Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Aug 26, 2013

Stepping off the path along the road and onto the greenway trail I picked my way along the stream while looking for a likely place to enter the water. Having gone only a short 100 yards or so I already had my fill of trail-crossing spider webs and skeeters. I needed the water. Water would be my relief, both for the cooling on my legs and the cooling down of my psyche. A few more yards brought me to the edge of a small clearing where the stream s-turned through the corner of a horse pasture. Pausing to watch the water I could see a small ball of midges dancing over the head of the first pool. In a few more moments the much appreciated snout of a rising fish appeared below the dancing flies. Now came the hard part; casting to them.

The weeds were waist high to the edge of the bank, and the stream bottom was far too silty in that section to enter the water so close to the fish. It would take a long reach and a little effort to stay above the vegetation. On my first cast, with sweat running into my eyes, I placed my Griffiths gnat on the money. The drift brought a short-rise, which was followed by an inadvertent setting of the hook into nothing but air which landed my tippet in the willows slightly behind my position and to my right. AGH! $#! @! was my instinctive response as I reeled in all of my slack and fought back through the brush to free myself. It was not a good start. After 5 minutes of struggling with willow branches and 7x tippet, I turned to find my rising fish gone. So I moved on upstream in search of another.

The stream is the type of water that whether or not it even held any fish it was still beautiful to the eye. The mornings dew was burning off with the expected 95 degree heat that was on its way, and the only sounds to be heard over the stream were my legs swishing through the brush and this year's Cicadas. Fighting my way through some greenbrier I looked up to see a muskrat swimming through the next hole. I stood accounting for my gear as I watched the water to no avail. No risers. The next 100 yards were tough as well. The deer trail I was on petered out quickly, and a fly rod is not greenbrier conducive. I half stumbled, half lunged out into the meadow as I exited the last of it, sweated, wet and not a happy camper. However, the meadow ahead looked promising.

Edging closer to the bank without spooking anything, I gained a vantage point where I could see three nice runs in a row, and at the head of the middle pool several fish were working. Life was getting better. Applying all of the ninja skills that I don't have I was eventually able to creep into place on a small outcropping of rock about 10 feet below the tail-out of the middle pool. It would be about a 50 foot cast, but I had nothing but stream in my back cast. Or so I thought. On my last stroke forward I gave a little extra punch and found the only stalk of reed that was 1 foot higher than everything surrounding it. Again, a low mumbling of expletives was heard, but this time I moved as slowly as possible backwards to my tippet, careful not to disturb the water. Regardless of my efforts however, the result was a new tippet needed. I took a breath, wiped my face off with a bandanna, and found my perch of rock once more. This time, I would remain the heron. I refused to even look up at the rising fish, which I could still hear greedily gulping down floating midges. I took extra time to calmly tie on another tippet and fly, and get all of my gear straight before even turning toward or thinking about a cast. They were still working. This time I looked carefully around me both in an effort to slow myself down, and to avoid a repeat performance of my last casting attempt.

On my first cast the fly landed perfectly, curling to the left into the main run at the head of the pool. And just as my mind was saying "right about there", it happened. The nose came up, and within the rise form my fly disappeared. The feeling of accomplishment rushed through me as if I had just felt the thump of a walk-off home run! I stood smiling as the bounce of the fish ran through my hand while I laid the rod to the side, pulling the fish into the calm of the pool. It wasn't a big fish, but the wild brown colors jumped out at me as it came to hand. Nowhere in nature is there a brighter orange than the flank-spotting of a wild brown trout. It's an attribute that never fails to catch my eye. I released the gem of a fish and watched as it somehow disappeared instantly despite the crystal clear water.

Standing, I noticed how my entire body felt relieved. The stress of the mornings briar patches, heat and line-catching weeds were gone; just like that. At first my mind wanted to share a personal fist-pump with the accomplishment of overcoming those obstacles. But as I stood there looking over the water I realized that it was not in "spite" of the weeds that I had caught that fish. It was "because" of those weeds that it had happened. At times it takes a struggle, or a little adversity to force us to slow down and pay attention to what is truly necessary. Where a perceived personal failure can cause one to focus just enough, and allow you in turn, to succeed.

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