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The Immigrant and The Fly-Casting Tournament of 1909
By Randy Kadish

My father could've have become a great baseball player, instead he became a great lawyer; but when he pulled me away from my friends and forced me to go to private school, I became angry at him. More and more I looked up to my mother who didn't become great at anything; so when she told me she was going to deliver food to an immigrant family on the Lower East Side, I insisted on going with her. Later, after our mission, my mother went to work, and I went home and told my father how unfair it was that a family of six people had to live in a tiny, crammed apartment.
His face seemed to harden into stone.
I wanted to soften it.

  "Dad, you should've seen the beautiful fly rod they had."

  "I don't want to hear another word about your trip."

After dinner I went straight to my room, and read some of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY. I closed the book and my eyes, and dreamed I was on the HMS Bounty and was a friend to the courageous Fletcher Christian. I looked into the eyes of harshly-treated sailors and passionately spoke about justice and our need to mutiny.

I heard the front door opened. My mother was home. I heard my father's muffled voice. I opened my door a few inches.

  "Elizabeth, this union thing is going too far," my father stated.

  "Why keep him blind to the way poor people live - why when you don't keep him blind to the way soldiers die in wars?"

  "There are incurable diseases down there."

  "No one in the apartment was sick."

  "Elizabeth, promise me that you won't take Ian or Rebecca to the Lower East Side."

There was a silence. I didn't want my mother to promise.


  I promise."
I was disappointed. I didn't want to hear any more fighting, especially since I was the cause of it all. I closed the door and told myself I loved my mother a lot more than I loved my father.

I was still angry at my father few weeks later when I opened the sports pages and saw a notice that read: "Come to the Harlem Meer in Central Park and watch the greatest fly caster in the world, B.L. Richards, compete in a tournament."

I wondered who this B.L. Richards was, then thought of the fly rod in the immigrant family's apartment. I showed my father the notice.

  "I want to watch."

  "Fly-casting? I don't see any sense in that, Ian"

  "I'm old enough to go myself."

  "All right."

We rode the trolley up Fifth Avenue, to the park entrance at 106th street. We stepped out of the city. In front of us was a long narrow cove that fanned out into the Meer. The cove was shaped like a person's neck. Strangely, the Meer - or rather what I could see of it - was shaped like the profile of a person's head. Around the neck, like a necklace, was a gravel path. Overlooking the path, like the wall of a castle, was a steep, stone hill. We walked around the cove, then around a chin-shaped bend. The bend led to a second cove. This cove was short and shaped like a triangle. The triangle was lined with trees that looked like upside down heads of broccoli. The heads blocked my view of most of the Meer. Two boys about my age fished from the bank with long stalks of unfinished bamboo. Their rods seemed a world apart from the beautiful rod I saw in the Lower East Side apartment.

We walked around another bend and into a third cove. Trees again blocked my view. I felt I was trapped in a maze. Finally we walked into the end of a long line of people. The line of people, I saw, was divided by a long, narrow dock. At the end of the dock was a rowboat. In the boat sat two men wearing straw hats and white suits. Tied to the side of the dock were two parallel lines of rope that stretched out of my view. About seventy feet from the dock, short lines of rope crisscrossed the long lines like the steps of a ladder. The short lines were evenly spaced about five feet apart.

  "Let's get closer, Dad."

We walked behind the line of people, and I saw that the Meer was shaped like a tilted pear, and that the long lines of rope stretched all the way across the pear, to a bushy triangle of land that seemed to split the water like the blade of an ax. We walked on and I saw that the land was really a small island. I saw a narrow space in the line of people. I squeezed in. My father stood behind me.

The dock formed part of an upside-down, capital T. A table and two benches formed the other part. Sitting at the table were two men. One wore a derby, the other a straw hat. Both wore dark suits. I couldn't see much of their faces because on the table were a big megaphone and a big gold trophy. Next to the trophy were two, silver fly reels. Hanging on the front of the table was a grocer's or a peddler's scale. I wondered why a scale was needed at a fly casting tournament.

Sitting on two benches were eight men, holding long fly rods. The men wore suits and looked more like lawyers and bankers than like fishermen. I tried to guess who was B.L. Richards. I picked the caster with a black, handlebar mustache and with deep-set eyes. He looked like an evil person from the Lower East Side.

The man wearing a derby held up the megaphone. His derby looked too small for his long, potato-shaped face. His eyebrows were bushy and looked like little canopies. "Ladies and gentleman, I'm Howard Tucker. Welcome to the Angler's Club annual long-distance, fly-casting tournament. Here are the rules. Each caster will use the same kind reel, line and fly, and will get three casts. Only the longest cast will count, but only if the fly lands between the ropes. Jim Markson, last year's runner-up, is first up."

The spectators clapped. Jim Markson stood and took off his straw hat. He was tall and thin, and reminded me of a baby tree, especially since his short, red beard was the color of autumn leaves. He walked to the table, and put one of the reels on his fiery-orange rod. He pulled white line from the reel and feed it through rod's silver guides. Howard Tucker gave him a small fly. He tied on the fly, walked to the end of the long dock, and pulled more line from the reel. The spinning reel clicked loudly.

The man in the back of the rowboat grabbed the line. The other man in the boat rowed away from the dock. The reel clicked louder and faster and seemed to neigh like a wild horse. When the boat was about a hundred feet from the dock, the man holding the line dropped it between the long ropes.

Hand over hand, Jim Markson retrieved about fifty feet of the line and piled it on the dock. He breathed deeply, glanced up at the sky and crossed his heart. He bent his knees, leaned forward and pointed his rod towards the water. He cast the rod back and out to the side, slowly at first, then faster and faster. The line seemed stuck on the water. It pulled back against the rod and bent the rod into a half-circle. Jim Markson stopped the rod suddenly. The line sprayed water as it flew off the surface like a bird. The rod snapped straight. The front of the line formed a narrow loop. The top of the loop was much longer than the bottom. The loop rolled backward like a wheel, the top getting shorter and shorter, the bottom getting longer and longer, until the top and bottom were the same length - but only for a split second. Soon the rolling loop resembled a sideways candy cane. The loop unrolled into a straight line. Jim Markson cast the rod forward, then stopped it when it pointed to about ten-thirty. The front of the line formed another loop. The top of this rolling loop also got shorter and the bottom also got longer. Jim Markson let go of the line and stabbed the rod forward as if it was a sword. The loop streaked like an arrow, then unrolled. The straight line splashed down on the water, right in the middle of the long ropes.

The man in the back of the boat counted the crisscrossing lines. He put a long ruler on one of the long ropes.

  "Ninety-six feet!"

We all clapped. Jim Markson retrieved his line again. His next cast was ninety-four feet. His third cast landed outside the ropes and didn't count. He reeled in his line, and walked back to the benches.

The next caster stood up; and one by one the fly-casters, including the one with the handlebar mustache, tried to cast farther than ninety-six feet. None did.

The last caster stood up, finally. He wasn't very big. He didn't have a mustache or a beard. He wore wire-rimmed glasses. His complexion was pale. His face looked like it would melt into any crowd. In his face, therefore, I saw the face of a Sunday-school teacher. Mr. Tucker held up the megaphone.

  "Ladies and Gentlemen! Our next and last caster has won this tournament five years in row. He is probably the greatest long-distance fly caster on the planet, B. L. Richards."

Again we clapped.

B. L. Richards put on a reel, tied on a fly and marched down the dock like a soldier. When he was ready, he bent his knees and crossed his heart. He cast back and forth, back and forth. He stopped the rod and let go of the line. The rolling loop tightened and turned into a pointy wedge. The wedge, however, still rolled like a wheel, until the top got real short and then flipped over. The straight line floated down. The fly landed outside the long lines.

  "Damn!" B. L. Richards yelled.

  "No cursing!" one of the spectators insisted.

B. L. Richards didn't apologize, as I thought he should. He retrieved line and cast again. The fly landed between the lines.

  "A hundred-and-four feet!" the man in the rowboat yelled out. Wildly, we clapped.

B. L. Richards, however, didn't smile or nod. He cast again.

  "A hundred-and-two feet!"

B. L. Richards shook his head disgustedly. Mr. Tucker held up the megaphone.

  "For the sixth year in a row our champion is B.L. Richards."

  "Not yet!" someone yelled out.

A young man carrying a fly rod stood on the top of the stone hill. He wore a long white shirt and faded, baggy pants. His hair was brown and wavey and combed straight back. He climbed, then slid down the hill and walked right passed me. He was average size. His eyes were small and close together. His nose was long and a little hooked. In his face, therefore, I saw the face of an eagle. He walked up to the table. "I'd like a chance." He spoke with a slight accent. I wondered if he came from the Lower East Side.

  "The tournament is only open to members of casting clubs," Mr. Tucker said.

To me the rule didn't seem fair, the same way it didn't seem fair that immigrants had to live in tiny apartments that didn't have bathrooms.

  "But I've been practicing all year."

Mr. Tucker grinned. "Young man, are you saying you can beat the greatest fly caster in the world?"

  "I'd sure like to try."

  "Have you ever cast in a tournament before?"


  "Where'd you get your rod?"

  "The rod is legal. It's eleven-and-a-half feet."

  "Let him cast!" a spectator shouted.

  "Rules are rules," B. L. Richards stated.

  "What are you scared of!?"

  "Only God," B. L. Richards insisted.

  "The young man can join my club, but he'll have to pay five dollars, like everyone else."

The young man reached into his pocket and took out some money. He uncrumpled two bills.

  "All I have is two dollars."

  "Sorry," Mr. Tucker said.

I pulled my father's arm.

  "Dad, can I have my next two weeks allowance?"

  "He's a stranger who probably won't ever pay you back."

  "Please Dad? Please?"

My father's face went blank. I couldn't read it.

  "All right." He gave me three dollars.

I took the money and ran up to the young man.

  "Sir, here." I held out the money.

He glared at me, and in my mind I saw long claws coming out of his eyes. I looked at his red rod and wondered if it was tinted with blood. He shook his head no.

  "I'm not a Sir, and I'm not a beggar."

  "Whatever you are, do you want to cast or don't you?"

He closed his eyes, then opened them and grinned.

  "Thanks kid"

He took the money and walked away from me. He turned back.

  "What's your name, kid?"

  "Ian. What's yours?"

  "Izzy. Are, are you from the Lower East Side?"

  "What do you know about the Lower East Side?"

  "I was there. My mother took me."

He smiled.

  "Good for her."

Izzy put the money on the table.

  "My name is Izzy Klein."

Izzy set up his rod. Hunched over, he walked down the dock, but then, step by step, he straightened up and seemed to grow taller and taller. He reached the end of the dock. I walked back to my father. He put his hand on my shoulder and smiled warmly. I thought that maybe I still loved him. When Izzy was ready he bent his knees. I crossed my fingers, but didn't want anyone to see. I stuffed my hands into my pockets. Izzy moved the rod back and - unlike the other casters - straight up. He stopped the rod before it passed his ear. The line rolled behind him. He cast the rod forward, then back again. This time as the loop rolled, he bent his elbow more and lowered his forearm. When the rod was almost parallel to the water, Izzy rotated his hips and whipped the rod forward. He straightened his arm all the way out in front of him, stopped the rod and raised the handle about six inches. The rod pointed in the direction of the streaking fly line. The front of the line tightened into a wedge; and I was sure Izzy was going to win the tournament. I yelled,


The top of the wedge dropped down and tangled with the bottom. The whole line crashed onto the water. People groaned. I looked at B. L. Richards. He grinned. I wanted to punch him. I wondered if I was stupid for believing Izzy could win. Izzy retrieved his line. My father said,

  "Ian, I think this guy is going to do it."


  "The way he rotated his hips and transferred his weight. Remember what I taught you about throwing and hitting a baseball?"

  "But Dad, this is fly casting."

  "The same principals apply to many sports."

I hoped my father was right. I took my hands out of my pockets and held them up. Izzy cast again, and again the line formed a wedge. I wanted to yell, but I was afraid of jinxing the wedge, so I didn't. The wedge kept is shape, and unrolled. But the fly landed outside the ropes. Izzy stomped his foot. I looked at B.L. Richards. His mouth hung open, as if he had just seen a ghost.

Mr. Tucker picked up the megaphone.

  "The cast will not count. Klein has one more cast."

Izzy smiled, surprisingly. He looked right at me. I held up my crossed fingers as high as I could. He nodded and retrieved line and got into his stance. He didn't move. I felt I was trapped in eternity. Izzy looked up at the sky and said something. I wondered what. The ground seemed to tip over. I looked down. The ground hadn't moved. I was dizzy.

  "Dad, I'm scared."

My father laughed.

  "Ian, just imagine if you were up there."

I was thankful I wasn't. I closed my eyes, and even though I didn't believe in God, I whispered,

  "Land between the lines. Land between the lines."

I squeezed my crossed fingers as tightly as I could. Suddenly I felt numb and light, as if I was about to float up. But the gravel path was still beneath me. I opened my eyes and watched the line roll. Maybe the line hypnotized me, because it seemed to roll slower and slower. Finally it straightened. Izzy cast the rod forward; and in my mind I saw a man waving a magic wand and making a snake circle back and forth. Izzy stopped the wand and raised the handle. The snake seemed to turn into a long-winged bird. Then the bird disappeared into a straight line. The line floated down and landed right between the long ropes! People cheered and clapped wildly. My arms and lips were still numb. I couldn't move them.

  "Ian, I think Izzy did it!" my father said.

The man in the back of the boat measured the cast.

  "A hundred-and-eight feet!"

  "Check his rod!"

B. L. Richards demanded. He lay his rod on the table. Izzy marched down the dock and lay his rod next to B. L. Richards's. Mr. Tucker lined up the bottom of the rods with the end of the table. He compared the rod tips.

  "They're the same size!"

  "Weigh his rod!"

B. L. Richards demanded. Izzy pulled off the fly, took off the reel, and twisted apart his rod. He placed the two pieces on the scale. The scale's long, black needle jumped upward.

  "Five-and-three-quarter ounces,"

Mr. Tucker stated.

  "The rod is legal."

B. L. Richards stared down the long line of people. He closed his eyes. I wondered what he would do. He opened his eyes suddenly. He looked at Izzy.

  "Congratulations. I don't know where you came from, but wherever you did doesn't matter. You were the better caster, today."

B. L. Richard held out his hand. Izzy shook it and smiled. The other casters formed a line, and one by one they shook Izzy's hand.

  "Ian, you got your wish," my father said.

  "It's late. We'd better get home for dinner."

  "I want to talk to Izzy."

I ran through the scattering crowd. Izzy was surrounded by a circle of people. I thought of the people circling the peddlers' carts on the Lower East Side. I stood outside the circle, and felt sort of lost. I hoped Izzy noticed me and brought me into the circle.

He saw me, finally.

  "Ian, I owe you."

  "No. Just tell me: Where did you learn to cast like that?"


I wondered what he meant, but I didn't want to seem stupid, so I didn't ask. Other people broke through the circle, shook Izzy's hand and congratulated him. He looked at them and seemed to forget about me.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around. My father said,

  "Ian, we'd better go."


Izzy talked to Mr. Tucker.


I turned away from Izzy. My father and I walked toward Fifth Avenue. The gravel path was clogged with people. We all walked slowly, slowly enough so that Izzy could easily catch up to me. But he didn't. I stepped off the path and looked back. Izzy climbed up the stone hill. He carried his fly rod, but not his trophy. He reached the top of the hill, walked into the woods and out of my view. I looked at the table. The trophy was still on it.

  "C'mon Ian," my father said.

  "Izzy didn't take trophy."

  "Maybe he just forgot it."

No, he didn't, something told me. But I couldn't explain that something to my father, or even to myself. I walked out of the park, hoping, praying that, somehow, somewhere I would see Izzy again. I suppose I did - in my mind, I mean. Because during the next few days I kept seeing him make the long, beautiful tournament-winning cast. Then I saw myself making the cast. More than anything, I suddenly wanted to become a great fly caster, but since I didn't have a fly rod, I again dreamed of going back into made-up time and helping Fletcher Christian lead his heroic mutiny. But I guess made-up time isn't meant to last, because soon I dreamed of going forward in real-life time, and becoming a great baseball player or a great lawyer, like my father. But would I ever become great at something? I wondered. I was scared I wouldn't, and realized I should be proud of my father, especially since instead of choosing to play baseball in crowded stadiums, he chose to argue right and wrong in small, half-empty courtrooms.

Maybe his choice was his way of also leaving a gold trophy behind. And maybe my choice was to love him for at least trying to do what, for him, seemed right. So even though what the tournament didn't change - my father - looked different, what it did change - the course of my life - looked the same.

By Randy Kadish, USA, © 2004

Randy’s historical novel, The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make Peace With The World, is available on Amazon.



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