The Fly Casters
When I was a boy I
thought my father was the greatest fly caster on earth, so I grew up dreaming of following
in his way, and not of becoming, as my mother wanted, an accountant.
by Randy Kadish
Now I am a man who often relives the
important events in my life, but when I think back to the five state casting tournaments
my father won, most of their images and sounds have melted into a murky pool. Those that
haven't are as vivid as this morning. They have even ripened, though not in a visual way.
And so I'll never forget that one, very
I'll start telling about it this way: Our
small, historic-looking town was almost exactly in the middle of the state. On the
outskirts of our town was a beautiful, banana-shaped lake. The lake had a long, treeless
bank that was perfectly suited for fly casting. And since our obscure town was in a
valley, we were shielded from the biggest enemy of fly casting: gusty winds.
Those were the real reasons the annual
casting championships were held in our town, though now I'll admit there was some truth in
the words of jealous people who had accused my father of founding the Casting Association
just so he could win tournaments in front of his friends and neighbors.
But there was even more truth in the fact
that my father won fair and square. You see, he loved practicing with his beautiful bamboo
rod, trying new techniques such as holding his rod hand at different levels, and
lengthening his casting stroke. His goal was to cast far as humanly possible, perhaps even
a hundred feet.
And my mother didn't seem to mind that he
spent so much time away from her. I guess she suspected that fly casting and fly fishing
were what really kept my father sober; so day after day, as he practiced on our lawn, I
watched in awe, sure that if he hadn't hurt his elbow in the minor leagues he would have
been one of the best pitchers in the majors, instead of a carpenter.
And I made sure all my friends knew. They
seemed so impressed that a few even asked me for his autograph.
It was about two months before that
My father said I could go with him to the
Casting Association meeting as long as my mother said it was okay. Later, after dinner, as
my mother cleared off the dinner table, I asked her.
"You have homework tonight
and school tomorrow. That's what should be important to you, especially since we aren't as
well off as others."
"I'm eleven. I should be
allowed to go, especially since I've already done my homework."
"All of it?" She asked
as if she didn't believe me.
"Well, most of it. I'll
finish the rest when I get back."
"Then go!" she yelled.
I was surprised by her outburst.
"Are you sure I can?"
She put away the bread, then walked to
the sink. She turned on the water. She said finally,
"Do what you want."
I picked up my plate and glass, put them
on the counter, and ran to my father. He hugged me.
The meeting was held in our old, white,
wooden church. Six other men attended. They formed a circle with folding chairs, and sat
below the stained glass window of Mary holding baby Jesus. I sat on the front pew.
For the next few hours the men discussed
changing some of the rules of the tournament, like how much time and how many casts a
caster should have. Before long all the talk bored me; and since I was worried that my
mother was still mad at me, I wished I hadn't argued with her, and I had stayed home. Then
I'd have my radio on real low so she wouldn't hear me listening to my beloved minor league
baseball team, The Fire Birds.
I wondered if they were winning, then
went to the back of the church. I lay down and dreamed about becoming the greatest fly
caster in the world. When I tired of that dream, I simply changed my imagined scenery and
became the greatest pitcher in the world. Again and again I struck out a menacing batter,
and the capacity crowd rose to their feet and cheered wildly.
My uplifting daydream was broken by the
sound of the church door being opened. I sat up.
A stranger stood in the doorway. He
looked old, maybe because of his long gray hair and beard. He chewed hard on something,
and wore a plaid shirt that wasn't tucked in and old, torn, dirty jeans. On his sleeve was
what looked like a tobacco stain.
My father and the other men looked at
him. There was a long, strange silence. The stranger took one or two steps inside, but
didn't close the door. He said,
"I'm here to enter someone in
the contest. His name is Shane Riley, and he's the greatest distance caster in the
The stranger's voice was deep and
powerful, and seemed too good for his shabby appearance.
"Does he live in the
state?" my father asked.
"Since last year."
My father held up a registration form.
"Have him fill this out and
mail it in with ten dollars."
The stranger walked to the front of the
church. His boot heels banged on the squeaking, wood floor. He took the form, looked it
over, then, without saying thank you, stuffed it into his shirt pocket. He headed back
towards the door. He glanced right at me. His eyes were blue and deep-set. They seemed to
glow like small lights. He nodded slightly, then left, leaving the door open behind him.
His lack of manners made me angry.
I got up and closed the door.
A half-hour later the meeting ended
finally. My father took me by the hand, and we headed home. He didn't say anything, so
neither did I, but when we turned onto our street I asked, '
"Do you think that this Shane
Riley is really the best fly caster in the country?"
"Son, I guess well just have
to wait and see."
"His name doesn't even sound
My father smiled.
Are you scared that Shane Riley will beat
you? I thought of asking, but I guess I didn't want to know his answer nor reveal that,
even if he wasn't scared, I was. So for the next few months I kept my question and fear
all to myself, right up until the morning of the tournament, when I walked to the lake,
holding my father's hand and his fly rod.
The bleachers were almost full. People
came up to my father, shook his hand and wished him luck. Our fat mayor, Bill Reems, told
him how the whole town was counting on him.
"Mayor, I'll try not to let
The Mayor rubbed my head, and I resented
being treated like a kid.
My father took his rod from me and shook
more hands. Suddenly I felt lost, so I walked to the bleachers, looking for my mother. I
didn't see her. Will she come? I wondered.
I sat down by myself and looked for the
stranger with the long gray beard and hair.
I didn't see him, so I thought, maybe
Shane Riley chickened out. I turned to the lake. A long narrow fire seemed to burn on top
of the water. The fire didn't spread or go out. It just stayed the same and hurt my eyes.
I wished I had my friend Bob's good sunglasses. I squinted.
Stretching across the lake like the yard
lines of a football field were six lines of ropes, the distance markers. The closest line,
I knew, was fifty feet, the farthest a hundred. I thought, God let my father break a
hundred feet. But if he doesn't, just don't let Shane Riley beat him. Because if he does,
what will I say to my friends after boasting so much?
My father sat down with the other casters
on the bench borrowed from the church.
I studied the faces of the three casters
I didn't know, and wondered which belonged to Shane Riley. I guessed the young man with
curly, red hair and square jaw. He was lean and looked athletic. I hated him.
Almost immediately, however, I realized
my hate was wrong.
My friends, Mike and Bob, climbed down
from the top row and sat next to me.
Joe Dingly, the Tournament Director,
picked up his battery-powered megaphone and said,
"Ladies and Gentlemen, let's
begin the distance competition. I'll call the casters alphabetically. Tom Brolan will go
I again looked for my mother, but didn't
see her. Tom Brolan's best cast was eighty feet. None of the next five casters beat him.
Finally, it was my father's turn. He stood up and looked at me. He smiled.
"Show them, Dad!" I
He stripped line off his reel, then cast
the line out. He pulled out the slack, then took a deep breath. His back cast shot
straight back and high. His loop was tight and formed and sideways V. The line unrolled
beautifully. Just before it straightened, my father cast the rod forward, slowly at first,
then faster and faster. He pulled his line hand down hard, or hauled, as casters say. He
stopped the rod abruptly. The line shot forward like an arrow. On his second back cast he
hauled harder, and shot the line lower, just the way he always told me a caster should.
He's got it! I thought. My father rotated his hips and shoulders and cast the rod forward.
When his casting arm was all the way out, he stopped the rod abruptly and let got of the
line. I proudly watched as his front loop soared over the eighty-foot marker The black fly
turned over perfectly and landed gently on the water.
Bill Smyth, the official on the dock, yelled out. It was my father's all-time, best
The spectators stood up and cheered. I
was sure that I had the best father ever. Now if only he could break a hundred feet!
He didn't. Again I was scared that Shane
The next caster was called. Since I
didn't know him, I was relieved when his first cast barely broke seventy feet.
Three casters remained. The two I knew
were not as good as my father, but the one with red hair - yes I was right.
That was Shane Riley! I crossed my
fingers, but didn't want my friends to see. I stuffed my hands into my pockets. Suddenly I
was a little lightheaded, and felt as if I was floating and watching everything from high
Joe Dingly picked up the megaphone. He
cleared his throat and called,
The red-haired man didn't stand.
"Shane Riley," Joe
Dingly called again.
No one in the bleachers stood up.
I saw my mother sitting by herself on the
top row of the bleachers. I smiled and waved to her. She didn't see me.
Joe Dingly said,
"Shane Riley forfeits his
I floated back down to the bleachers, and
turned to my friends.
"Shane Riley chickened
The red-haired man walked to the bank. I
stuffed my crossed fingers deeper into my pockets. His first back was off to the side with
a wide loop. I knew then that my father was champion again! I took my fingers out of my
When the competition was over my father
walked over to me, pulled me by the hand and led me to the official's table. Again the
spectators rose to the feet and cheered.
My father hugged me, handed me his rod,
then picked up his gold-plated trophy and held it above his head. He smiled like a boy,
and I saw the space where he had lost a tooth. I wished I could fill it. My father looked
up at the sky and said,
After the tournament my father, mother
and others headed towards the picnic area. The bleachers emptied, and suddenly I again
found myself alone with my father's rod. I walked to the bank of the lake and began
casting. Even though I barely broke fifty feet, in my mind, every cast set a new record
and brought the crowd to their feet.
"You're pretty good,"
I turned. A tall, young man, with blond
hair stood behind me. He
"And that looks like a fine,
fine fly rod. May I try it?"
I didn't like the idea of handing my
father's rod to a perfect stranger, but there was trust in his face and soft voice.
I handed him the rod. He stripped off
more line, then made a perfect roll cast. He started his back cast. The sun flashed off
his gold bracelet. He hauled longer than my father, and as I watched the line shoot
straight back I knew he was special. His second back cast was lower than his first, the
way my father's was.
The line unrolled. He rotated his hips
and shoulders like a spinning top and snapped the rod forward. He hauled the line well
behind his thigh. He let go. The front of the fly line took the shape of a sideways V. It
flew like a rocket at an angle of twenty degrees from the water. The line unrolled. The
fly landed just past the hundred-foot marker.
He handed me the rod and said,
"If I were you I'd save this
rod. One day it will be real valuable."
"How did you do that?"
He smiled and in his warm, blue eyes I
saw the face of the stranger who had walked in on the Association meeting. The stranger, I
now knew, was his father. He said,
"Here's a secret: When you
make your back cast try to keep your casting elbow in a little more."
He turned and walked away. I followed
He turned back towards me. I asked,
"How come you forfeited your
He closed his eyes for a moment, then
"I knew who your father was
from a picture in last year's newspaper. When I watched you holding his hand and - well I
guess it was the way you looked up at him that, that - he certainly is a great
"But not as great as
He again smiled.
I never saw him again, and so my father
won two more casting championships. But then something I didn't understand happened. My
father started drinking again, and soon he lost his job. My mother had to go to work as a
Several times I found her sitting by
herself in the kitchen and crying. I knew enough not to ask why. Things got bad in my
house, you know: yelling and fighting.
So when I turned eighteen and the Viet
Nam war ended, I joined the Navy, hoping to see the world and to get tuition for college.
I remember I just got back from the sea.
I walked into my barrack with my friends. A yellow telegram was on my bed. It stopped me
like a wall. The telegram was from my mother. It read: "Your father is very sick.
Wants to see you."
My friends tried to console me. I thanked
them, then got a pass from my commanding officer and headed home.
The house was empty. A note was on the
dining room table. I picked it up, then ran to the hospital.
My father lay in bed. He emaciated and
pale. Tubes went into his arms and nose. I almost didn't recognize him. My mother held his
hand. She looked at me with sorrow-weighted eyes and said,
"Thanks for coming," my
"There's something I want to
tell you. You know that old elbow injury of mine?"
"Well it never happened. The
truth was, the truth is: I wasn't good enough to make the Majors."
"That doesn't matter
anymore," I assured him.
"Do you remember that casting
tournament where that Shane Riley forfeited his turn?"
"I was so scared that he
would beat you."
"You know, so was I."
"Maybe he never really
My father closed his eyes.
He squeezed my hand. The next day he
Two years later, after I had been
honorably discharged from the Navy, I picked up my father's bamboo rod and walked down to
the lake to compete in my first casting tournament. My name was called on the megaphone. I
marched to the bank, without looking at the people sitting in the bleachers. I started my
first back cast the way my father taught me: slowly and straight back. I kept my casting
elbow in and hauled hard. As the line unrolled far behind me, I broke my wrist for more
power, and on my second forward cast I became the first tournament caster in our state to
break a hundred feet. The crowd cheered wildly, just as I had always dreamed they would.
And I never cast in a tournament again.
By Randy Kadish, USA, 2003 ©
Randy’s historical novel,
The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make
Peace With The World, is available on