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- Whip Finish
The run looked good at the end of the big sweeper that had fallen with its top downstream. It was one of this last winter's victims, evident by the still green branches. As often happens in a situation like this, the fish will hold tight to the trunk of the tree, and the best water which is nearly impossible to fish is among the branches. I had worked my way downstream throwing a size 10 Little Pine streamer with some success already this morning, and I gave the fly a once-over along with my tippet; not wanting to take any chances on a run that looked so perfect with a tippet knot or scar. With my first cast I was a bit too far from the trunk of the tree for my taste, but not wanting to disturb the water I finished my drift and lifted my line out after my swing had cleared the branches. My second cast was on the money but with no strike, but as I began the swing when the current brought tension to my line I could have sworn I had seen a flash. Was it a refusal, or possibly a fish not willing to come out from under the trunk any further? I decided to drop the next cast a bit further upstream in order to get my fly a bit lower by the time it reached the spot of the flash. This time, just as my fly was approaching the location, I clearly saw the big bodied fish come out hard and turn hard back under the tree. I could not feel anything yet due to my drift, but with the sight of the take and the slight cutting of my line on the water's surface I set the hook.
At that exact moment the roles changed between fish and fisherman. Moments ago I was the hunter, stalking trout and tossing my streamer into likely holds with confidence. Yet the instant I had raised the rod tip on this take, I knew without a doubt that I was no longer in control. To land this fish would require no mistakes on my part and quite a bit of pure luck as well. The headshakes were tremendous as I applied pressure knowing my only hope from the get-go was to remove him from beneath that big tree. I still was not sure how big he was exactly, but I had already come to the conclusion that my 5X tippet felt somewhat inadequate. Then as luck would have it, he suddenly let me glide him out into the knee-deep run which separated the two of us by about 10 feet. Happy to get him out of the tree, on hindsight I now truly feel that he was simply posing for posterity, already knowing the outcome. My jaw dropped open and I mumbled a low "holy %#^!!" as I finally was able to get a good look at him. He was a big brown and every inch of two feet long, which probably ventured into the 26-28 inch range. He held the water about 3 inches below the surface on a tight line, as if he was a Hollywood star stopping on the red carpet as the cameras flashed. And then suddenly he exploded. I swear he looked right at me in the last calm second with that small black eye and he may have even winked. Then he shot upstream with all of his being, ripping the line from the fingers of my left hand and at the top of the run left the water like a big steelhead hitting the surface with a huge "pop". I fumbled to get control with my line hand before he decided to do something else which he did. Three more times he cleared the water with violent head shakes and then began to bulldog for a few moments just below the surface. I hung on for dear life, and then when he seemed to pause I applied side pressure in an effort to gain some control. Now able to turn his head, I put pressure to both sides, not allowing him to rest as much as possible, but still not really able to move him much. The old Far-and-Fine was meeting its match at the moment. And then .it made up its mind where it needed to be. I watched as the big body doubled back on its length and shot straight downstream. We both knew instantly where he was headed.
The big leafed treetop loomed even larger as I glanced up at it while attempting to apply the brakes with the palm of my hand. It worked for a second and putting my rod tip into the water was even able to put him into a 360 degree turn. My respite however was short-lived as two headshakes later he turned for the branches once more. This time I knew he would reach the tree and be gone if I wasn't able to stop him. I put on the brakes hard and we met in a standstill just into the first few branches. He was slowly turning into the current in a slow arc and giving to the pressure, when he was gone.
As the air left me, I pulled in my line to inspect my tippet. My fly was still there. The rig had held. The pressure had just been too much and the hook had pulled out. Yet I had the sense he knew that from the start. In these tight quarters with no open water available, he knew he held the upper hand. I had won a victory in getting him to take my streamer. After that moment, I had simply been along for the ride. He certainly did not disappoint.