Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Apr 23, 2012

I picked my way through the briars toward the sound of a creek about 30 yards ahead, but yet unseen. I knew that the line of hemlocks up ahead would be my salvation from this tangle I was working my way through with a fly rod in hand. It seemed that every time I so much as glanced at the vines around my legs to avoid another puncture through my jeans, I would instantly tangle my fly line again. Yet this entire struggle was worth the trout fishing perfection that lie ahead. I stepped through the last bunch of briars and stood in the shadow of a 100 yard long run of hemlocks. Running through that grove was an 8 foot wide trout stream, known to the locals as Briar Creek. It wound its way through the woods after leaving a pond about a mile upstream. About 1 mile from where I stood, it would join with its sister creek, and then continue a short distance into a county reservoir.

Crouching down to rest, I took advantage of the open area to inspect my leader and tippet. All was intact and the #14 Royal Coachman on the end seemed none the worse for wear as well. I evaluated my approach to the pool that lay straight ahead of me. The bank on the far side went straight up the mountain, and was undercut with roots. The pool at its deepest point was about 3feet, and it extended for about 30 foot into the next ripple. I crouched-walked my way up to the hole, and with a bow-and-arrow cast, popped the fly into the head of the hole about 6" from the far bank. It had drifted about 4 feet when out from under the bank in a flash came the take, and as quickly as it came it was gone. I lifted the rod tip just slightly and the little glass rod came to life.  In short order I had a gleaming native brookie lying in my hand. A fat little 8" fish, and a fine specimen for the creek for sure. I dropped the fish into the creel with a smile, knowing that this would be a great day on the water. I loved this crick!

That was 1976……24 years earlier. And as I sat contemplating my next move through the briars, I was seriously 2nd guessing my desire to revisit this creek of my youth. I had left the Jeep parked at the same place I always entered the woods as a kid, yet it somehow seemed much thicker than before. Whether it was actually thicker underbrush, or just a thicker man walking through it I was not certain. But either way, I was sweating and my legs already bore the puncture wounds of unbelievable large green thorns! I could however, hear the creek just up ahead. And like years ago, I smiled with anticipation.

Stepping out into the hemlocks, there it was! The hole I remembered was gone however. The bank had given way along with a huge hemlock, and the root system had carried rock into the streams path. Feeling slightly let down, I turned downstream. I was not to be disappointed a 2nd time. There before me was a whole twice the size that I had recalled prior, and as I stood there watching I saw at least 2 distinct rise forms at its tail-out. I was no longer carrying the old South Bend glass rod of my youth. Instead, I now had a little 3weight Orvis Superfine that seemed perfect for the water. I decided to fish the hole below me from its head and feed line after a dump cast. The 1st cast ended up in the branches overhead. Cursing at myself, I was fortunate to pull my fly free….and this time with a side-arm delivery was able to pile up my line just below the riffle. I watched the #16 Elk hair caddis drift for about 10ft and the rise came with a sip. One minute it was there, and the next second all that was there was a bubble on the surface. I lift the rod tip and found an acrobatic little fish on the end of my line. Enjoying the moment, I let him take his frustration out on the little 3weight, and then stripped line to retrieve him. An amazingly bright little 5" brookie came to hand. Removing the hook, he instantly flipped in my hand and was back in the stream. 20 minutes later I had landed 3 more identical fish and was reeling in line to search downstream.

What I found was exactly like I remembered. Pool after pool began with a smallish boulder choking the stream, which then dumped into a hole of a couple foot in depth, and a 10-20 foot tail-out would follow. Each of which held a handful of hungry brook trout in the 5-7" range. I was in heaven. As expected, I was 12 years old again. Yet oddly enough, I hadn't seemed to improve at all in my casting ability! At least not that my performance on the day had proven anyway. I had been fishing exclusively with the same #14 EHC throughout the morning up until that point, as I stepped out onto a little gravel bar formed by the stream and its sister fork of nearly identical size coming together. Almost immediately a rise-form at the head of the hole caught my attention. It was a larger fish from the looks of it. Losing my bearings, I turned to cast directly to it, and instantly hung my back cast. After the initial frustration, I smiled to myself. A lot has changed over the years, but just like a 12 year old kid, the sight of a larger fish had gotten me flustered and I instantly forgot everything I knew. Right down to the fact that I was standing in an opening too small for a standard cast. 

Having lost my fly to the hemlocks, I tied on a wet fly that I had actually tied for the day, but had not gotten around to fishing yet. I leaned out from the bank to my right, and with a sidearm cast skipped the fly up into the rifle above. Stripping line in as the fly drifted downstream toward me the line quickly went tight. I lift the rod and found myself hooked onto a fish considerably larger than any I had caught all morning. The fight ensued, and after pulling him from roots and giving line multiple times, I was looking at a 16" brook trout and a monster fish for that stream. Again, I was 12 years old and wishing for my creel. My dad would love this fish! But having no creel and with my Dad gone now, I was left without a camera and only me and the fish. I smiled as it slipped from my hands and instantly disappeared back into the roots it had risen from. I looked at the little wet fly that had done the trick. It instantly became the "Briar Creek wet". From the confluence of the 2 streams I was only 75 yards from the lane I was parked on upstream. Feeling like this was as good a place as any to wrap up the morning; I headed out toward the road. It had been a nearly perfect day on the water and like 24 years earlier, I found myself walking back up that gravel lane….tired, sweated through and undeniably happy. I was heading back home again, rod in hand, knowing that Mom would have something in the kitchen for lunch. Coming around the corner I saw the grill of my Jeep staring at me, and reality returned again. Lunch would be at the general store, and maybe I would visit that pond I remembered just a short drive away? Times do change…..and yes, waters do as well. In the end we have our memories. It's been nearly 10 years since I re-visited that creek….maybe it's time

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