Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Oct 22, 2012

At 18years old, stepping off of a bus in the Mobile Alabama terminal with only an address for a boarding house in hand on a piece of paper was a far cry from the comforts of central Pennsylvania. Having taken a huge leap, I had enough money for two weeks of boarding house fees, some food and a possible return trip on greyhound should I not pass the welding test for the shipyard. My risk took hold, as fresh out of Vocational school I passed the 1st class welding exam and had a job, and in short order was tossed into the world of pressurized pipe welding on the docks. It was obviously a huge step at such a young age, but looking back on it now I would not change a thing. Then last week, 30 years later, I found myself thinking about my time in Mobile for a completely different reason; fly fishing. I was trying to identify a type of fish I had caught down there that I could find nothing on? Then friends online helped me identify it. The wonders of the Internet were nowhere to be found in the winter of 1982, but some things never do really change, and in the end a common theme came to mind.

That first bit of travel began a standing rule that I made with myself over the years. No matter where life took me, or if I find myself bored while away on business, I look for a place to fish. It began in Mobile after receiving my 1st paycheck that was three weeks in coming. I bought a cash-and-drive used car, and began driving around looking for apartments since it appeared I would be there for a while. While driving around I kept spotting all the streams that fed into the Mobile Bay around the area and could spot everything from rolling fish to sipping rings everywhere. Yet there were no fisherman to be seen. It took a long weekend of apartment hunting to get me headed to the local "mart", where I found a cheap fly rod set and some bubble-pack streamers. On my first stop I was fishing nothing more than an exit pool of a road-crossing culvert. My first cast was hammered by fish that acted like they were starving! They were odd looking, but struck hard and fought like the dickens! I would later find out they were juvenile Bowfin. But I didn't care they were fish. That night I wrote my parents to mail my fly rod and gear down to me. They weren't trout, but they were a blast to catch, had teeth bigger than trout and it carried me through my first winter in Alabama.

Looking back now, I have known a good number of folks who out of complacency or stubbornness would sit in boredom on the road because what they were used to fishing for was not available to them. I never understood it. If I had no gear, I would by cheap stuff and give it away when I left if I had to because of travel restrictions. I left a setup for housekeeping at a hotel once with a note of where to use it locally. I like to think somebody caught more fish with it after I left. Later in life I would begin carrying my own travel gear whenever possible. The wonders of technology can be nice. And had I not gone to these lengths the countless experiences I collected would never have existed at all. I learned so much along the way, and found out that while not every place has my streams of Pennsylvania, they all have fish that you can catch on a fly rod.

I learned that the very same flies I used back home would catch Bowfin, Bream, Specks, Gar, Pike, Bass, Stripers, Wipers, Walleye, Salmon, Kokanee, Steelhead & every trout I have ever come across. I learned that the reason I had those bowfin to myself in Mobile, was because though it was still 60 degrees there which meant T-shirt weather for me, it was "their" winter, and they didn't fish in the winter. Like most places.

I learned that North Carolina pothole ponds along the main roads held some of the largest bass and Bream that I had ever seen. And that most of them were possible to fish. And that a Gar requires different leader material than trout.

I learned that folks look at you just as weird in Missouri while you're getting into a float tube, as they do in Washington State. But that their boat docks hold bass just like everyplace else.

I learned there are miles of water in the northwest that are devoid of fish unless they are "running." I also learned that a salmon can strip a 5 weight t trout rod clean down to the last loop of backing, and then break your rod with ease.

I learned that catfish take flies, and that big bass can live in waters just two shades short of what can be classified as sewage.

I learned that Whitefish live in the same places as trout and can save many a day. That Carp are game fish too, and that it's better to catch two chub while fishing than it is to sit for five minutes in front of a hotel TV set.

Now I have come back to the Northeast, and although I travel occasionally, it's not as often as it once was. I still travel with fishing gear however, even for day trips. And the stubbornness of saying "I am a trout fisherman" has long faded. I still get just as excited watching rings form on a farm pond as I do rising trout, because for me their value down the road is equal. I take fish wherever I find them and fish by a slightly modified version of the age old motto of "When in Romeā€¦just go fishing". Otherwise, you will find yourself wishing you had gone fishing, and missing out on water that regardless of what it looks like or holds, carries priceless memories just waiting to happen.

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