Saturday, November 5, 2016

Mornin' Ralph...

First hookup of the day
(click any photo to enlarge)
I can't claim to have traveled to a vast number trout venues, but inevitably it seems that someone will say "there are some big fish in here" about any given piece of water.  When Ralph told me that, I heard it.  I didn't NOT believe him... it's just that "big" is a relative idea.  As I started fighting my first fish of the day this past Saturday, it occurred to me that I had a BIG trout pulling on my little size 16 hook... on 5x tippet.  Uh oh.

I've been very lucky to share water with some great folks this year.  When Ralph and I managed to find an overlapping window in our schedules, I jumped at the chance.  I had no idea where we'd go, but I knew the day would be special.  I got up early last Saturday (10-29) morning to complete my travels to an undisclosed location in central Pennsylvania, stopping at Dunkin' for a few chocolate frosted donuts for me and pumpkin donuts as requested by Ralph.

For the few of you who don't know who Ralph is, here's my attempt at an introduction:  author Ralph "R. E." Long runs the blog Ralph's Fly Box.  He's published at least four books and writes for other publications.  He's a veteran.  He's a survivor.  He's a SURVIVOR.  And a darned fine angler!  Ralph was first out of the chute with some words and lots of photos of our day together.  I'll try a few photos and lots of words, as usual.

We met at Denny's and had a long chat over coffee and a solid breakfast.  I was looking forward to this as much as any other part of the day.  We had a lot of mental ground to cover and I think we made a great start.  It wasn't too long before it was time for a transition from coffee to fly rods.  Ralph invited me to toss my gear into his rig, and we were off.

The road followed the target creek, and it wasn't long before we were gearing up.  The morning was a polar opposite in the weather department in comparison to the prior one: warm and calm air.  I opted for short sleeves.  Getting dressed and rigging rods usually feels like it takes forever, but we laughed our way through it and the time passed smoothly.  Soon, we were standing on the bank overlooking the water, both of us listening and pondering the waters, the day, and hopefully the fish in front of us.

We were surrounded by obvious signs of civilization, but the hike down into the creek involved bushwhacking.  That's a great sign that the water doesn't see a lot of angler traffic.  To avoid spoiling a lower pool, our crossing took us through a pocket of deep/swift water.  Ralph negotiated it with a little effort, but an emergency deployment of the wading staff was required for me to finish the job.  I love the smell of adrenaline (a.k.a. norepinephrine) in the morning!  (Sorry, neurochemistry humor.  Not widely recognized/appreciated.  It's a Parkinson's Disease thing.)

Ralph must have set his visitor up in THE prime spot on that stretch, because that first fish of the day, mentioned above, was giving me fits within five or six casts.  When I looked at the creek, I imagined we'd be chasing trout in the 8" to 14" range, with a shot at some 16" fish.  With that in mind, I started hand-stripping line to bring the fish in.  This is where I'm thankful for the very forgiving nature of my Sage Z-Axis, because my rod bent over hard when I had the line held fast and the fish dived.  I knew I had to get this fish on the reel and lighten the drag if I was going to keep it from breaking the 5x tippet I'd selected.   This is where most of the details disappear until Ralph netted the beastie.  And what a beastie!  Shaking (not from Parkinson's) and mouth agape, I could scarely believe what I beheld in the net.  "You're gonna need a bigger net," I offered in homage to Roy Scheider.  Had Jesus been present, this fish could have fed 25,000.  Even without the presence of a divine being, that catch felt miraculous.

Ralph let me strike first, but over the course of the next eight or nine hours, it was clear that he was by far the superior angler.  He caught 2 or 3 fish to each one of mine, but I asked a few questions and learned a few things that I believe will make me more effective when nymphing.  And his cast is a thing of simple beauty.  I have no end of trouble as soon as I attach a bobber-style strike indicator to my leader.  He can throw tight loops even with a big Thingamabobber in his furled leader.  I spent several breaks just watching him cast and work the water.  I was proud to be there to take lots of photos for him, and he thanked me.  I told him what a pleasure it is for me to be able to do that, because the photos that I have of myself from my trips this summer are something I will treasure forever.  The hikes between holes brought deeper and deeper conversational subjects, and unfortunately for Ralph, my true nature as a clown ran on a progressively-loosened leash.

As the daylight waned, Ralph got into some good fish.  Fate dictated that the best was reserved for last.  When he hooked his last fish I reluctantly reeled up my line, but it was obvious that this was not going to be an easy landing.  He waded up and down the bank, trying to turn the trout's head an engage in battle.  I stayed away with a camera at the ready, and after a period od 15 to 20 minutes, he was rewarded with his largest ever trout on a fly.  It dwarfed the net he'd been using all day and appeared to have taxed his abilities to their limits.  Truly a thing of beauty to witness.  An honor.

I hope that this is just the beginning of an adventure.  Not just with Ralph, but with everyone I've had the opportunity to fish with in 2016.  When I'm alone, my fears can overwhelm my optimism and good sense.  I need a team, and I think that perhaps we've made a good start at putting one together.

Wanna join?

Thanks, Ralph, for one of my Best Days
Prologue: In an unfortunate series of events, we completely forgot about the Dunkin' Donuts until just before we parted ways.  Ralph took the pumpkin donuts with him, and I savored the chocolate frosted on my three hour drive to Syracuse before my flight home at Oh-Dark-Thirty the following morning.  It would be a shame t waste good DD...


  1. Chris, the pleasure was all mine. It was a great time spent with a fine fisherman and an even finer person. And now....a friend.

    1. "Fine fisherman"...? Really? To quote the Dread Pirate Roberts: "We are men of action; lies do not become us." Then again, I suppose it depends on your definition of the word "fine"... :)

      Let's do it again, eh?

  2. That's a great post in so many ways. New friendships, excellent fishing, good food. Phenomenal. That last second to last,that fish makes the net look tiny.

  3. I wanna join! Looks like a great outing. I've always wanted to check out the spring creeks of PA.

  4. I always enjoy reading these type of posts. Not a trip report but people living and building friendships. Catching a few, well, that's just gravy.

  5. One of the very best things that comes out of blogging is meeting up and fishing with other bloggers/fishermen. I'm jealous.

    1. Don't be jealous, Howard. If your ears were tingling at all that day, it's because your name came up a few times. Stay healthy and sane over the winter and good things will come!

  6. Excellent read. Looks like a great time.