Whip Finish


Ralph Long - XXX, 2016

The fish were in an obvious taunting mood as I watched the rhythmic flashing increase just about a rods length to my front. I had been dredging the pool from stone to surface film with nothing but a single take and head-shake to my name since dawn. Generally, I tend to decipher a hatch, whether subsurface or while looking at rising fish before too long. Yet this one was kicking my piscatorial backside, and now as feeding increased noticeably in front of me, I made one last decision in hopes of guessing right. I was losing optimism as I made the change, flipping my indicator rig upstream far enough to get my offering into the feeding lane, I watched the little plastic bubble dance along the currents, I was almost caught off guard as it dipped slightly just as the drift came even with my position in the water. Bringing the rod up it was a pleasant bounce in response that greeted me, as I played my first fish of a very long morning. Finally figuring things out can make your day on the water quickly, and the next hour brought an easy dozen fish to hand. As I brought the last fish of the day to the net, I admired the fat 16 inch brown and paused for a quick picture, then popped the fly from his lip. The size 16 Apricot and Steelhead-orange sucker spawn was beaten and tattered, but it had saved the day. Thank the fishing Gods for the egg hatch.

Now, I say that tongue-in-check, but the reality of things when on the water is, the fish are always right. So give them what they want. I'm no different than most fly fishermen, I love the chess match as much as the next guy. But in the end, you can either give the fish what they want on a given day, or go home without landing a fish and look for excuses. I've spent days pounding water with technical casts while deciphering complex drifts happy to land 1 or 2 fish on a dry fly, when I knew switching to nymphs would have been a huge day. But that's not what I wanted on that day. This morning, I was over feeding fish, and while they were obviously not feeding on any of the nymphs in my boxes, they certainly proved willing to take a Mcflyfoam sucker spawn, if presented properly, and you held your rod just right. At least that is what I'm going with.

Truth is, quite often we "think" we figured out a hatch, when what we really did was provide the fish with an offering they recognized and were enticed to take, despite the ongoing hatch of the moment. Did we "match the hatch"? Yes....sort of. We matched "A" hatch. It just may have been yesterdays or last week's hatch and really had nothing to do with what was currently going on. We prefer to think however, that when we "see" Blue-winged-olives in the air, and switch to a BWO nymph, that we broke the code. But really, the BWO's were in the air, but the flashing fish were picking off active caddis. The fact that while feeding on caddis, they were also willing to gobble up a BWO nymph as it drifted by; icing on the cake? I'll take it every time. Eggs, Aquatic Worms, Bucktails, terrestrials, etc. are all hatches of a sort. They are common food within the world of trout, just not every day. And on days like the morning I mentioned earlier the sooner you find which hatch you are going to need, the sooner you can get down to the business of catching fish which I would imagine is the end goal for most of us.

Some days are all art and finesse, others are chuck and duck rigs, and others are stalking individual feeders. Yet no two are the same. Many, myself included, can lose sight of that. The result when that happens seldom works out well for the fly fisherman. Stubbornness is not a quality to own on the water. When we insist on how the fish "always" act on a given moment the way we expect them to, we find ourselves losing in a battle of wits to a creature with a brain the size of a size 2 pencil eraser. It's tough to explain that away when fact is, you probably had the answer in your boxes, but were afraid to deviate from a trusted known and act on things when you had the chance. And I ask myself, now that I've gotten past all of that? Will I know better next time? Probably not but I like to think I would, but history tells me otherwise. I'm sure my stubborn side will kick in and I'll leave fishless or walk off in search of those rising fish, whether they exist or not. But just maybe I'll snap out of it a little earlier next time, and give the fish what they want.

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