Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Oct 08, 2012

The rain had just stopped and the thunder from the fast-moving storm was still audible in the distance as I stood along the stream. It felt as if I was literally steaming, as my rain-drenched shirt gave little-to-no relief in the June heat. Looking over the pool, there were still a few sprinkles coming down. But I could already see the glow of sunlight from the North, which was the same direction the storm had begun. Life was good I thought, as the afternoons fishing would still go on despite a momentary intervention.

As I looked over my tippet and debated which fly to try on the pool in front of me, I caught a sudden small movement in the periphery of my vision. Glancing up, I was surprised to see what appeared to be a young Coopers hawk, make one last hook-turn about 10 feet off the ground, as it knocked another smaller bird to the leaves. Before it could bat its wings more than twice, the hawk was on it and the struggle was over. I admired it as it stood on the smaller bird; regal and looking proud of the harvest and its accomplishment. It was then that it saw me and after a short few seconds moved to a branch in the tree overhead of its kill.

I took the move as an offering to go check things out, although that was probably not what was on the mind of the hawk as I moved in on his dinner. Crossing the stream in the riffle just upstream of the pool, I found the bird to be a Mourning Dove. And while this was obviously a great bounty for the hawk, I couldn't' help but wonder if the dove had any sense of what lay in store when it left the previous mornings roost? The lethal damage was not apparent on the dove from a visual aspect, and I did notice some very interesting feathers in the shoulder area. As I fly tier one can't help but notice these things. I debated for a few seconds taking some of them, but then thought it better to let the spoils remain with the hawk undisturbed.

As a hunter as well as a fisherman, I felt no remorse for the dove in-so-much as it had just fulfilled its place in the natural cycle. As it appeared to be a mature bird, it more than likely had propagated it's species at this point, and now was sustaining another. It in turn would be partially consumed on the spot, and nature would take its course from the already arriving insects to furbearers that would find the remains this evening. Some of those insects would probably end up in the stream as a result and quite possibly a raccoon would rinse his portion of the meal in the water also. All of which would enter the water table as food or much needed bacteria.

I thought about the wild turkey I harvested earlier this spring, and how very much alike the process was. The bird had been a mature gobbler in most likely its second or third breeding cycle, and subsequently fell to my shotgun. The meat wound up on my families plates, and much of its hackle now resides in my tying bench. They will in the end find themselves on a hook of my fashioning, which will in turn find their way back to a nearby stream.

I left the dove to the pleasure of the hawk that was still watching me quietly from above, and moved to the ancient looking oak where it had appeared the hawk had come from. It was an odd growing tree, and as I walked around it I discovered 2 owl pellets. It was like finding gold for me, and I went right to pulling them apart to inspect things. One held a near perfect skeleton of what looked like a mouse or mole. The other held what looked more like a small bird. The skeleton of a skull & one wing was easy to see. I searched the tree overhead for a likely perch and thought how it probably sat at night just as that hawk had done, searching the woods for its next meal. I looked at the run below where the tree stood. It sure looked like it should hold fish. The tree was obviously old, and I wondered as well just how many fishermen over the years had stood like I was, surveying the water. Had we all been so much the same? Had we all stood as the owl, hawk and those of us seeking the trout that inhabit this small stream? In separate worlds in different times, at the site of this old tree, looking downstream in hopes of what may come?

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