Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Jul 15, 2013

Standing at the streams edge I paused to check out the fledgling Robin that caught my eye as it lay among the wild mint. It was dead, but not stiff as of yet, so I scanned the tree above for the expected nest it would have either left or been dislodged from. There it was; about 10 feet up on the limb of a black birch tree. From my position the sound of faint chirps came to my ear. What had caused the young birds life to be extinguished so early? Obviously I could not tell if it had an internal ailment, but it was an otherwise healthy looking specimen. By all accounts not more than a few moments ago the bird had been within that nest, chirping with the rest of them. Yet now, its life was gone and would live on only through the elements as nature would surely reclaim its body. Had it been sick and pushed out by the mother or its hungry siblings? Had it simply been impetuous in its youth and left too early and thus met an untimely death? Or had it been a victim of a predatory animal or bird that caused it to fall to its demise, and I was simply in the way at the moment? Looking around, I saw no other waiting critter, and the normal cadence of small chirps told me that all was well in their current world. Understanding that I would never really know what exactly had transpired I accepted the situation and moved on down the bank and into the water to address a pool where I was looking to test a new streamer.

The furnace hackled streamer was a new pattern I had envisioned during the winter two years earlier. It had done very well for me in its original state. However, I had made a few small changes to it this season, adding a longer red buck-tail throat, and replacing the silver rib with a rib of gold tinsel. The result I felt, was a result of reflection after watching a small school of minnows converge on a piece of sandwich bread I had dropped in the water during a lunch stop the past summer. Watching them feed in competition, I couldn't help but think the flash had more of a gold glint to it from my view, and the occasional red flare of the gills was unmistakable. So there I was, at the bench a day or so ago, tweaking an already proven pattern on a hunch. And likewise, the pool to test it on would be the same pool I had watched those minnows feed in.

I had recalled my thoughts on the pattern while I was browsing a website and come across the patterns of a friend and acquaintance that had passed away a little over a year ago. I had traded patterns with him for years over the Internet and he had possessed an unbelievable talent for Rangeley Style streamers. They were a style I had seldom tied, yet over the years I had in turn developed an appreciation for them as well. This was as much a testament to his friendship as well as his skill, since we had never actually had the opportunity to meet face-to-face. As it was, even without a mutual path in life to share, we had struck up a friendship through fly tying only. It was with surprise however that I learned of his illness and then shortly after, his untimely death at a far too early age. Why was it I wondered that I was now standing here in clear water contemplating a day on the water, yet life did not find it necessary for him to continue on? Not having knowledge of his personal life or health, I realized that I was as much in the dark with my friend as I was with the small bird that lay silently on the bank behind me. There were some things that would inevitably go unanswered, and just maybe that was how things are meant to be? Yet questions of fairness and the cruelty of nature and life have a way of creeping in on person. I had experienced my share of life threatening illness and situations over the years, yet here I was. So many others, to include my parents had left this world sooner than they should have. Memories of those gone flooded in as I stood in the cold spring water. Was it by design? Or was it simply dumb luck? Was there a purpose for all of it, or do we all simply stroll through life experiencing whatever hits us, until it is our time as well? All of this and much more rumbled through my mind as I slowly worked the pool in front of me.

I was working the pool from its tail to the head, mainly due to the vegetation and not for any conscious thought of how to best fish the water. To cover the water in any logical manner, there really was only one way to go about things. I needed to strip a few more feet of line for my next cast in order to reach a small eddy along the far bank. A little extra effort and I smiled as the fly landed perfectly and my line was quickly caught up in the current. On the third strip of line everything went suddenly tight and I strip-set to a heavy fish. I was quickly able to identify the fish as a heavy butter-colored brown and was treated to a dance that seemed almost rehearsed as he walked through every way possible to thrown the burdensome hook that was embedded in his jaw. However, in the end on this day I prevailed and was soon admiring a hefty 18 inch fish covered in leopard spotting with silver-gray halos around the larger of the spots. Along its jaw I spied the streamer, the red throat contrasting brightly along the gold in its jaw and the dark furnace hackle of the wing. I popped it loose and with a quick flip that caught me slightly off guard the fish was gone, leaving nothing behind but the memory in my mind that our meeting had ever taken place. The fly had done its job, maybe my enhancements had worked after all?

Rinsing the fly, I stepped upstream as I recovered my line and moved into position for my next cast. It sure was a beautiful fish I thought to myself. Then it hit me. Maybe everything is tied together in ways in which we can no sooner predict than we could duplicate? Like the random lines in a dream catcher, where all in which we touch or experience comes back around in some shape or manner. Had I not fly fished and tied flies, I would have never met my friend. Had we not become friends, I probably would have never had the desire to tie Rangeley streamers. It was the memory of my friend that brought me to the bench and helped me to recall the enhancements that I had made to my pattern and in turn brought me back to this pool. And it was here that I would encounter that small unfortunate bird, whose untimely death would prompt me to ponder both my own existence and the memories of those passed. All of which culminated into a perfect day on the water, a beautiful fish and a recollection of many fond memories. OR….I had found a dead bird, caught a nice fish and have some great memories. I've decided that I can live with either one.

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