Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Feb 6, 2017

The trail seemed to go on forever as I wound along the terraced landscape just one more drop through the chest high broadleaf ferns to the river in which I had been able to hear for quite a while now. The map had shown a small but marked USFS trail leading from the gravel road some 800 yards behind me and 2500 feet above me, to a bend in the Upper East Fork of the Lewis River. Switchbacks had been its course, and I was along for the ride in hopes of fish and solitude. The two things in a fisherman's life that seldom seem to collide.

Having never fished in this section, I figured after 6 years or so of bouncing around this particular water, it was time. So I asked the clerk at the general store on the way up if he was familiar with the canyon below the falls, and received a nod of acknowledgement, but a sideways scowl after, before he offered that it was not very productive. The trails were scant and most folks avoid it since the fish don't justify the work to get in. What I heard was "the fish". Not only that, but folks leave it alone and as a result, "the fish"…meaning "they do exist there"…were not pressured. I know, I know, an oversimplification serving only to feed the blindness of somebody wearing trout-colored glasses. But none-the-less, there I was pushing my way down a glorified rabbit trail through dew-covered ferns, when turning a corner I stopped. Below me about 100ft was the river….and it was beautiful. The flow was in a sweeping bend from left to right for about 200 yards. And within what I could see were five blue-green runs separated by short boulder filled riffles. If it were a golf course, nobody could have designed it more perfectly. The inside of the bend was an infield of Mount Saint Helens eruption silt, which was slowly giving way to small bushes, with scattered deadfall scattered about from snowmelt run off. As I worked my way down the last remaining switchbacks, finally arriving at the place I had seen on the USFS map and smiled. "Not worth the work in", I thought? Hell, the view alone was worth twice the walk.

I walked to the bottom of the bend and looked downstream as the water flattened out into a long slow glide. A few rises were showing. I pulled the Satsop Stone pattern from its keeper and moved closer o the water's edge, when I kicked something up in the silt. Looking down, there was a half-buried Blacktail deer antler sticking up. Pulling it up I found it to be free of chew marks from squirrels and rodents. Odd for being out here I thought? Then I realized the antler had to have been buried there, only now being exposed by eroding silt, since the eruption. I remained there crouched on the water's edge getting ready to stand, when something out of place caught my eye. It was a stone, but not of the same color as its surroundings and certainly not the shape of river rock. Reaching into the water it felt heavier than normal stone? Flipping it in my hand I realized it was petrified wood. The largest piece I had ever found. I sat in amazement thinking of the odds these two items would be inches away from each other? Was it a sign? Did it mean something? It must I thought. I looked around for something from the mountain when I saw a small river stone with odd markings. On closer inspection it was far from just a river stone. In what I held you could see the life-cycle of the eruption. It was a stone, covered by black quartz-like crystal, which were covered by hardened volcanic silt. It was all layered so clear. I placed all three items in the back pouch of my vest and began to take in the water.

Stepping up to the tail-out of the first pool, I worked out some line as the 7 foot Lamiglass 3 weight rod flexed into my hand. Eyeing up a protruding stump 20 feet across from my position, I dropped the fly on the water. Before it could go 12 inches it was rolled on by a fat 18 inch cutthroat that ran me and that little 3 weight rod all over the pool before finally rolling to its side. Releasing that fish felt like an exclamation point to an already perfect day. Yet that would be my day on the water. I would not catch another fish. Nor even get another rise. But what I had experienced was worth so much more. I had found 3 amazing items within a foot of each other, and then I caught the largest Cutthroat I would ever pull out of the Lewis River. I still have all three items, and the fish still resides as part of my memory to this day some 22 years later. But what I carry forward most of all was how I felt as I stepped to the edge in those chest-high dew-soaked ferns, and laid eyes on that water for the first time.

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