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- Whip Finish
THE FISH ITSELF
The fall water was low and gin clear, with the occasional red or orange leaf silently drifting past my waders. We had yet to see a frost but nature's paintbrush was already plying its hand to the surrounding canvas. Soon our world would be cold and gray. I had started just above the bridge which was now about 200 yards downstream of my spot on the water, and for my efforts I had been rewarded with 8-10 fish already. The fishing had been easy to be honest. My first choice had been a size 16 Copper Jake under a one-half inch Thing-a-ma-bobber, with a 6x tippet. Fortunately for me the flashing trout throughout the stream had agreed with my choice. Now before me lay a pod of fish all of which were actively flashing and chasing nymphs. My indicator danced along the current through the small slot where they were feeding, and again it made that subtle but tell-tale 2 inch dip beneath the surface. A lift of the rod tip brought a heavy fish as it fought hard to free itself from the little 3 weight piece of glass it was now attached to. Realizing almost too late that I needed to give line, I pointed the little rod at the fish as it bolted downstream. Yet fight as it may the little piece of glass won the day and in short order I was admiring a fat 15 inch rainbow. A fine fish, with its dark back and vibrant contrasting colors reminiscent of the wild steelhead one would find in the coastal rivers of the Northwest after a few weeks in the fresh water. I took my time admiring it, then watched with satisfaction as it kicked free of my hand and disappeared as if it never even existed at all.
The day was going well, and 2 more fish, slightly smaller than the first one, decided to take that little nymph. After dropping the last fish into the water, I noticed my tippet had taken a beating, so placing the rod under my arm I turned to replace it. At the first rise I flinched instinctively, noticing it appeared to be a large fish. Even in my peripheral it was obvious. But keeping my head down I kept to my rigging. I was just finishing up my blood knot when it rose again and this time it had my attention. Turning towards the rings and watched for another display, I watched. Surely it wouldn't rise again, and I would go back to tying on my nymph. It seemed like forever, but just as I was about to turn back around the nose broke the surface again! As it porpoised my pulse quickened. Nose to dorsal was an easy foot, and it had a 2 inch wide head. Now suddenly everything changed. I was looking at a large fish steadily feeding on top but on what? From 40 yards below the fish there appeared to be nothing coming off. I knew I would probably only get one shot at the fish, as was par for the course on this stream, so I aimed a bit further downstream for the main channel to check the water. Soon I was standing in the same water I had previously been catching fish in, but could not identify anything drifting. Again, he rose. Fighting back a fisherman's panic attack, I held my hat into the water for a good minute hoping to snag something to help me out. What I got back was both good and bad. Inside against the wet olive cotton, were 5-to-6 size-18 cream midges. They seemed to be floating spent-winged. I figured I had it nailed, but had nothing to match it with at all. I began digging through my boxes, but nothing seemed to fit. Then in the bin along with my Blue-winged Olives was a single tattered PMD Thorax pattern. It would have to do. With nippers in hand I went at it. Clipping of the tail, then the dun turkey flat wing post, I turned to the hackle. I clipped off the top and bottom in spinner fashion, and then angled the clippers toward the back to give a delta-winged appearance. It would never work I thought to myself, the fly was still too big. I decided to clip off a portion of the poly dubbed body. The fly would "look" smaller, if you ignored the longer hook. I then applied a bit of floatant directly to the clipped end of the abdomen to try to secure it and avoid the dubbing and clipped thread from fraying apart. It was all I had.
Leaving the water to lessen the disruption as much as possible, I eased up the bank towards the feeding fish. There he was again! Making my way slowly back into the water just below the fish's station I checked for a clear back cast. My midge creation was now anchored to a 7x fluorocarbon tippet and ready to go. But it was the only shot I had. I watched two more rises to time his cadence, and after a short pause following the second rise I dropped my fly about 5 feet above him. In shock the nose again lifted like clockwork and it sucked the little fly down in passing. I forced myself to count "one and two" and on two I brought the rod tip up. The little rod nearly bent in two, and for a second there was no reaction by the fish. And then it exploded. I knew there was no hope of landing the fish in any current, so I kept steady side-to-side pressure on it and rolled with the punches. It was a big brown I realized as he left the water, coming down with a loud pop. On the far side of the run was a down tree with about a 12 inch trunk and dangerous looking short broken branches remaining. He wanted the tree and I wanted open water. Just when I felt I had won and pulled him downstream past the branches, he made another run. For a moment we were living on the edge of entanglement, and then suddenly I was anchored. The fish was exhausted from all appearances, since it hung just below the surface downstream of the branch and held its own without a struggle. What to do? I only had one choice really, go get it. I worked my way across the 15 feet of current going over my waders twice for just a second. But eventually I found myself standing in waist deep water looking down at a hooked-nosed brown which was closing in on about 24 inches. The short span of 10 inch tippet upstream of his nose was certainly tangled hopelessly in the branch. He didn't panic as I stood over him and slipped my hand under his belly just enough to feel some weight. I could see the tiny fly hooked slightly in the skin on the outside edge of his upper lip, right where the white turns to that caramel-gold color. I was amazed he had not pulled free at all, let alone struggle to avoid my hand. He was a tired fish. I reached in to his nose with my forceps, and grabbed the little butchered fly. The instant that I clipped the forceps shut, the fly pulled loose. The big fish shook its head once and I expected him to turn and flee but it just hung there in the water column finning. We stood there looking at each other for a long moment, then it slid sideways under the branches and disappeared from sight.
I waded back across the creek and stood on the far bank. I had never landed a brown trout that big in my life. As stress would have it, the Parkinson's in my left hand let its presence be known, but I was unconcerned. The adrenaline was fading, and I now had another memory painted on the walls of my mind. The decisions I had made worked to perfection. Yet perfection could not match the feeling I had just experienced. It was a feeling beyond perfection, where a moment in time transcends any personal actions or achievements. What led me to that fish was irrelevant at that point what mattered was the fish itself.