Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Feb 3, 2016

I stood on the bank and watched as he cast in the run, absorbed by the act of fishing as his upstream leg rebelled against the current that was determined not to allow him to reach any further in his waders. He held the rod high and level in an effort to guide his line through the seam he was targeting, when the telltale jerk of his left arm brought the rod back into a tight bow. The dance between rod and trout began as he slowly worked his way backwards out of the current until he was once again in calmer waters and could land the fish. Wading out to meet him I admired the fat little brownie and congratulated him on the fish. Smiling that same crooked smile I knew, he patted me on the thigh of my waders. Then as he dropped the fish through the hole of the wicker creel he noticed my rod was no longer rigged. 

"You're done fishing?" He asked, nodding to my rod. I shook my head yes and explained that I was out of hooks as I shrugged feigning indifference. I had actually begun the day with 2 full packs, but the stream had demanded that it keep all of them. Chuckling to himself, he dug into his vest and pulled out a pack of snelled hooks containing 1 of the original 6. "Thanks Dad" I responded, and turned towards the bank to sit down and re-rig. I was at the age of allowances when it came to hunting and fishing gear. Subject to whatever my Dad could provide me. It was seldom limited, but still carried the expectation that I respected the offerings and did not waste any of it out of idle disregard.

Rigged and back in the water quickly, I moved into the run just downstream of where he fished. I knew he wasn't fishing this run because he was too tired to wade. If he was pushing current to fish this run, the fish were here. And as I expected, several drifts later I was hooked up with a smallish rainbow. The little 9 inch fish danced around too much for me to handle however, and earned himself an early release just short of my creel. I gave a quick shout of defiance and heard a laugh from upstream. He was smiling as he fought a fish, and yelled down to me "Having a tough time today Bud?" I was just about to give a sarcastic laugh in return, when the fish he was playing at the time got off. He stopped and looked down at his rod as if it was the rods fault when I burst into laughter. "Having a problem today Dad?" He turned toward the bank laughing and yelled back in acknowledgement.

I turned back toward the run and continued to work the seam when several casts later I set the hook to a heavy fish. I was fumbling at first in a slight panic realizing that it was a really good fish, when a voice from behind yelled out "Nice Fish Buddy!" The voice was encouraging and the fight of my currently short fishing life, all things considered, ensued as I struggled to gain control and get the fish out of the current. At one point I thought I had won, then as I stood looking straight downstream the fish began a strong run for the channel and I was caught flat-footed with no way to follow. Yet suddenly he was there, net in hand, and the next moment he was holding the net high and the 18 inch butter gold brown was curled in half within the mesh netting.

Splashing down next to him he seemed more excited than me as we both admired the fish. Kneeling down in the water together, we worked to revive the fish in the net after I had a chance to lift him up for display. "How many fish you got Buddy?" He asked. I looked up responding with "Three."

"She's a fat girl." He said, admiring the fish. "It's not a stocked fish either, unless it's a holdover from a few seasons ago? A really beautiful fish though either way." I asked how he knew it was a female and not a stocked trout. He explained it to me while kneeling in the water as we watched the fish gain strength. I caught his eye and the thought crossed my mind…. "Should we let her go?" I asked.

"Your call Bud, it's your fish. But I have 5 fish myself, so we don't need her for dinner." He replied. I nodded, picking up the fish one more time and holding it out for both of us to get one more look, then lowered her into the water to swim from my hands. Leaving for the truck, we talked about the fish the entire way home, where the rest of my family upon arrival had to suffer through several more retelling.

That fish was just about 40 years ago at Moore's Run along Fishing Creek, in Pennsylvania. I was 12 years old and it was the first trout I had ever released. I was torn for some time over that fish. And while there were no pictures taken on the water, the memory of the fish has faded somewhat over time. My father's face however, has not. Or at least I like to tell myself it hasn't. There are times when I really want to recall a moment in the past and I just can't seem to get it right. Then I'll be on the water and something as small as a Salmon Egg Jar in the weeds along a stream will bring him back, and he's there in front of me smiling. Like today; I am preparing to fish that very same run in several days, and while sitting at my vise he was there in my mind, clear-as-day. Smiling from upstream as he dropped a fish into his creel or was it a memory?

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