Two Fly-Fishing Women
by Randy Kadish
How would I describe myself? I would say as a wife and a mother who loves
her family, as an attorney who admires the law, and as a fly fisher who proudly says she
learned from the greatest fly fisher she ever knew: her grandmother.
And whether by accident or not, my
grandmother taught me something even more important than fishing, something I still
cherish even after this long, long parade of days.
The lesson happened near the middle
of trout season, on the first day of summer, June 21st. I was fourteen years old. I was
very, very hurt and angry. Here's why.
A year had passed since my grandfather died of a heart attack while fishing
a nameless, but very beautiful, pool on the Junction River. My grandmother and father came
to believe if someone had been with him he might have lived.
But in spite of their belief, my
grandmother often told me, "Amanda, be thankful he at least died doing what he
I tried to see it my grandmother's way,
but couldn't. Deep down inside the truth was I desperately wanted him back so he could hug
me and tell me fishing stories I knew weren't all true. Besides, since he lived close by,
he was the one I sometimes ran to when the fighting between my mother and father got real
Whom did I blame for the fighting? I
guess both, even though I knew my father was only trying to stop my mother from getting
high. And I wanted her to stop. I hated the smell of marijuana. The smell meant my mother
watched television with a stupid grin on her face, a grin saying silently, but loudly:
don't even try to get me to help you with your homework.
To make things worse, I couldn't look
forward to my father coming home, because his coming home usually lead to another fight,
and to me running to my room, slamming the door and putting a pillow over my head. The
pillow filtered out most of the words, but the anger always found a way through, and made
me pray for my mother to stop getting high.
So every day when I walked home from
school and passed our town's beautiful, old white church, I wondered if there really was a
On one of those days the sky was so clear
and the sun so bright that winter felt like spring. Suddenly I forgot about all the bad
things in my life, and dreamed of fly-fishing and catching a big trout.
I walked up the wooden steps to my house,
and into the dim kitchen. My father sat at the table, staring out the window as if he was
lost in space.
"Dad, why are your home so early?
He looked up at me. His eyes were red, as
if he had just cried. "Your mother ran off with, with another man."
Surprisingly, I didn't feel much of
anything, maybe because I felt both good and bad at the same time: good the fighting was
over, bad my mother wasn't going to change into the loving mother I wanted her to be.
During the next few months my feelings
As for my father's - well he tried hard
to hide his, but he didn't do a very good job. Hour after hour he sat in the kitchen all
by himself; so even though he threw out all my mother's pictures and never mentioned her
name, I knew, for whatever reason, he still loved her, and he couldn't kill his pain.
So he began working real long hours in
his tire store, which meant I began coming home to an empty house, putting on the TV and
eating dinner by myself.
Maybe that's why my pain and anger slowly
swelled, surfaced and soon drowned out the TV. Night after night, I put down my knife and
fork and cried. Is it any wonder, therefore, I was thankful when my grandmother moved in
with us and tried to take my mother's place?
And oh how she tried, always cooking and
helping me with my homework, but never erasing my deepening shame, a shame I tried to hide
by telling my teacher and classmates, "My mother is in New York taking care of her
But in a small, close-knit town, I soon
learned, some things, like the moon and the stars, are impossible to hide.
My classmates made fun of me behind my
back, then to my face.
What did I do?
I turned away, and fished more and more.
You see, being in one of nature's poems,
a beautiful river, eased my pain; and I guess made me feel I was a part of the good side
of the world. Sometimes I even came close to believing there was a God.
Whether or not there was, my grandmother
and father became scared of my being alone on a river; so one day when I was at school,
they went to the pound, adopted a German Shepherd and put her in my room. When I came home
I heard her bark. I ran to my room. The dog looked up at me. Her expression seemed to ask,
"Who are you?" Her face was almost all gold, her body almost all black. She
struck me as being funny looking.
I got down on my knees and said,
She slowly walked over to me. I petted
her, then all of a sudden she jumped up, licked my face and seemed beautiful. I hugged
her. Right then and there I named her Shana. And from that day on she looked at me with so
much love in her eyes, I wondered if she was really a person in a dog's body. Often I
asked, "Shana, do you miss whoever raised you? Well, I promise to love you so much
that pretty soon you'll forget all about them."
She replied by licking my face; and I
wished I could forget as easily as a dog
My mother never visited or called.
Day after day I still cried, but never in
front of my father, even though my grandmother told me crying was all right. Then one day
she said, "Amanda, I'm sure that your mother still loves you."
"If she did she wouldn't have
"She's probably just confused. That
happens to grownups sometimes. She'll again be a mother to you, probably real soon. You'll
"I won't, because I'll never even
talk to her again. I hate her!"
"You mustn't hate, Amanda."
"Says who? People hate all the
"That doesn't make it right."
A month or so later another really bad
thing happened: my grandmother got sick and underwent all sorts of medical tests. We
anxiously waited for the results. Finally, as my father and I stood in the long, narrow
hospital hallway, the doctor walked up to us. His eyes spoke of sadness. I took my
father's hand. The doctor told us my grandmother had cancer. Immediately, I ran into my
grandmother's room. She smiled. I took her hand her told her how scared I was of losing
her and of not having any mother.
She kissed my forehead. "Amanda, I'm
not ready to die. I'm going to beat this cancer, you'll see. I guess worse than losing my
hair is, for the first time since I met your grandfather, missing the opening of trout
"I'm going to miss it too, because I
don't care anymore about fishing. I want to stay with you."
Opening day and the cold, piercing winds
of April came and went. Finally, my grandmother left the hospital, but three times a week
she went back for chemotherapy. I always visited her, even though I soon hated seeing so
many old and sick people. I even swore to grandmother that when I got older I would never
get sick and go to a hospital.
She laughed. "Amanda, here's what I
want you to do for me right now. Go home, take my Heddon Rod and catch some trout for the
both of us."
"I'm not going to leave you."
"Your father will be here soon.
Please listen to me."
"All right," I muttered.
I trudged home and put on my waders and
boots. I went into my grandmother's room. In the corner stood her bamboo rod. Its glossy
finish shined like gold, a gold I felt I shouldn't touch. Finally, I walked across the
room, took the rod and said, "Let's go Shana."
I fished School House Pool on the
Junction River. At first I didn't feel right being there, knowing my grandmother was
probably throwing up from chemotherapy, but soon the tall trees lining the bank like a
fortress wall seemed to protect me in some way. After I made a few casts and retrieves,
the gentleness of the flowing, shimmering water, and the sweetness of unseen, singing
birds, washed out all the angry thoughts in my mind, and swept me into the moments of
seeing and hearing only the Junction River, of deciding what fly to use and where I should
cast it so that it fooled and caught a fish.
Though it didn't, I left the river
knowing I'd be back the next day.
And when I was I fished the nameless,
banana-shaped pool. In middle of the pool, the sun engraved a long, thin triangle. For the
first hour or so I had no luck; then I made what I thought was a bad cast. I pulled my
Blue-Winged Olive free. It landed near the bank, behind a big boulder. A trout jumped up
and snatched it. Something I can't describe rushed through me like electricity. Without
thinking, I cranked the handle of my reel as fast as I could and took the slack out of my
line. I lowered my rod and let the big trout run. My reel seemed to shriek as the trout
pulled my green line down river. My rod throbbed as if it was alive. With both hands I
squeezed it as tightly as I could. The throbbing weakened into a pulse. The trout was
slowing, resting. I raised my rod and slowly dragged the fish out of the fast water, the
way my grandmother had taught me. I reeled up more line. Is he finished? I wondered. Bam!
He nearly jerked my rod out of my hand. He jumped out of the water and shook his head. He
dived. My line went dead. I lost him, I thought. Damn! He bolted again and pulled me even
deeper into the excitement, the obsession, the killer instinct that gushed through me.
Again I squeezed my rod. Then somehow I heard myself breathing real hard, then my
grandmother telling me, as if she was there, "Stay calm."
Deeply I breathed. Suddenly my arms felt
heavy. The trout seemed to weigh a ton. I pulled my elbows close to my body, and thought,
he might win, but then my reel's shriek slowed into a hum. The big trout was tiring. Is he
going to give up? I wondered. I pulled him away from the bank, into the slower moving
water. I reeled more line in, expecting him to make another run.
He didn't. I easily landed him. I won! In
my mind he was about four pounds. Proud, I took the fly out of his mouth. He looked up at
me. The fear in his eyes told me he, as I, wanted to live. But since I was alone, if I
didn't take him no one, except my grandmother, would believe I caught such a big fish.
"Mr. Trout," I said. "I
gonna let you go."
An hour later, wearing my waders and
fishing vest, carrying my rod, I walked to the hospital and told my grandmother about my
victory, then asked, "Should I have taken him grandma, to show people?"
"You know. That's all that should
I fished the next day, and the next, and
the next. And each evening, after the sun slid behind the tall trees, I left the river and
told my grandmother how I did, and what flies and tactics I used. She usually made a few
suggestions. Each one I tried, and as the season went on, I caught more and more fish; so
many in fact that pretty soon desperate men anglers ate their pride and asked me for
advice. Though I didn't have to, something told me to share most of my grandmother's
Unexpectedly, I was rewarded. Soon I felt
real special, even though I no longer had friends. And feeling special, I quickly learned,
was far more important than all the free flies the men gave me.
So that's where I was, emotionally I
mean, on the morning of June 21st when I cooked my family's breakfast. My father left for
work. My grandmother went to her room to rest, or so I thought, because after I washed all
the dishes and cleaned up, I went upstairs to get my books. The door to my grandmother's
room was half-open. She was putting on her hip boots. I pushed the door open. She wore her
fly fishing vest and hat, but not her gray wig. Her Heddon rod and my grandfather's
antique fly box were on the bed.
"Grandma, what are you doing?"
"I'm not going to miss the whole
trout season. I want at least one day on the river."
"But you're sick."
"These doctors don't know
everything. I think fishing will do more for me than chemo. Now you go to school and don't
worry about me."
"Take Shana with you."
She smiled. "I'll be all
"If you don't promise to take her,
I'll call my father and tell him what you're doing."
"I promise," she said
sincerely. I hugged her. I felt something hard against my chest. I let go of her and saw
my grandfather's silver revolver under her vest.
She said, "A woman needs to protect
"No one has seen bears around here
"Amanda, you never know, and I can't
walk as fast as I used to."
I left for school; but as I sat in that
small, dingy classroom, all I thought about was how my grandmother probably wasn't strong
enough to fish, and about how my grandfather died fishing all by himself. Suddenly
terrified, I wanted to be with my grandmother more than I wanted anything.
"Amanda!" The teacher had
called my name. I came out of my haze and I looked up at her. She folded her arms and
stared at me.
"Amanda, didn't you hear my
I shook my head no.
Everyone laughed. I wanted to crawl under
"You're a fish brain!" yelled
I jumped up, clenched my fist, and ran up
to him. I froze for a moment. I opened my hand and slapped him on the back of his head.
"Amanda!" my teacher yelled.
I looked at her. "I'm not a fish
brain!" I insisted. I ran out of the school.
And I kept on running. I reached home and
opened the door. Shana jumped all over me.
Grandma lied! I thought. Why?
I looked into Shana's eyes. "We're
She licked my face and followed me to my
As quickly as I could, I put on my
waders, my vest and my hat. I turned to get my rod. My grandmother's rod was in its place.
On the floor was my grandfather's antique fly box
Maybe she doesn't want to come! I
thought. The cancer is really why she took her gun. But I'm not going to let her leave me.
I stuffed the fly box into my vest
pocket, ran downstairs and filled my canteen with water.
"Let's run Shana."
I could barely breath when I reached one
of my grandmother's favorite spots on the Junction River, the wide, slow-moving bend just
south of Bennett's farm.
My grand mother wasn't there..
Vernon was. He sat on his wooden milk
box. He was a very big black man, older than my father. He worked, I knew, as a night
watchman in a glass factory. Since he always fished worms on an old spinning rod, I didn't
think of him as much of a fisherman. But I didn't hold it against him. He fished for food
instead of for sport. His big straw hat had a hole in the brim.
A bottle of Jack Daniel's was at his
I asked if he had seen my grandmother.
"No," he answered without
looking at me.
I walked towards him.
"I told you I ain't seen her!"
he yelled. His tone told me not to come any closer.
So I did. On the other side of his milk
box was a creel with the small trout my grandfather had painted. It was my grandmother's
"Did you try just behind the fallen
tree?" I asked, pointing down river. He turned. I snatched his bottle of whiskey and
ran. When I felt far enough away, I stopped and faced him.
"What you take that for?" he
"Because you lied to me, and if you
come after me I'll put Shana on you. How come you have my grandmother's creel? Did you
steal it from her?"
"Looky here, I never stole anything,
since I was a kid, I mean."
"Then how come you have it!"
He didn't answer.
I pulled off the top of the whiskey
bottle. "You'd better tell me the truth or I'm gonna start pouring this on the
"It ain't yours to pour."
"That creel isn't yours either. Tell
me the truth."
"Your grandmother made me promise
"She's very sick with cancer. She
shouldn't be fishing by herself. Remember what happened to my grandfather?"
"She gave me the creel as a
"Why would she do that?"
"Because she often gave me things,
"You don't even know how to fish
"I still like looking at them."
"Just tell me which way she went,
upstream or down?"
"I promised her."
I poured out a little of his whiskey
then, trying to look real mean, I stared real hard into his eyes.
"She went down river."
I pushed the cap back on his bottle.
"Let's go Shana." I put the
"Wait!" Vernon yelled out.
"You ain't goin' by yourself."
"Because, because, you're a girl and
you shouldn't be alone."
"I'm alone all the time. Shana will
"I'm goin' with you."
"I am too." He got up and
reeled in his line.
I knew I couldn't stop him. Besides, I
quickly realized him going with me wasn't such a bad idea, especially since I had always
He put his whiskey into my grandmother's
"Why don't we hide your box?" I
"When we come back it will still be
there. You'll see."
With the bright, hot sun shinning on our
backs, we headed down river, using the narrow path that ran along most of the river bank.
At first Vernon and I didn't say
anything. We reached Heartbreak Run. The run was long and narrow, and strewn with boulders
that reminded me of tombstones. The run got its name because it had very little slack
water, and trout therefore could easily refill their gills with oxygen-rich water and
mount a long and often victorious fight.
Someone fished the back of the run.
It was Joe Lovett, an angler I never
liked him because he always told stories about the size and number of fish he supposedly
He looked at me and waved. "Caught
two big ones!"
"I hate it when he lies," I
"He just does that because deep down
he don't feel good about himself."
"I'll never lie like that,
especially if I have as many expensive fly rods as he does."
"Save some for us!" Vernon
We left the run and came to Paradise
Lost, a long, narrow pool. The sunlight filtered through the dense, overhanging branches
in a crisscrossing pattern, but didn't reach the water that was so calm and flat it seemed
like a huge, upside down photograph of the trees lining its bank.
"Looky how beautiful God's work can
be," Vernon said.
"Tomorrow I'm gonna come down here
"You'll be wasting your time,"
I told him. "The bottom here is all sand. It has no rocks or plants. The pool is
"Sometimes I guess even God wants to
be left alone."
Is he really just stupid? I wondered.
"Vernon, your shoes are getting all wet and muddy."
"Don't you worry about my
"All right, I won't. They're your
shoes to ruin."
"They are. You did a bad thing back
there, pouring my whiskey."
"I had to know the truth."
"It still wasn't your whiskey."
"You shouldn't be drinking so much
"People, I guess."
"People who don't know how it hurts
when God takes your son."
"I never knew you lost your
"That was before my wife and I moved
to this town." I waited for him to tell me how his son died.
He didn't. I had the sense not to ask,
but not to know what to say to comfort him; so instead I said to myself that taking his
whiskey and pouring some of it on the ground was wrong.
Without talking, we hiked down the soggy
bank, then around the wide, trout-filled Restoration Bend. The silence between me and
Vernon felt sort of heavy. Still, I didn't know what to say.
The river ran straight again.
Finally, I broke the silence.
"Vernon, why would my grandmother leave her favorite rod in my room and give you her
"She must've had a reason."
"Well, maybe the cancer is, is just
makin' her think real hard 'bout things; and since she was always a generous woman,
givin'away things she loves makes her feel better than any medicine can. Yeah, that must
be it, because it's gonna be God's job to take me from my grandchildren. And I know your
grandmother feels the same way."
"She, she told me so a couple of
He's lying, I told myself. But more than
anything in the world I wanted to believe him, so I did. I looked at his cheap spinning
rod and wished I had a good one to give. "Vernon, when I get old enough I'll buy you
He smiled. "And I'll be happy to
We came to the big, slow-moving,
McCarthy's Pool. It was named after Michael McCarthy. Luckily, he had survived the killing
fields of World War One and came home. But one night he got drunk and fished the pool. The
next morning two anglers found his body floating face-down; so even though the wide mouth
of the pool had some underwater boulders and held a lot of big trout, I always passed the
pool by. In my mind it was haunted. I didn't want any part of it, the way I knew I didn't
want any part of drinking liquor, even though I knew liquor and war weren't the only
things that led to McCarthy's death. The water in the pool was so clear it acted like an
invisible lens and disguised many of the drop-offs and holes, and therefore caused many
sobers anglers to get drenched.
We left the pool and walked alongside a
long stretch of shallow, gurgling riffles. I asked Vernon if he wanted to rest.
He said he felt okay. I offered him some
of my water.
He looked at me. His eyes seemed to turn
warm. He took my canteen.
We came to the banana-shaped pool.
Towards the tail of the pool two beautiful swans rested next to a clump of tall reeds. The
long triangle of sunlight reflecting off the middle of the pool was suddenly turned off by
a passing cloud. I got into a crouch and walked close to where I had caught Mr. Trout.
"Vernon, Mr. Trout is here!"
"Amanda, we got no time to look for
"I caught him once. Wouldn't it be
nice if he recognized me?"
I moved closer. My shadow scared him. He
darted away so fast he seemed to have disappeared. I found myself looking at my
reflection. I pulled down the front brim of my, and wished I could live and stay pretty
Shana barked, jumped in the river and
began swimming after the swans.
"Shana come back!" I yelled.
She swam towards the swans, and soon got
caught in a seam of fast and slow moving water. There must've been a strong current under
the surface, because Shana barked frantically and paddled real hard. But the current was
stronger than Shana. She was swept down river, into the fast tail.
"Shana!" I again yelled out.
"I take my eyes off you for a second
and look what you do. Please, don't drown!"
"Dogs are born to swim," Vernon
assured me. "Looky here, when she gets to the next pool she'll just swim to the
"Which one though?"
"I'll go down this bank. You cross
the river at the riffles down there and we'll meet at the stone bridge."
"Vernon, the bottom is rocky. I
forgot to bring my wading stick."
He smiled in a funny way. I'm not a
coward, I wanted to say.
"Okay," he said. "We'll
find something in the woods."
We quickly found a big stick.. I ran back
to the river. Slowly, making sure I had good footing and balance, I waded to the east
bank. I looked at Vernon. He gave me a thumbs up. We marched down river at the same pace.
The river soon widened and snaked to the left. I almost crashed into the tall barrier of
thorny bushes. Damn, I thought. How did I forgot about these bushes?
"Vernon," I yelled out. "I
got to follow the path into the woods and go around. I'll catch up to you farther
This time, I told myself, I'm not going
to be scared. I stepped into the woods. The shade made everything seem dark and eerie. I
wanted to turn back. Damn you Shana, I thought. Why did you have to jump into the river?
But shouldn't I be hoping that you and grandmother are okay? At least I have this big
stick. I walked deeper into the woods, then hiked up a long, low hill.
He stood on the other side as if he had
been waiting for me. His arms were folded. He wore an old, green jacket. Something inside
me seemed to snap. I froze. I thought of yelling out to Vernon, but quickly realized that
the man might do something bad before Vernon could save me. The man was about thirty, and
I must admit, good looking in a sort of rugged way. He was unshaven, and wore torn, dirty
jeans. His blue eyes studied my grandmother's rod. He smiled. He was missing a front
"That's real fine-looking rod. May I
see it?" he asked, softly, politely.
"No," I backed away, pointing
my wading stick at him.
He laughed loudly and looked up. I
must've looked up to, because before I knew it, he grabbed my stick and threw it behind
"I just want to see your fishing
rod," he said.
Though he looked like a vagabond, he
spoke more like a politician. I said, "You don't want to see my rod. You want to take
"What makes you think I don't have a
real fine rod of my own?"
"Because if you did, you'd be
"I too was a real smart,
"Who are you?"
"Someone who fished this river a lot
until my mother had to move."
I wondered if I could end up going wrong
as he did. "Look, if you're hungry and don't mind going into the river and getting
wet I'll show you one of my secret spots. I'll let you use the rod to catch a fish, but
you have to promise me that then you'll leave me alone."
"I promise," he answered as if
he meant it.
"We'll go down river a hundred yards
or so, to the stone bridge."
"Let's go, little girl."
"I'm not little."
"That's right, you really
aren't." He grinned, and suddenly I thought that maybe he wanted more than just my
Still numb, I wished I could momentarily
turn into a big man and punch him..
But I couldn't. Quickly, I decided I
didn't want him seeing Vernon and Shana on the other bank because then he might grab my
grandmother's fly rod and run.
So I led him through the woods, parallel
to the river.
Finally, when I knew we were even with
the bridge, I turned towards the river, praying that Vernon and Shana waited there for me.
Stay calm, I told myself. Pretend you're
trying to land a fish. Stall for time. I said, "Let me tie a fly on." I had made
a mistake. Now he would see my grandfather's fly box. Reluctantly, I took it out, and
picked out an Adams. I pretended I couldn't get the line through the eye.
"Let me do that," he demanded.
I got the line through the eye, and tied
the fly on. Shana barked. I looked up. She streaked across the bridge.
"Get him Shana!" I yelled out.
"Damn you little bitch!" He
lunged for the rod. I was ready. I jumped back. He fell, then got up and ran back into the
Shana jumped on me, almost knocking me
down. She was all wet. I kissed her and said.
"Good girl, Shana. Good girl. You
Vernon crossed the bridge.
"What took you so long!" I
He was out of breath. "Shana
wouldn't come with me at first."
"That man tried to steal my
My heart began to beat fast and hard, as
it never had before, but then for some reason I laughed.
"I tricked him," I said.
"Did you see the way he ran. What a coward."
Vernon took off his belt. "We'll use
this for a leash."
We continued down river. The tall trees
protected us from the hot, sinking sun. My heart stopped beating so hard. I turned to
Vernon and said, "The funny thing is, I wasn't so scared while it was
"God hides fear from us when he
"Vernon, "I'm sorry for yelling
at you. That was stupid of me."
"I would have yelled too."
"Vernon, I bet you my grandmother is
fishing the pool where my grandfather died."
"It might be her way of feelin' real
close to him."
"Vernon, maybe my grandmother took a
gun because she doesn't want to come back."
"Look at what just happened. A woman
out here by herself is smart for takin'a gun."
"Then why did she never take one
"Maybe God told her there was a bad
man out here."
"How? God doesn't talk to
"In his way he does. We'll find your
grandmother real soon. You'll see."
For some reason, maybe because I wanted
to, I believed him.
We walked faster, and soon reached the
treeless meadow. The sun felt real hot again. I asked, "Vernon, did you ever think of
leaving your family for another woman?"
"Once. But being scared of God is a
I didn't want to hear any more talk of
God, but I also didn't want to argue, so I knew I had no choice but to let him have his
say. "My mother was never scared of God."
"Then I feel sorry for her, and for
the man who tried to rob your rod."
"Do you think they're evil?"
"The Lord put evil in everybody.
That's why we need the Lord."
"That doesn't make sense. If there's
evil in them, then they're evil."
"Don't ask me to explain it, cause I
can't, but it will make sense to you one day."
"No, it won't."
"How do you know?"
Could he be right? I wondered. It didn't
seem so. I asked, "Do you want to rest Vernon?"
"Thanks for coming Vernon." He
smiled. "You're welcome."
We left the meadow and reached Hourglass
Run. The shade from the trees felt good again. Vernon and I drank some water, then I
poured some into my hand and Shana licked it all up. A pod of trout saw us and broke for
the far bank. For a second that fishing instinct came over me, and I thought of casting my
Adams to the trout, but then I remembered I didn't have time to fish.
I heard the splashing of Ester Falls, a
waterfall a landowner built and named after the woman he loved.
"Vernon, we don't have far to
Waterfall Pool was and deep and wide. Joe
McGlinn fished its mouth. Joe seemed more like a neurotic scientist than a happy angler.
He was obsessed with using the right fly, and therefore spent more time changing flies and
leaders than he spent fishing. But he must've known what he was doing because he wrote a
weekly fly-fishing column for a local newspaper. And some of his stories appeared in
fishing magazines. Even I could see they were beautifully written. But in person Joe was
so shy he never said more than a few words at a time and rarely looked you in the eye.
Since he was a lonely bachelor, I felt sorry for him, and that's the real reason I
sometimes fished with him, not because he always gave me one of his secret flies on my
promise that I wouldn't show it to anyone, except my grandmother.
"Where are you heading?" he
"Vernon's house, " I answered.
"I'm going to set up his new fly rod."
Vernon stared at me.
"It's about time he became a real
"He already is!" I looked up at
Vernon, and whispered, "I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes I think he'll rub off
on me, and I'll grow up and be as lonely as him."
Vernon laughed, but didn't say anything.
I felt stupid. We reached the waterfall, then baby-stepped down a short, steep hill. Above
the waterfall was a gap in the overhanging branches. The sun poured through the gap,
making the tumbling and splashing water shine like a diamond. As always, I was mesmerized
by the beautiful sight.
"Amanda, I told you we got no time
to stop and look at things."
"I'm sorry. You're right."
From the falls the water flowed into the
long, narrow run known as Devil's Valley. The run was called that, I was told, because
most of it was so deep and fast only a few courageous humans risked fishing it. Besides,
towards the tail of the pool, the banks climbed almost straight up and were impossible to
hike. The run, therefore, was almost always deserted and left, supposedly, to the devil.
We headed into the woods. I was very
grateful I wasn't alone.
We hiked straight east following the
bottom of the hill. Shana saw a squirrel, bolted, and almost pulled Vernon's belt out of
my hand. I pulled her back, wrapped the belt around my palm and clenched my fist. We
"Vernon, how old do you think the
junction River is?"
"I guess about as old as the earth
I knew he was wrong, but I didn't want to
tell him so.
"Vernon, I still don't understand
how rivers are born."
"Neither do I?"
"And we call ourselves anglers I
don't even know where the word 'angler' came from."
Again I heard the river flow.
"Vernon, how did God take your
"By giving him a bad heart when he
"Why would he do that to you?"
"I still wonder." "Do you
think there's evil in him the way there is in all of us?"
"I would really call it evil."
"What would you call it?"
"Do you ever have times when believe
in him less?"
"Yeah, but then I always come out of
The man in the army jacket stood like a
statue. His arms were at his side. He held a gun, pointing it at the ground. The gun's
handle was broken and wrapped with black tape. Shana barked.
"You'd better close that two-tone
creature's mouth or I'll close it for you."
"At least she has all her
He thought a moment, then laughed.
"That was pretty good, blondie."
I took his remark as sort of an apology
and a sign that, bad as he was, he wouldn't shoot anyone. I held Shana's mouth shut. She
tried to knock my hand away with her paw, but I wouldn't let her.
The bad man said, "You think you
made a fool of me, so I'm going to teach you a lesson and take that real fine rod and fly
box of your's."
"What would make you steal a rod
from a girl?" I asked.
"You don't know the things I come
"And I don't want to."
"You got that right," he
I moved toward the bank, pulling Shana
"Where, my new fishing friends, are
you going?" he asked.
"Looky here, I was once like
you," Vernon said. "You still have time to square yourself with the Lord."
"I don't believe there's such an
easy way out."
Me too, I thought.
"Then you don't have to worry,"
Vernon answered. "The Lord doesn't always mark his way."
"Be quiet, black man. If it wasn't
for that stupid painting of a trout I take that creel of your's."
"That's my grandfather's
"I didn't say it wasn't good, just
that's it's stupid, to me anyway."
I glanced down river. The river curved
sharply, so I couldn't see most of the pool my grandfather had died in. Grandma, please be
there, I prayed.
"Now blondie give me that rod."
I looked into his blue eyes, then again
glanced down river. A green fly line flew out from behind the bend. The line's tight loop
unrolled. The fly turned over perfectly and landed gently on the water. Few people, I
knew, could make a cast like that. My grandmother was there! Maybe there really is a God,
I told myself.
"Look at that gun," I said.
"I bet you it doesn't even work."
"You want to find out?"
"Be quiet Amanda," Vernon pleaded.
"Even if it does work, I don't think
he's brave enough to shoot out here where someone might hear it. You want this rod? Show
me your piece of junk gun works."
He looked behind him. Stone-faced, he
pointed the gun at the sky. I was sure he didn't have the guts to fire it. He grinned. The
explosion echoed in the sky. It was so loud I must've jumped. Shana jerked her head free
and barked. I grabbed her mouth again and squeezed it. Shana cried, but I didn't let go.
I backed up closer to the river.
"Okay mister. You win." I put the rod down, then stepped into the river. Shana
followed me in. I reached into my fly-fishing vest and pulled out my grandfather's fly
box. I made believe it slipped out of my hand. It floated down river.
"I'll get it!" the bad man
He picked up the rod. "Now get out
Shana and I stepped out of the river.
With Vernon, we headed up river. I looked back. The bad man walked along the bank,
following my fly box.
"I'm not going to let him hurt my
grandmother," I told Vernon.
He grabbed my arm, but I pulled it free.
"Take Shana.," I said.
"Hold her mouth shut." I got into a crouch, and picked up a big rock. and slowly
followed the bad man.
I looked towards the bend. My grandmother
didn't make another cast. The shot must've alerted her. The fly box floated around the
bend, then disappeared. I stood up, walked faster and closed in on the bad man. Suddenly,
I saw my grandmother. She walked towards me. Her hand was under her vest, on the gun, I
knew. She stared at the man, then saw her rod in his hand.
Now! I thought. I stood up and threw the
stone with all my might. It hit him in the back. I ran behind a tree.
"I'm gonna get you blondie!"
I closed my eyes, and heard a gun hammer
being pulled back.
"Hold it right there mister,"
my grandmother said calmly.
"Don't turn around."
"Grandma, he's got a gun!"
"Stay behind the tree, Amanda.
Mister, take that gun out real slow and drop it on the ground. I'll kill you in a minute
if I have to."
I peeked around the tree. The man drop
"Now put down that rod," my
grandmother demanded. "Get out of here and don't ever come back."
The man dashed into the woods like a
frightened deer. I ran to my grandmother. I hugged her real hard.
"Grandma I was so scared."
"It's all over now."
"I was scared that, that maybe you
weren't coming back. That maybe you didn't want to suffer anymore, and instead wanted to
die where grandpa did. Tell me you're not going to die. Tell me!"
"Amanda, why would I want to die
when I still have you. Besides, I think it's time I taught you how to tie flies."
That night we went into her room, and sat
at her desk. I tied my first Adams, then my second; and all during the summer she taught
me how to tie Cahills, March Browns, Hendricksons, Blue-Winged Olives and all the other
patterns that took trout on the Junction River.
Before long I learned to tie them almost
as fast as she could. Then I began selling them on the river; and soon I no longer needed
an allowance from my father.
But all was not perfect that summer.
Grandmother refused to take more chemo, in spite of my father's pleadings .
"I can't stand the nausea
anymore," she said. "Besides, I want to enjoy whatever time I have left."
Strange as it was, she soon had more
energy. Her hair began to grow back; but usually she still wore wig.
Right before Labor Day she promised that
we would take a trip upstate and fish the legendary Ausable River, but about a week before
we were to leave, she took a turn for the worse and went back into the hospital. She
fought with the doctors, and still insisted on not taking any more chemo. So the doctors
gave her some more pain killers and sent her home.
Again she rallied, and her energy grew
stronger. She often went with me to Vernon's spot on the river and taught me how to make
curve and wing casts. One day we even got Vernon to try fly casting, but he quickly got
discouraged and picked up his old spinning rod.
"Vernon, you shouldn't give up so
easily," I said. "If a girl can do it so can you. Watch." I made a long,
"That's enough for today," my
"Are you tired, Grandma?"
"There's nothing more I can teach
you about casting. Besides, it's getting close to dinner time, and tonight I want to
She cooked one of our favorites: chicken
in a mushroom sauce.
After dinner we went into the living
room, turned on the TV and watched Jeopardy. Using spoons for buzzers, we played along. My
father was in first place when the first round ended. After some commercials, the second
round started, but my grandmother didn't answer any of the questions. I turned to her. She
seemed to have fallen asleep. A very peaceful expression was on her face. My father and I
didn't want to wake her, so we stopped playing. When the game ended I again looked at
Grandma. She hadn't moved. A chill shot through me. She was dead, I knew.
It took about a week for me to feel
strong enough to go into her room and sit down at her desk. I decided to tie the first fly
she had ever taught me, an Adams. I opened her top drawer and saw a note in her
handwriting It read:
To my son and granddaughter:
Some things in life we can choose,
others we can't.
God has chosen me to die soon. I'm not going to try understand why. Instead, I'm only
going to thank him for all the blessings and trout he gave me in life.
But there is one thing I still want: to die, unlike my father, without suffering, and
where I want. That's why I went to the river, to fish one more day, and then to take my
life and pass into eternity right where my beloved husband did.
I pray that this is the right time, and that now you'll both be able to put your hurt
behind you and enjoy the flowing, up and down, river of life.
That's the ultimate choice we're all left with.
Your loving mother, your loving,
Crying, I read the note over and over
again, then showed it to my father. He read it, then looked at me, but didn't say
anything. I said, "Maybe it doesn't really matter if mom ever comes home." My
father hugged me. We cried together for the first and last time.
The next day after school I went to the
hardware store and bought a small piece of wood, a narrow brush, a can of green paint and
a can of varnish. As soon as I got home I painted, as neatly as I could, my family's last
name, followed by an apostrophe and the word Pool. When the paint dried I varnished the
wood. It took the varnish about a week to fully dry. Then my father got his step ladder
and hammer and went with me to the pool my grandfather had died in. I held the ladder as
he nailed my sign high up on the trunk of a tree.
My father climbed down the ladder.
I said, "I bet you this pool was
always waiting for a name."
"Yeah, it probably was." He
kissed the top of my head.
That night, after I finished my homework,
I went to my grandmother's room and tied about twenty flies. I took them down to the local
fly shop and sold them; and all through high school, college and law school, I made pretty
good money selling flies and teaching fly casting. Since my father had to struggle to pay
my tuition, my small business helped him as much as me.
Did I ever see my mother again?
About six months after grandmother died I
came back from school and saw her sitting on the porch.
I didn't know whether to run to her, so I
didn't. I climbed up the steps, not feeling much of anything. My mother wore a beautiful
tweed coat, the kind women in New York City wore. Her fingernails were well manicured with
red polish. I wondered if her boyfriend had a lot of money.
She said, "Let me hug you."
"No. Look here, if you came back to
live with us I'm going to tell my father we can get by fine without you."
"I didn't come back for that."
"Then why did you?"
"You're my daughter." She
closed her eyes, then covered her face with her hands. She was crying. Suddenly, I cried
too and, out of nowhere, admitted to myself that a part of me loved her and, for better or
worse, always would. I fought back my flow of tears, but couldn't. Without moving, I
watched her for what seemed like forever. Finally, she wiped away some of her tears on her
coat sleeve. "Amanda, I'm so sorry. There are things -"
"Yes there are," I interrupted.
For some reason I thought about Vernon, the bad man in the woods, my grandmother's note
and the events of June 21st. Suddenly it seemed as if that strange day had happened for a
reason. I thought for a few moments.
I decided I wanted to be more like Vernon
and my Grandmother than like the bad man.
I walked over to my mother. I put my hand
on her shoulder, and said, "Okay. Let's go inside and I'll introduce you to my, to my
She took my hand. "Thank you,
Amanda. Thank you."
By Randy Kadish, USA 2003 ©
Randy’s historical novel,
The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make
Peace With The World, is available on