Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Mar 26, 2012

Kneeling in the grass just short of a small section of exposed gravel I remained motionless watching the head of the pool for a rise. The grade dropped about 12 inches where the stream boiled over a small boulder then was abruptly confronted by the root base of a huge maple tree. The maple looked as if it had been guiding this little stream in somewhat the same fashion for eons, since it was now surrounded by white birch and hemlock, all much younger in years than the tree now holding desperately on to its bright crimson and gold leaves. Where I knelt was along a riffle just below the maple pool and just above a hemlock pool that switched back in the other direction forming an "S" curve. I had taken two fat little brook trout from below the hemlocks as I fished my way upstream, but had stopped to watch the next pool after seeing what I thought was a rise. Yet the fish would not show itself again. I waited for about 5 minutes and was just about to move up and prospect the pool when I saw it again. It was a very subtle sipping rise, which if one were not paying attention could be mistaken easily for an ant or tree bud dropping into the pool. "But not this time," I said to myself as I watched the rings approach the tail of the pool and dissipate as if they had never existed at all.

Knowing I would only get a few shots at the smallish wild fish I could expect to find I decided to stay put a bit longer and see if I could identify what the fish was looking for. However, try as I might I was unable to see anything on or above the water. Frustrated, I was staring into an open dry fly box when I caught a glimpse of a swallow swooping in over the slow run upstream of the maple pool. Something was coming off upstream for sure. Then I saw it; a slate drake dun went past me, and then was swept away into the riffles below before it could take flight. The hatch appeared to be coming off on the pool above, and this fish was staged watching for cripples or otherwise struggling duns that got swept downstream. The hatch was the smaller of the fall Slates to come off and it looked to be about a size #14. I tied on a Haystack version of the Slate Drake and positioned myself to make the best possible cast. My first cast was to the left of the boulder at the head of the pool, and my fly came down the inside of the run. Not happy with my cast I was still very pleased as an 8" or so fish that made two slashing rises at it before the current took hold and swept it downstream. My second cast was much better; both above and to the right of the boulder it brought my fly along the root base. The fish took the drifting fly with the slightest of sips. Perfection! Lifting my rod tip and sitting back on my heels in the grass I was quick to pressure the fish a little harder than usual in order to bring it downstream and away from the roots as quietly as possible. My goal was to get it downstream and out of the pool to land it, keeping the water as quiet as possible. It worked like a charm, and I was able to bring the fish through the riffle and right up behind me on my right to both land and release. It was as perfect a jewel of a wild brook trout as could be expected, with bright white fin tips and contrasting vermillion canvasing the back, contrasted by brilliant red and blue spots along its sides.

With the fish brought to hand quickly I was back to inspecting my fly once again. With all in good shape I shook the fly in floatant one quick time and searched for my same target again. The cast was a mirror image of the last and in nearly the same fashion it was sipped in as quietly as the first. Yet this time when the fish was put on the rod it was instantly identified as a larger fish. Refusing to be led downstream like the last one, the fish held at the head of the pool and dogged pretty good for this small water. It wasn't until a few moments passed and I was able to pull it free from the roots that I noticed it wasn't a brook trout all but a hefty 12" wild brown. A nice surprise for sure and a very pleasant fight ensued. It was beautiful, with bright orange markings along its flank, black spots with silver halos and a nearly golden belly. Upon release it slipped from my fingers and shot back down to the base of that old maple, disappearing completely.

I sat and contemplated what had just taken place. From the same exact location there had been two fish, both staged and feeding from the same lie, protected from even polarized glasses by the shadows cast from the root base of that old maple and the subtle current which broke the surface. They're existence revealed by only the slightest of sips from the water's surface. Both fish so completely different, with one being a native Char, and the other being a long ago introduced German Brown. Both of differing color and size, yet still their sipping rise forms masked the stark contrast between the two. Not until hooked and brought to hand was their individual beauty able to be fully appreciated. At that realization I rose and snipped off my fly from the tippet. Thankful to have been granted the opportunity to hold in my hand 2 perfect examples of the beauty held within trout waters I left the water. Having come with only rod in hand I was departing carrying an irreplaceable gift from nature's palette.

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