Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Jul 11, 2016

The boil that consumed my deer hair popper was substantial. I set the hook on an obviously good fish, finning quickly to my left as it dogged toward a partially submerged deadfall. It was a determined fish and a great fish to fight on a glass rod which made me chuckle out loud as it played itself out. Bringing it up on the mesh apron of my tube I admired the colors. A heavy shouldered, bronze breasted fish, I was surprised the big male was still hanging so tight to the edges this late in the season. Letting it slip back into the water, it was kind enough to tail water in my face as a thank you for all my efforts. When behind me I voice chimed in…"Was that a bluegill?"

I spun around in my tube to see 2 guys in a canoe staring at me. "Yup! A fat one too" I responded.

They shared a look between them and then the back guy remarked, "The way you whooped I thought you were into a big largemouth."

I told him I was happy with either one, whatever it happened to be. They shared another glance then both nodded silently like one does when you are politely acknowledging what someone has just said, but really have no positive reply to offer. Then after an awkward moment, talk turned to the normal fishing conversation. How have you done, weather seems to be holding, fish here often, what are you using? It is a language choreographed over centuries by countless fishermen bumping into one another on water. Or in reality, not being able to avoid one another on the water; as is I think more often the case. They could not understand how I was content to toss surface poppers on the edges when there were some "huge" pickerel in this particular lake. I smiled and told them that I catch them occasionally, when I'm fishing for them, but today was a popper day for me. We wished each other good luck and down the lake thy paddled.

Over the course of the next couple hours we could each observe the other periodically catching fish. I saw a couple Pickerel boated on spinners and one really nice bass, and I must have caught several dozen bass and bluegill. I was heading back to the truck with a slow methodical kick when I noticed them car-topping the canoe as well. Then about 50 feet from the boat launch I caught a glimpse of a boil that seemed to lift a small area of lily pads. Not wanting to spook it, I stripped enough line and with a quick double-haul dropped the bug about 6 inches from the pads. Nothing more was need. As I was moving the line to my guide finger the fish bulged out of the lily pads and crushed my fly, hooking itself and leaving me with nothing more to do than lift my rod and start laughing. In the end I was fortunate enough to lip a 3 pound largemouth, which seemed like a perfect end to my day as I reeled in my line and clipped off the fly.

At the launch I struggled to get out of my tube gracefully, which is an exercise in futility most times. It was right after almost falling over sideways trying to get my left fin out of the seat when I heard the laugh. I looked up to see the front man from the canoe leaning over the fishing pier railing. "Do you need me to throw you a life jacket?" he asked laughing.
I laughed telling him that the hard part was over now and he was too late, so I would just swim to shore. Then as I took my fins off he walked down and asked if he could see the gear I was using. "Sure thing" I replied, handing my rod and reel to him. "Do you want to try it out?" 

"Yeah, if you don't mind, that would be great. It has been a while though."

I shrugged that off and quickly tied my fly back on. "Have at it while I put my gear away." I watched as he worked on getting line out, and you could see he had fished with a fly rod before. After stowing my float tube I walked down and we talked about likes and dislikes with gear, what is really needed and why I fish with a fly rod. Come to find out, he had fly fished as a youngster because his father fly fished, but it never took hold of him. All his buddies spin fished, so that's what he stayed with. He paused looking out over the lake for a minute or two, then said. "My buddy that just left thought you were nuts." There was another awkward pause. "He wondered why in the hell anybody would kick around in fins through lily pads just to catch a few small bass and bluegill? But the funny thing is I already knew why when I watched you set the hook on that bluegill and heard you laugh. My dad used to laugh like that whenever he hooked a good fish. I knew the minute you turned around to talk, that I was going to the Cabelas in Delaware this afternoon."

We talked for another half hour about gear and whatnot, then he declared he had to go so that he would make the store early enough to get back and cast a bit before dark. We shook hands and I wished him luck, not realizing until after his car had disappeared down the gravel entrance road that we never exchanged names. Fishermen are often like that it seems. When meeting, we share what is obviously in common, yet seldom going further than that. Feeling good about the morning, I headed home. Not so much for anything I had done. I had just fished for myself. But it was nice to be there and witness somebody else getting bit. Because when that fly fishing bug bites there is no hope of recovery. Should I have warned him about looking at fly tying catalogs?

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