Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Aug 25, 2014

The trip was to fish a much anticipated handful of private waters in Virginia. With plans to arrive on a Friday afternoon and hopes of two good mornings of fishing with a local guide, we had also identified a small section of public brook trout water to target Saturday evening. We figured the evening would be better spent on the water rather than in a hotel room.

Luck and the trout gods were on our side Saturday, and a morning of memories was created followed by a short shore-lunch. We then tossed our gear back in the trucks and headed for the mountains and some small stream brook trout. The guides confirmed our choice of planned water with a thumbs-up approval, and off we went. The trek was not without its issues however, since GPS and Rand McNally had a bit of dispute over just where the roads went once the blacktop stopped. But we finally found it, and in short order had our rods rigged and turned towards the big pines of the national forest. We approached the water through the humid southern summer timber and the sounds of the stream grew tantalizingly louder with each step. Then with one last push through a bit of bramble there it was. It was a beautiful 20 foot wide, high gradient, S-curved perfection that tumbled along towards the valley below. We split up in two's, with myself and a buddy going upstream. I took high-man and turned to walk the bank upstream for the high starting point, at which point we would both be working towards each other. The entire walk was just one perfect hole after another. Arriving at a point where the stream forked I decided to begin my decent downstream. There was a perfect plunge pool at the confluence of the 2 branches and I positioned myself in knee deep water below it. I had tied on a size 16 Limestone pattern, which is a merger of a stimulator and a Bird's Stone pattern tied with light elk. The results: before I even shifted weight on my boots, I had landed 3 nine-inch vermillion painted native brookies on 3 consecutive casts. My 3-weight glass rod proved to be the perfect match for the water, as fish after fish slashed and ripped the small offering of elk hair.

Moving downstream I found each hole to be almost exactly the same, providing 2 or 3 hungry brookies ready to do battle over my fly. There wasn't a soul in sight on the stream for the duration of the evening as I worked downstream. Then, as the humidity had foretold, the rumblings of an evening humidity storm sounded its approach. I had just decided to pull in my line as my buddy rounded the turn below me. The smile and shaking of his head in disbelief told me everything even before he got within ear-shot. He had experienced much the same as I had and never even made it more than 3-4 pools upstream before the sounds of the approaching storm forced made him move along in search of me. We made our way back towards the truck but came up just short of beating the storm as the rain dumped down hard when we were about 100 yards short of our destination. The southern rain did itself justice, soaking us to the skin in minutes as we attempted to get out of our waders. As we sat in the car waiting for the remaining 2 guys, we looked at the map and acknowledged that we had really only fished a small portion of the 15 miles of stream which we had just tried, both agreeing that more time would be needed to further explore the rest of the stream. The next morning found us again on more great water as drift after drift pulled up some magnificent trout, with each fish surpassing the 16 inch mark and some heading into the mid-20's. It was a joy to experience and we made plans to come back in the very near future.

I recently got a call from that fishing partner and we turned towards discussing our previous Virginia trip. The intent of the conversation was to re-visit the private waters again. After an hour of planning over the phone, I paused and told him that what I really wanted to do down there was spend more time on that brook trout water. The other end of the phone went silent, and I thought for sure he was a bit disappointed, wanting to catch some more of those impressive fish. But after a few moments he responded with a "Thank God!" Asking what he meant he revealed that ever since the last trip the brook trout water had virtually haunted him with a need to get back down there. Having felt the exact same way we decided to head back down, but not in search of big managed fish. Rather, we would be going unguided and exploring the entire length of the other water we had visited.

Sitting at my vise a few days ago, I began to think about that phone conversation. It seemed to me to be a shining example of why it is that I have truly embraced fly fishing so strongly over the years. It's the fact that the entire experience is so much larger than any one fish, or even a full weekend of fishing for large fish on private water for that matter. What pulls me in is that moment when the air is nearly sucked out of your lungs when you first glimpse particular water. It's in the solitude of standing alone in water and all that encompasses the places in which trout haunt. Or the appreciation of the brilliant red flank markings shadowed in pale blue, surrounded by a vermillion pattern that only nature itself could create. It all adds up to so much more than any high-dollar gear, guided venture or all the marketing hype in the world could provide. More often than not, where I gather the purest sense of personal gratification throughout my fly fishing meanderings, is in the natural perfection found in those other waters.

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