Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Nov 18, 2013

A few times a year I get a hankering for fish; fried creek-side in cast iron. I am not sure just what it is that triggers it under normal conditions, but on this particular trip I knew it was the cool mornings and turning leaves that were my downfall. Sometimes I think it's my inner-fisherman that spawns the urge, after witnessing dozens of trout released throughout a season's time on the water. At some point it has just had enough and says, "My turn". So as with this occasion, I find myself gathering up my things in a small hunting daypack I have to spend a day fishing some and relaxing a bit more along a quiet stretch of water.

The necessity for the excursion consists of the same few things each time. It's a ritual so-to-speak, which has been paired down to accommodate my tastes alone. A 10 inch cast iron skillet, a small metal spatula, a small plastic container of bacon drippings (about a spoonful from the previous breakfast), a small spice shaker (salt, pepper, paprika blend), a small 6-cup enamel coffee pot, my camp cup and my camp silverware set. Not a lot. I eat out of the skillet and my coffee is brewed from creek water.

Pulling in along the two-lane road in central PA, I gave myself enough room to clear my mirrors from timber and gas trucks and got my gear ready. From my entry point I knew I could cut through the woods about one quarter mile before intersecting with the upper reaches of one of my favorite streams. It's a popular stream down further near the bridges, but up here you seldom find a soul. It was a section I had discovered while bow hunting the state forest a number of years ago. This morning however would be for fly fishing, since I already had a fat 5-point in the freezer which ended my season for a time. The fall woods were ablaze in color as I moved from sections of pine, through beech stands, then over an oak covered ridge which dropped down into a hemlock flat which signaled the approach of the creek. Standing on the river rock bank along the water I looked out over the long glide that funneled out of a large pool just upstream. The two sections stretched for about 300 yards, and would be my home for the morning. I dropped my pack along the bank and rigged the Far-and-Fine with a #12 Limestone and a #16 Green Skittle on an 18 inch dropper. Then chose to start up top and work my way back downstream to my gear.

On my 2nd cast I was rewarded with a fat little native brookie of 9 inches. Its heart's desire was the Skittle and I admired the brilliant fall colors as it slid from my hand. I was hoping for two or three fish in the 10 inch range to satisfy my appetite. I worked the pool thoroughly catching several more fish and eventually bringing to hand a fat 12 inch brown. It was a nice start towards lunch. Then near the tail-out I was surprised as a large fish left the water and took with it the Limestone! In short order I was holding a rainbow just shy of 20 inches with a brilliant scarlet flank and spotting resembling that of a spring steelhead. It was quite a beautiful fish with the beginnings of a hook to its jaw beginning to show. A quick picture and the fish kicked out of my hand and back into the pool. Too big for the pan anyway, and too much of a memory to fry up, I would fish on for some of his smaller kin. I was not to be disappointed, as 3 more fish later another thick-backed 10 inch brown took the Skittle and I was done.

Moving back to my gear I de-rigged the rod, put my chest pack in the backpack then turned to gathering a bundle of firewood for my dinner. Nothing big mind you, since I wouldn't be there long, just enough to stoke the coffee and heat the skillet for my lunch. Cleaning the trout in the stream, I tossed the entrails back into the hemlocks as my contribution to the local raccoon population. Evidence of their visits was all over near the pool just upstream. I sat fussing with the fire to get it "just so" as I waited for the coffee to come to a boil. Once it was brewed I would start my fish. In no time at all it seemed the coffee was to the side and the fish were sizzling away. A dash of seasoning on both sides and the skin crisped in the bacon lard was the method which has been my favorite form of fish since childhood. I picked the bones clean as I watched what looked to be a slight Blue-winged Olive hatch coming off at the tail of the pool. I enjoyed a visit from a matched pair of wood duck for a few minutes that seemed none-too-worried about my fire. Then I sat enjoying my coffee, as I watched a mess of crows harass a great horned owl which seemed only to want a moment of respite away from their racket. "I feel your pain" I said out loud as I watched him in his plight. There's nothing worse than the world being on your back when all you want is a little bit of quiet. "You should try fly fishing" I chuckled to myself as I lifted my cup in a toast on his behalf.

Once my coffee was gone, I dumped and rinsed my pot, heated up a skillet full of hot water to wipe my pan clean, then doused my fire. My walk back to the truck was slow and quiet. No therapy in the world could replace the affect the morning had on my mental wellbeing, and even my fly fishing thoughts were cleansed and content. I was back. And all it took was a 10 inch cast iron skillet.

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