Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Nov 02, 2015

Finding myself along one of my favorite streams as fall fast approaches I took the chance to get an hour-or-so on the water. With multiple priorities pulling me in different directions an hour was about all that I had. Better an hour on good trout water than no time at all. The rush to gear up at the truck was obvious as I hurried to beat the clock of life, but catching myself I slowed things down a bit. Too much of a hurry where fly fishing is involved never seems to work out well from my experiences.

With fall being my favorite season of all, the landscape was beautiful with the foliage at its peak of seasonal colors. The colors are anticipated each year as the season approaches, yet it also signals the coming cold and leafless trees since the colors are but a blip on natures screen. They are one last gift of nature before the cold winds sweep the landscape clean.

The water was skinny, holding at late summer levels, although much cooler now. But the fish were still holding in the pools due to the low conditions. From the bank I watched as fish rose in bolls across the length of the big slow pool. Hopes of a good time on the water shot up. I crossed in the riffle about 100 yards upstream of the pool and worked my way quietly down the far side of the stream toward the rising fish. The pool was indeed full of fish and crystal clear as well. It was a picturesque site, with brilliant fall leaves scattered across the pool. A really nice view I thought to myself; until I began fishing that is. My first cast just happened to land in a clear spot, which I took for granted in my simple mindset of "catch fish now". Five feet into the slow drift I was hooked up to a nice 14 inch brown. "This is going to be a good day", a thought in my mind. And then, as if my words triggered it, a breeze moving upstream began to blow. Suddenly all of those beautiful leaves I was so recently admiring  began drifting upstream with the wind and swirling in circles. The challenge quickly became apparent. The situation was like trying to drop a bass bug into the only clear 2 foot diameter spot within a blanket of lily pads. Only these "lilies" were moving! My next five casts resulted in hooked leaves and horrible drifts. Meanwhile, fish continued to boil around me. I assumed they were feeding on something that had fallen with the leaves. Yet try as I may, I could not identify anything in the water. A half dozen ant, beetle and midge patterns later, I was going back to a nymph and indicator. I chose a weighted Valley Caddis that would quickly get below the floating leaves, and added a size16 Squirrels Nest nymph on a short 10 inch dropper. Then with only about 20 minutes of fishing time remaining I positioned myself just upstream of a pod of fish and went to work.

On the third cast my indicator dipped below the leaves and a lift of the rod proved it was indeed a fish. A fat fish of about 18 inches and it was hooked on the dropper with 6X tippet. The little glass rod did its part and I tried hard to keep up and do mine. Then as it hung in the current within arm's reach I moved my net in too fast and spooking him. Not nearly as worn down as I thought, a rush and quick surface thrashing before I could react and he left with my nymph. Sometimes I'm a little slow on the learning curve even after all these years. That one was all on me. I shook my head and mumbled to myself, then looked up smiling and stated matter-of-factly. "Nice lesson". With no time to waste re-rigging another dropper I clipped off the remaining tippet, stowed it in my side pouch and kept only the Valley Nymph on.
On my very next cast to practically the same location, the cast barely hit the water when the indicator disappeared. Setting the hook the fish made a flat run straight to the top of the pool. I watched as my leader pushed the carpet of leaves aside as it followed. Barely able to slow him down and stop the run short of a large tree base near the head of the pool which I assumed was the intended destination, the bull-dogging began. It was about a 16 inch fish and full of fight, which was a welcome highlight to the past hour's struggle leading up to this take. However, this time I played the fish correctly and slid it into a waiting and submerged net. Unlike that "other" guy who had recklessly botched the netting of such a nice fish earlier. This was another buttery gold fall fish and a perfect finish to a night of frustration. As I reeled in my line and clipped off my rig, I looked out over the pool as the sun set behind the veil of the far tree line. The bright reds and yellows of the maple and birch leaves scattered across the pool really were beautiful in the setting light. I hope to never spar with such beauty again.


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