Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Jan 02, 2012

Recently I found myself along a local stream, sitting on a large tree that had been shoved up onto the gravel bank during this summer's heavy storms. I had fished for a couple hours at this point, having already experienced success in bringing to hand several beautiful wild brown trout. My stopping was for no real reason, since I felt neither tired nor hungry at the moment, but the solace of the trees trunk beckoned me toward a comfortable perch with a view. The morning had shaped up well, with little breeze and only the slightest hint of heat or humidity. As I sat, I turned to inspecting an old friend that lay across my lap. It was a small glass rod that had come a long way with me thus far in my journeys. It was the first and only rod I had built to date and was now 14 years into its existence, and though still going strong, it was beginning to show a little wear in some places. Much in the same manner I thought, as with its owner.

Having been my first and only rod, one would imagine that it was not built perfectly. In building it, I had no serving jig, so the wraps were done strictly by hand. I also had no drying motor available, so there were a few high and low places of varnish visible. The previous season I had lost the first eye above the tip sections ferrule, which I had been putting off fixing. I had left out a hook keeper when building it, and as a result my cork had acquired a chip near the base after being used for a hook keeper one too many times. And my buildup under the cork had begun to show a mistake, where the last inch of cork now moved slightly. Like I said, while it was not built to perfection, it was in fact a dream to cast and a veteran of many fish none-the-less. However, in its current state it seemed it was either time to move on, or fix the rod towards a long-term future. The answer was in the fact that while I had other rods of much greater monetary value at home in my cabinet, I was out on the water and carrying this little glass rod again. The decision was made at that very moment to take up an offer from a good friend to rebuild it, and in turn fix all of my earlier mistakes.

As with many decisions in life when made correctly, this one too brought a bit of peace to the moment. Having enjoyed the morning already, it had now become a defining point to my time on the water. So noticeable was this sense that it in turn left me sitting there pondering much more than just a simple piece of glass and cork. It urged me to question just what it is in my time on the water that so often leaves me exactly where I want to be? Seldom if ever, do I find myself leaving water in a lesser mood than the one in which I arrived in. Most often the stream seems to be the repository of all things less desired for my sake. A lot of which is affected could be attributed to the outdoors and spending time in a natural setting. Much can be said for the therapeutic effects of nature. And likewise for me over the years, regardless of what life has dealt me I can always come back to the outdoors. It's the part of this world that always makes sense in my mind.

But for me it's more than just being "in" nature. For me, it's as much the efforts and trappings that accompany my many pursuits. From the fine checkered walnut stock of a favorite firearm, to the knife that has become as much a companion in the field as it is a tool in itself. Such is the case of the glass rod in my hands. I am a creature of habit and I am drawn to familiarity like a moth to a flame, where my accoutrements become part of the experience along the way. Yet with fly fishing there is so much more. I struggle at times to put into words just how much of my life is affected by it, and how much it changes my outdoor experience. From the smallest wisp of material or feather tied at the vise, to the feel of the line loading the rod with each cast there is a part of me that is affected. Whether it's the act of my participation on the water, or the impact that the water has on me, I know not. I choose not to fight it, and instead embrace it for what it is.

Years ago as a gift to my sister I put together a framed print in which I had sketched; it was accompanied by a quote from me as well. It was something that came to mind when trying to let her know just what made her brother tick. What it was that drew me to water, much like the case with our father. Years later, I would also include the same quote on the cover of my book "Tomorrow's Fish". It reads: "If Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the rise of a trout to the tied fly is the purist form of flattering nature with art." Those words were an attempt to define me, as both a fly fisherman and as a participant. When on the water, I am not looking to change anything, or to take away anything tangible. I am looking to participate in something that flatters the places that trout reside. With something both created in my vise and presented with my hands, which flatters the countless waters that likewise define the man.

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