Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Oct 5, 2015

It had been several months since I'd fished the Tully as I dropped down the bank onto the floodplain that was now choked with weeds after a rather warm summer. The trail was overgrown but simple enough to follow if you were familiar with its usual route. To my right was the stream, obvious to the ear, but still unseen. By the sound I knew that the water was low. Normally the water at that point was the loudest as it turned the corner below a long slow pool and became forced through a few small formations before rolling along a shallow riffle towards the pilings of a past generations green metal bridge. Nearing the pool I was searching for I raised my arms above the vegetation to keep my bare forearms above the stinging nettles, which were a constant along this stream. Stepping up to the water's edge, I realized how familiar the water seemed. It was as if even with my eyes closed I could have told you the exact place I was standing. Having never really thought about water on that level, it got my mind working as I stepped out into the water and began stripping line to cast.

The fishing was slow early on as I worked my way through my nymph box looking for what they were hungry for. So my mind went on a walk-a-bout of its own with thoughts of other waters where familiarity and sound would be recognizable. The first that came to mind was the upper Lewis River above Swift Reservoir in Washington State. Standing at the tail-out of the falls pool, you fished in a constant spray and the rumble of the water was ever present. Next would have to be along Lyman Run in Potter County Pennsylvania. There is a run through the hemlocks where the chortling of the shallow run echoes within the heavy shroud of trees. Place me there and I would know it. The pool below the barrier dam near Allenberry on the Yellow Breeches is a place that has a distinct sound. One that would be recognizable in a moment, should you have to say where you were.  Even the unlikely such as a particular urban pond near my house. I fish it through the summer, with my backdrop the lights of a girl's softball field at dusk echoed by the games going on as I cast to the sound of crickets and bullfrogs. Then there is Owassee Rapids on the Big Pine just above the entrance to the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. It has a sound that is engrained in my memory, particularly in the spring of the season. Closing my eyes I can hear the big water rolling through the boulder field towards the footbridge and the long slow pool below. A place remembered both due to sound and for the largest brown I have ever seen take a fly. The huge hooked jaw rose up from between two boulders to suck in a Satsop Stone dry, 10 feet in front of me as I stood high-sticking the drift. Then in full view, a single breath and two head shakes later it was broke off and gone before I even had chance to set the hook. You just don't forget some things.

The waters we attend share much with us that often goes unnoticed, save for our subconscious, which selects what is important to our good times as we wade and in turn forming our favorites. Then without our knowing, it brings those senses back to the forefront as we approach places either in memory or physically, bringing that same smile to our face that we most often see as anticipation of bringing fish to hand. But in truth, it is our mind's eye, showing us the true value of water.

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