Whip Finish


Ralph Long - July 14, 2014

This past Father's Day, I was treated to a number of gifts and thoughts that truly made the day a special one. From BBQ essentials and a wonderful family display, to a picnic breakfast in the park and gift cards to places that sell fly fishing gear. I was a truly blessed father. A fact that didn't come as a shock, since I already knew that. My youngest son then proposed the main part of his gift, which was to declare the schedule as well. I was to be treated to breakfast, and then I would be taking him fly fishing. "But we have to go where we can get in the water", was his stipulation. Meaning, we needed to be fishing a stream for trout. I smiled and agreed, knowing full well the implication was that I would be the guide/ untangler/ net guy for the day. A task in itself that isn't all bad however, and I accepted it with a smile.

Having a couple lawn casting sessions and one day last summer on the water, he is in the beginning stages of grasping the art of fly fishing. However, I do find that whenever it is something in which he himself chooses to pursue, the learning curve is fairly short. And at just short of 11 years old any desire to pursue and enjoy the outdoors is encouraged on my behalf. The drive would be two hours which brought a few moans of realization, but in the end he was all-in. My concern was the heat and the late start. It's always a good thing with youngsters to stack the odds in their favor since no fish and boredom can kill an outdoor experience for them in a second, sending them running for their electronics as fast as the jingle of an ice-cream truck on a hot summer day sends them running for the curb. So, feeling the pressure I tried to pick the most likely spot, with easy access and the likelihood of fish. The decision was for a place in Pennsylvania near my hometown, where I actually fished with my Dad when I was about that same age.

Pulling in, Mom went to the bank with a chair and some reading material, and we began the process of rigging up. Things were looking promising as his attention and questions increased. Moving to the water his shuffling feet gave away his impatience as I quickly went through a lesson on casting and using the water tension to help with the nymph/indicator rig he would be using. I finally handed him the rod after at least three "I know" to each of my points. And he promptly made his best effort to fatally birds-nest a braided leader and tippet, which prompted another round of shuffling impatient feet as I worked the problem out; all the while worrying the delay would kill the drive, but he hung in there quite well. I made one quick demonstration before handing him the rod, and to my surprise hooked a small creek chub in the process. This lit a fire even hotter under him and he quickly demanded that he was "good" and to give him the rod. I watched him with no small bit of humor, as I observed all of the stubbornness I was born with standing there before me, contained in a miniature 11 year old package.

He began to catch on fairly quick to the process of roll casting and tension casting with the heavier nymph rig, and soon he was taking steps upstream and looking across the water for his next target. He worked his way through the shallow sunlit water with no takes, which did not surprise me at all. I pointed toward a small run next to the bridge abutment upstream and tried to guide him in that direction. Figuring that a slight nudge would make him feel the decision was more his than mine. It worked nicely and in short order we were closing in on the likely spot. His casting was improving with each attempt. I asked for the rod twice to give him an example of how to get his rig in the right place to manage a few odd currents, and to my surprise he willingly gave up the rod and paid attention. The realization of this fact caught me off guard as he took the rod and duplicated my efforts exactly. Several times he asked for my hand too get him over some slick spots where his rubber soled hip boots were giving way. At least he wasn't too stubborn to ask for help when it involved the possibility of getting wet, I thought with a chuckle.

We moved into position for the pool under the bridge and I asked for the rod one more time, showing him how this particular current would need to be fished. He took the rod and moved to where I stood as I backed away, and on the second cast watched the indicator disappear. I quickly instructed him to take up his slack and lift the rod, resulting in a bouncing 9 inch trout as it began its dance of defiance to the hook which it had so rudely just encountered. I was hoping it would remain in the safety of the deep plunge pool, and, as luck would have it, it cooperated. He was fighting the fish out loud as everything that crossed his mind during the event came out in spoken form. And as I slid the net under it he celebrated with a fist pump and a "YES!" He was in the moment, and we shared smiles and congratulations. On top of it being his first trout on a fly rod, it was also the completion of his "trout slam", since he had already taken a brookie and a brown previously. His goal of catching all three had been attained. We fished the hole for another 20 minutes and he was able to roll one more even larger rainbow, but failed to hook-up. As we turned to walk back towards the car and his Mom, he commented, "We're not done are we Dad?"

"Absolutely not" I answered.

"Good!" was his reply, as he made his way across the slick rocks and up the bank like a pro, without even a second thought about needing my hand.

Watching him walk from behind with the rod in his hand I realized that the intended gift was not the most important one achieved on this Father's Day. What I had been given was worth so much more than a chance to spend time on the water. We would both forever carry these memories on our journeys downstream even when I am no longer at his side. And though now gone from our midst, I am certain my Dad was smiling down upon his grandson on that day.

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