Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Dec 5, 2016

Going slow through the shallow tail out, I was taking no chances as I poked along the bottom with my wading staff. A long drive and early morning cramping of my feet were not my friend on this morning, but I knew that once across and in position the water pressure would bring relief soon. The same cold fall water that gave me caution with the staff was also my friend in illness. I positioned myself approximately mid-thigh deep with a deep slot midway between myself and a small outcropping of rocks directly across the stream. The stream was only 20 feet wide where I stood, so mending and line management would not be a problem.  

I started out with a Tactical Nymph under a ½" Thing-a-ma-bobber, which is my "Comfort Rig" of late. The first two drifts were a bit off, but eventually the muscle memory came back around and I was drifting on target. About the 6th or 7th drift the indicator dipped about an inch below the surface and a quick lift of the rod brought a buttery gold 17 inch brown to hand. That first fish for me is the trigger, especially when fishing alone and I could almost feel weeks of stress drain away. By the 3rd fish, the world outside of fly fishing ceased to exist. All that mattered was the sound of the water over rock, the pressure against my legs, and the feel of cork. I was half paying attention when the indicator dipped again and the rod bent to a good fish. Unfortunately, a few head shakes later and I was staring at nothing but a swirl on the surface and my line tangled hopelessly behind me in the brush. Further inspection proved both the tippet and furled leader were fairly torn up and would need replaced.

Replacing my leader I turned to my lanyard I gave a pull on the 5x spool and it emptied with a 10 inch section of remaining tippet in my hand. I stood staring at my hand for a long moment, as if by refusing to acknowledge it the situation would change but it didn't. I had failed to check my tippet, and the extra spool was back at the truck. It appeared I was left with nothing but my 6x MaxKnot. Not exactly what I would choose as my go-to rig when nymphing tandems. But it was what it was; I was fishing 6x with heavy nymphs. I tied on a size 10 skittle up top and dropped a size 16 Tactical Nymph. After taking a good 15-20 minutes to rig up I took two slow steps upstream placing the next rock outcropping within reach of my cast, and dropped my indictor right in front of it. Two feet into the drift the indicator dipped ever so slightly and I brought the rod up with a bit of doubt that it was anything but bottom. What I encountered on the other end of the line was not expected. With the Far-and-Fine held high, there were 3 or 4 huge headshakes, and then off it went. Straight upstream was its route, leaving the water with side-jumps at least a half dozen times. Then stopping at the head of the pool as the backing knot rolled across my fingers, only to leave the water straight up by about 2 feet each time. Had I been on camera folks watching would have thought it was an Atlantic salmon video. Then it came to a stop in the pool and went to bulldogging with heavy headshakes. With each head shake and jump I fully expected to be broken off. Surely I could not land this fish with 6x tippet. I stood in the water dumbfounded that I still had the fish hooked. And expecting each move it made to be the last we would share. I also knew that if I let the fish rest I would never stand a chance. So with nervous hands I rolled the fish back and forth and gave that little bit of fluorocarbon everything I could. But the tippet held. I had glanced down at the watch looped into my shoulder bag several times throughout, and 20 minutes later I was scooping a 25 inch rainbow into an 18 inch net. Popping the hook out I laid the fish out in the net and snapped a pic, then to my surprise while I was beginning to revive it, the tail slapped and he was off as strong as ever - gone. That quick, the only hint that a fish had even existed was the water splashed on the left side of my face. The tippet had held, my nerves were shot, and I knelt there in the stream suddenly realizing that my largest fish to date had just happened.

But isn't that the way? Just when you make one more cast with an identified frayed leader or casting knot or turn your head away from your drift to manage some slack line? That is usually when this sort of thing happens. Those are always the ones that step in and sucker punch you, winning the day, but not today. Today the tippet held. This time the hook didn't throw, the trout gods were not aligned against me and the knot gremlins missed their chance. This time, that big fish that takes your breath away came to hand. I'll take it.

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