Whip Finish


Ralph Long - October 3, 2016

Walking into the tavern the light went from a near suppressing bright to what seemed at first to be practically dark. After a long morning of fishing in the August sun the lights of the tavern were welcoming as was the sound of the large window air conditioner running behind the shuffleboard table. I followed my Dad, allowing him to take the seat of his choice, and then sat down to his right. The place was the proverbial "dive" but it had watered fishermen since the stream behind us had held water. It was a place of comfort for locals and one I had grown up with. We both ordered a 10 oz draft bar glass of Yuengling on tap, drank it down, and then slid our glass forward in the universal gesture of "another please." And then, almost in unison, our heads turned to the smell coming from the large crockpot at the end of the bar. If you've never had real Pennsylvania Dutch Porketta then you've never really experienced life. Not Wegmans Porketta, or Porketta from the Piggly Wiggly…...REAL Porketta. It's an unbelievably greasy, heart-stopping, unhealthy mixture of pork, fennel, paprika & black pepper which come together over the course of two days to form perfect old-world German deliciousness. Without saying a word my Dad gestured to the bartender by pointing at the crockpot and then holding up 4 fingers. Moments later we were both digging into our 2 sandwiches each with juice running nearly to our forearms. Then upon finishing our sandwiches and downing our 2nd beer we turned towards the door, walked across the rural 2-lane and down the bank to the creek where we had stashed our rods while we ate. We had said less than 6 words to each other through the entire process yet I for one had come away with a memory that is still crystal clear 32 years later. We both fished side-by-side that afternoon and caught fish after fish. It would turn out to be one of the last times I could share water with my Dad.

Coming home from an archery event last week, I drove past that tavern again. It had really been treated horribly over the years. It now had vinyl siding covering the old Beechnut chewing tobacco and Massey Ferguson tractor signs and a big trek-deck with hanging planters on the corner posts. It had really been let go and I was saddened. Inside, to your right as you came through the door, was a boot and wader station where you could "remove" your waders. WHAT?! A modern kitchen in the back replaced the crock pot and bags of local bakery rolls and the bars 5 inch worn and polished white pine forearm bar was replaced by a green and black polished granite countertop inlayed with silver jumping trout. And on that granite bar was a tri-fold laminated menu. Even worse than that it was missing Porketta! How could anybody do that to a perfectly good tavern? I wiped my eyes and left, driving off feeling like a part of me was lost.

Then half way down the valley I realized that just like that empty bar….the creek also held no fishermen. The water was low, but not unfishable. It made me wonder just what true service we do to ourselves by continually applying more and more rules and social norms to our sport? I think back to when we fished when we wanted to fish. We didn't own, let alone carry a thermometer in our vest. When we wanted to fish we fished. When we wanted to keep fish, we did. And the likes of that old tavern was as near pure nirvana that we could possibly hope for. And as I left the creek valley I looked in my rearview mirror and wondered; just how many perfect memories "weren't" being made today?

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