars whizzing by seemed to fade. Looking up and down the little portion of stream, I could already see small pockets of holding water that seemed like logical targets to begin with. I moved up to just below the first little plunge pool and fed out some line.  Then with a small roll cast I dropped the #14 Cow Dung pattern and followed my line lifting the tip high in order to keep a somewhat tight line to my drift. I was pleasantly surprised by a Tap-Tap, tap, tap as a fish pretty much hooked itself. I stayed crouched down and played it for all it was worth. The fish obviously felt it was much larger than it was. But then again, it could very well have been the largest fish in the pool, so in its own mind it was correct in its belief. Soon enough I was palming a 6" bejeweled Brookie. At that point for me, regardless of what else happened, this day was perfect!

I was able to fish my way upstream as the water left the highway sounds and soon I found my way about 300yds into my adventure. That's when I encountered the old and faded "Posted" signs. It bummed me out slightly I must admit, as I stood there looking back and trying to envision the water that had flowed downstream from my start-point? Wondering just how far I would be able to fish in the other direction, I was startled by the voice of an elderly gentleman. I jumped, turning quickly as he caught my face and chuckled a bit at my expense. There he stood, in bib-overalls a scant 20feet behind me! How had I not seen or heard him?

"Sorry" he offered, "Didn't mean to startle you." He said holding his hand up.  "How was the fishing?" he asked, before I could even respond.

"Howdy" I replied with a smirk. "You scared the crap out of me." I said and returned the chuckle. "The fishing has been pretty good. I caught a 1/2 dozen Brookies, and that's what I was after. So I can't complain one bit."

"I saw your car parked down by the highway. I own the property upstream and my house is just off to the left, he said pointing. I was shocked to see anybody fishing. I can't remember the last time I saw anybody in here." Then he added, "What's even in here? You said Brookies?"

"Yes 'sir." I responded. "Brook trout. Nothing real big, but in water this size it's what one would expect to find. All about 5-7 inches long, but pretty fish." 

"Huh? Imagine that!" he exclaimed. "I don't fish myself. Just never found the time or the inclination for it." Then he cocked his head in a questioning way and offered, "I have some larger pools where the creek wraps around my house. You're welcome to fish them, if you don't mind me watching?"

I Smiled in acceptance and nodded to him. "That would be perfectly fine with me, and I thank you for the offer."

"C'mon then" he said as he turned. "The pools are right past the posters."

I followed behind as he led me upstream, past his posters and up to a nice little pool with an 8' to 10' tail-out. And on the 2nd cast hooked and landed a fat little 7" Brookie. He was amazed at the colors on the fish, and I could tell that he truly appreciated it. He asked if he could release it. I told him sure, and had him wet his hands, then handed him the fish as he put it back in the water. The fish paused for a short second, and then with 2 quick kicks was off and somewhere on the bottom of the pool. "THAT, was pretty amazing!" he declared standing and wiping his hands on the front of his jeans.

I smiled and nodded, "Yes it is."

He shook my hand and thanked me for catching the fish for him, and then granted me permission to fish through his property. "It ain't much further up, but it does give you the larger holes on the stream. My property goes to the road, where the creek bends and crosses under it." He offered. "You're more than welcome to fish it, as long as you stay near the stream. I don't want the dogs going nuts, because that will just scare my wife if I'm not around."

"Understood," I said in agreement. "Thank you very much. I'm glad you enjoyed the fish."

"Well, I don't fish myself. But now I can certainly see why you would choose to do so. Amazing! What a beautiful fish!" And with that, he said his goodbyes and walked off in the direction of his house.

I finished up the day right there, and cataloged the spot away as good for another trip very soon. Getting back to my truck, I was quick to stow everything, and wanted to jump off the next exit that was about 2 miles down the highway, and swing through to see just where the gentleman lived and get a better lay-of-the-land. However, driving around I was unable to find a house. I found where the creek crossed the road, which was 400-500 yards from where we would have been, but no house. There was an old lane about 100yds back down the road, that didn't really show any signs of use. But with no other options, I decided to drive back in a bit. I had gone a short distance when I pulled up to an overgrown clearing and an old farmhouse with a wrap-around porch. The roof portion over most of the porch had fallen from its supports and hung sagging under its own weight. In the yard sat 2 shingled dog coops, both with rusted chains attached. Across the yard stood a corn crib and a partially collapsed barn well beyond repair. Walking up on the porch, I looked inside. The place was long ago left empty. The only signs of previous inhabitance being the old faded Gingham curtains left hanging in the kitchen windows. The place hadn't been lived in for at least a generation.

I still fish that little section, and never once have I seen another person on the water. And when I get to the old posters I stay tight to the creek, taking care not to get the dogs barking.

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