Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Aug 12, 2013

The cool Pennsylvania limestone water was refreshing as it swept over a table of rock upstream of my position, rolling over itself in the head of the pool and stubbornly giving way to my wader less legs. For as long as I could remember, where I stood had always been a gravel bar during the last week of June. This year however, I stood in 12 inches of grass matted down by knee-deep current as I dredged a tandem nymph setup to trout which I could see, but for whatever reason could not catch. The stream was clear but high, with more rain forecast later in the day. Again nature would add to the trickle of life in which I stood, and in the end its water would reach the Susquehanna River where it would, in turn, nourish the Chesapeake. Pausing between casts I reached down and scooped up a handful of water, letting it trickle back to the stream through my fingers, watching as the breadth of the stream moved downstream, seemingly gone forever in the endless flow of water. Within the flow were small pools, rock formed eddies, couuntless swirls and whirlpools caused by unseen forces below the water's surface. One thing above all stood out from the scene before me; it did not stop. It was perpetual. Though it may slow or gain in tempo, or the backdrop may become altered due to forces of nature, it does not stop. Like time, the water in which we encounter or enjoy the moment is gone in an instant, never to be repeated in exactly the same manner again. We may enjoy another bit of water very similar to the one in past memory, but it will still be different in some way.

Turning back to the run before me I was clouded by these thoughts, which did not help my calamity caused by fish that would not take my flies. I had fished this run countless times in the past, and whenever they were flashing heavy with no sign of a hatch I would fish this same tandem with success. They always took one of the two flies presented, a size14 bead-head Squirrels Nest above a size 18 Hares Ear. Today however, it was not to be. Also, gone were the two sweepers that had been just upstream of the bridge, which always kept the pool below the bridge stable. They had been repositioned downstream of the pool perpendicular with the bank by last year's storms. The affect was a leveling of the old pool, which was now bare river stone scrubbed free of the debris formed by the longtime pool. An alteration that was probably good for the ecosystem of the stream as a whole, but not something that was helping me at the moment. The hatch cycle of a pool was gone. And likewise, so were my effective fishing techniques. I would have to change. Stubbornly I blamed the stream, and looked to my fly boxes.

I decided to go with a small #12 black Wooly Bugger, above a size18 Pheasant Tail Nymph. Two casts into the change and I was hooked into a nice fat rainbow and life was once again as it should be. At least it was from my perspective anyway. I moved downstream slightly after a few fish and caught a handful more as the change in flies proved productive. The fish however were smaller than many I had spotted in the steam. I decided to start again from the bridge abutments, and tied on a size 10 Northwest Jack streamer. Maybe this steady run with its submerged rocks would prove better streamer water? Halfway down the run I got my answer as a fat 18 inch brown slammed my fly. Taking me to the far bank and down to the tail-out of the old pool, it pounded my little 4 weight as I fought to protect the 6x fluorocarbon tippet that I had forgotten to upgrade in my haste. Without a net for the day, I found myself kneeling in the shallows as I cradled the fish to remove the fly. It was beautiful, with undamaged fins and the coloration of a stream bred fish. I released it strong and watched as it headed straight back to the fast mid-current where I had hooked it. The water had changed.

Kneeling in a foot of water and seated back on the heels of my wading boots, the smooth rocks of the stream bottom were hard, but not unbearably uncomfortable on my knees. I took a few moments to look around. To a new observer things would seem perfectly normal for any stream. Yet to me, so much had changed. Had it not been for the bridge and cabins that still stood within view, this stretch of water could just have been in Montana. Gone was the stretch of water I knew, and likewise the hatches I knew as well. Would they return? Probably so, but there were no guarantees that it would ever return to the water I had grown up with. Like the waters flow, it could never again be exactly what it had been. It may return back to a semblance of what one remembered, but it could never again be exactly the same. That was simply not the course of nature. And would we really want it to? It was certainly not ruined, it was simply different yet still perfect in its own way. The water still moved perpetually over the same rock. It still hit those visible and hidden obstructions as it swirled along its course bending and molding to the surroundings it encountered. For fishermen, the flow of water shouts out to us in a voice that we cannot afford to let fall on deaf ears. Reminding us that holding too tightly to how things are, can blind us to the beauty of what things will be.

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