Whip Finish


Ralph Long - May 1, 2017

Pushing through the screen door was like stepping into another world for a 10 year old boy. A bell on the door would ring to announce your arrival as it was opened, and the sound of the aerator in the minnow tank made from an old Claw-foot cast iron enameled bathtub would register just about the same moment as the spring on the door would pull it shut with a loud bang. No sneaking into Black Crow Bait Shop. Gary would always greet us (the kids) as bona fide customers, no less so than the adults; even though our bikes sat outside in the crushed slate parking lot instead of pickup trucks. We would browse everything in the shop, even though we only had $2 worth of change in our pockets.

A jar of Uncle Mike's natural salmon eggs, 3 or 4 new CP Swing spinners from the jar on the counter and a pack of size 10 Eagle Claw snelled hooks would begin a pile on the counter. But before long I would more often than not end up back in my same place each visit. Staring at the wall cards of wet flies and Gaines Poppers hung on the white pegboard next to the minnow tank. The sound of Curt Gowdy would echo in my ears as he narrated American Sportsman while casting his fly rod effortlessly. I would stare in amazement at patterns like the Parmachene Belle, Brook Fin and Royal Coachman. The smell of worm mulch in the foam bins, the minnow tank and the new rubber of Red Ball waders filled the air. To this day, any similar smell encountered takes me back instantly. It was the eye-appeal of the wet flies on those wall cards that brought me to the fly rod. Married feather, bright colors and the artwork of them seemed almost too nice to get wet and filled with pond vegetation. But I know then that it had to happen. My dad used a fly rod often growing up, but not for flies. He used it for drifting minnows on a minnow rig in the riffles. I can still see the minnow bucket hanging from his side. My uncles as well used them with a level line and a split-shot rig for worms; drifting tight line even though with bait. I had one as well, rigged for bait.

I was tying a few wets and small bass poppers a few days ago and the old bit shop near my house came to mind. Though I've delved into the world of fly fishing for most of my adult life, I am still drawn to the rise of a bluegill, or the twitch of the leader as a sinking wet fly is taken in by a thick-shouldered slab. My fishing these days' remains split about 50/50 between cold and warm water, mostly due to the lack of streams carrying trout where I currently reside. But I don't go kicking and screaming to the local ponds. Rather, it is often therapy for my mind that can too often get tangled in the technical aspects of trout fishing. Sometimes a simple bluegill fixes all of that.

I've always felt that it served me better to have come to fly fishing on my own, although a mentor would have been nice at times. Yet as I tied a Briar Creek wet fly at my bench I realized it was really not so much "on my own" as I had always imagined. It was a combination of subtle nudges over time. And when I did take the leap, those around me supported it and cheered me on even though they were not interested in jumping with me. I reckon very little in life is truly done "on our own."

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