An Angler Of The
American Civil War
By Randy Kadish
When I was a boy I once found the
courage to tell my father I didn't see any sense in his reading about the American Civil
War. A few years later he told me he didn't see any sense in my reading about fly fishing.
I told him fly fishing was a sport. He told me the Civil War was real history. I told him
real history was often bloody and brutal. He told me fishing was just an escape from life.
And so I wondered if I really wanted to
be an angler. Still I kept reading; and when the weather warmed and the trees bloomed I
took my fishing equipment and rode the train up to the Saw Mill River. I was scared of
embarrassing myself in front of real anglers. Luckily there weren't any. I waded and cast
downstream, as the books said I should. I didn't catch a fish. Then I came to a sharp
bend. Scared of wading into the unknown, I turned and headed home.
But before I got off the train I again
wondered if I was a coward. Angry at myself, I swore would return to the river and find
the courage to wade around the bend. So a week later I again rode the train up to the Saw
This time I saw another angler. He fished
about fifty feet upstream of the fallen tree. He was tall and thin, and wore what looked
like a blue, baseball cap. Hooked in the cap were about twenty different flies. The cap
looked like a miniature birdcage. The angler lifted the line off the water. The line
unrolled perfectly. The angler cast the rod forward, smoothly, effortlessly. The fly
landed gently near the bank. The man, I knew, was a real angler. If he saw I wasn't, I
wondered, would he laugh?
He glanced at me and smiled. He was
elderly. His long hair and thick mustache were gray. I yelled,
"I want to fish downstream of
"Wade slowly. At this
point in my life, catching one more fish isn't going to matter."
His voice had a beautiful, deep tone. He
spoke as if he was educated.
I waded toward him. His hat, I noticed,
was a Union, Civil War hat. Had he been a soldier in the war? He wore a green, sport
jacket. The jacket was dirty and looked old. The front pocket was torn. He didn't carry a
"Are you new here?" he
"Yes, sir. I'm just learning
how to fish."
I stopped wading. He cast about
forty-five degrees or - as the books said - three-quarters to the right of straight
"Welcome to the club."
He fed line through the guides and
watched his fly drift downstream.
"I've been fishing this
stream for forty years. I guess that makes me the senior member of the club."
"Were you in the Civil
He scanned my fly rod from butt to tip,
then looked downstream. He retrieved slowly.
"Is that a Leonard?"
Did I hear resentment in his voice?
Suddenly I felt I didn't deserve such a good fly rod. I muttered,
"How did you get interested
in fishing?" he asked.
"I saw a fly-casting
"I guess all we get here from
What did he mean by that?
"Sir, may I ask: What road
did you take?"
He shook his rod side to side.
"I've always wanted to cast a
I waded close to him and held out my rod.
He smiled. His big blue eyes and his big, square jaw seemed too big for his narrow head
and small nose. His face looked as if it was put together from parts of different faces.
He took my rod and handed me his. Its
finish had several, varnished-over chips. The new varnish was a littler darker than the
original. The red thread-wrap holding one of the guides didn't match the other wraps.
"What do you have on there, a
wet?" he asked
"Have you caught any fish
with the rod yet?"
He pulled line off the reel and, at the
same time, false cast back and forth, letting out more and more line. He let go of the
line. The fly landed just behind a big rock. I was impressed. He smiled.
"This rod feels like it casts
on its own. Guys around here call me Doc. I fish mostly streamers. At my age I like to
keep things simple."
"My name is Ian. Are you a
We shook hands. Since he was a doctor,
why didn't he have a better rod and a better jacket?
"And yes, Ian, I was in the
Again I was impressed; maybe because
instead of looking at photograph of a soldier, I was looking at a real, live one.
"My father used to collect
and read books on the War."
"Yes, when my mother got
cancer he stopped."
"How's your mother now?"
"She passed away."
"I'm sorry. I despise
The fly floated downstream and away from
the bank. Doc kept the rod pointed at the fly and fed line through the guides.
"Do you read about the
"Only for school."
The fly floated under the fallen tree.
Doc pointed the rod tip up, but didn't say anything. The long silence between us became
uncomfortable. The chirping birds, I noticed, sounded as if they screamed to be heard,
like the rowdy immigrants who circled the peddlers' carts on the Lower East Side. I didn't
hear music in the air. Finally I said,
"My father thinks Grant is
one of the greatest generals who ever lived."
He laughed. I heard sarcasm in his tone.
I wanted to know
how he had found the courage to fight in a real battle, but I didn't want him to think I
was a coward.
"What's it like being in
"What's it like?"
He glared at me; but then his eyes seemed
to cool and to go blank. I cursed myself for asking my question.
Doc looked downstream again.
"Sometimes this stream looks
like a road to me, a road where things flow one way. I like it that way. For me the start
of this stream, is the dry, dusty road that led to the battle of Cold Harbor."
He again cast three-quarters downstream.
"Ian, when I was about your
age I loved two things: drinking and fighting. When conscription came in 1863, I was only
eighteen. Since I was too young for the draft, me and my friend, Jim Mullen, decided to
get three-hundred-dollars drinking money by going to a bounty broker and taking the place
of rich guys who just got drafted. As soon as were paid we got good and drunk and stayed
that way until the money ran out. Then we reported for duty.
We were assigned to Eighth, New York,
Artillery Regiment. Our job was to guard Washington, DC. So we were known as just dress-up
regiment. But our commander, Colonel Porter, wanted his chance to prove that we were real
soldiers, soldiers of honor and courage who believed in the ideas of a preserved Union and
liberty for all. And most of the men in the regiment wanted to prove it too. I, however,
just wanted to get back home and start drinking again, but I guess feelings, even good
one, are like diseases: they spread. Soon I became infected with honor and courage and the
Union cause. When Porter drilled us hard day after day, I stopped cursing him and started
respecting him. So in the summer of 64 when we were ordered to march towards Richmond I
Doc stopped feeding line. He pointed the
rod tip up and waited.
"And so we marched under the
hot sun, on desert-dry roads. The dust was as thick as fog. It dried and burned our
throats. At every river we came to - The Rappahannock, The Mattapony, then finally the
Pamunkey - we kneeled down and drank like wild animals. We crossed the Pamunkey and heard
cannon fire. Suddenly we stopped singing, but the birds, I remember, didn't. I'm not sure
what I felt. I guess a part of me looked forward to the fight, but another part - the part
that wouldn't speak in my mind - was scared. The sun rose higher, blazed down on us like
fire, as if it wanted to punish us and burn us into ashes and then into wind-blown dust.
The sound of the cannons got weaker; so
we thought the battle was dying down, but soon we saw the truth: we were lost. When Porter
finally figured out the right way, he marched us all night so that we wouldn't lose our
chance to fight the Rebs.
When the sun rose we were surrounded by
thin trees that
looked like giant pencils. The leaves on top of the trees shaded us like umbrellas. We
were grateful for the shade, but exhausted. Porter ordered us to rest, not realizing that
as we rested the Rebs dug deeper trenches. On top of the trenches built defensive
breastworks of dirt and long logs; so looking back, I often wonder if Grant should have
realized that the tactics of the war were about to change."
There was another silence. Doc stared
downstream. He didn't move the rod or retrieve line. I wondered if he was lost in his
story. Doc reached for his canteen and drank.
"Still to this day I wonder,
and I guess I always will. Ian, as my regiment waited, some men read the bible for the
first time, surprisingly even Jim. Other men reread letters from home or wrote new
letters. As for myself, I just wished I had some whiskey. Finally the day turned into
night. I lay on my back, and looked up at the stars. Somehow I just didn't believe that
the next day I would die. I feel asleep and was woken by rain, a warm, comforting rain.
Many of us took the rain as a good sign from God. But the Rebs, I knew, got the same
Doc lowered the rod, finally, and
retrieved line. He cast almost straight downstream. I wasn't sure I wanted to hear more of
the story, but I knew it was too late to ask him to stop what I started.
"Ian at first I thought I
might sink and drown in the mud, but soon I got used to the mud. It almost felt like a
soft bed. Finally the rain stopped. The sun rose and we were covered with a heavy, wet,
fog that blocked our sight like a wall. Half-blind, we formed a long, long line and
marched straight towards the Rebs.
Through the fog I saw a long, dotted line
of about a hundred small flashes. Then I heard a long, rolling explosion that sounded like
thunder. No one in our line fell. The Rebs' first volley was too high. We marched on in a
perfect straight line. The Rebs rifles flashed and thundered again. A bullet whizzed by
me. I heard loud screams. Friends fell on both sides of me. I smelled gun powder. The fog
still hid the Rebs. 'Hold your fire!' we were ordered. 'March on!'
Like good soldiers we did. I saw more
flashes and heard more explosions. Thinking back, the explosions sounded like the loud,
fast clicking of a fly reel. Above the Rebs' line I saw small puffs of smoke. The puffs
hung like balloons, then expanded and blended into the white fog. The deepened fog seemed
to cancel out the sun. More friends screamed and fell. I glanced to my left, then to my
right. Our line was full of gaps instead of soldiers. Since some soldiers attacked faster
than others, our line had become a long, irregular wave. I saw the Rebs' rifles sticking
out from their breastworks.
'Fire!' one of our officers called out.
We fired, then quickly we reloaded. More friends screamed and fell. I guess the only thing
protecting us was from the lead bullets were the weightless fog and smoke.
I thought of turning and running, but I
knew if I did everyone back home would know. Shame seemed worse than death; so I ran
forward, yelling, 'One Union! Liberty!' And suddenly it was as if the explosions and the
screams weren't real, or as if a steam engine inside me burned and melted my fear, and
molded it into anger. I ran right at the Rebs. Again I fired and reloaded. All of the
sudden the soldiers leading our attack turned and ran towards me. 'Retreat!' they yelled.
I turned and ran too, straight back to
our officers who sat on beautiful horses. The officers ordered us to stop. Like good
soldiers, we obeyed and reformed our line. Again we attacked, and again friends screamed
and fell. This time, however, we got so close to the Rebs we saw the outlines of their
But again we retreated. We ran and ran,
then stopped and frantically dug a long, wide trench with our bayonets. Someone yelled out
that Colonel Porter was dead. When the trench was about a foot deep, we lay down, reloaded
and waited for the Rebs to attack.
And we waited. And the fog and smoke
lifted. And we looked at hundreds of our fallen friends, who covered the field like the
rocks covering the bottom of this stream. But even worse than looking, we listened to
their loud, shrieking cries and pleas. Some of the pleas were for water, others for their
wives. One eighteen-year old, Johnny Briggs, pleaded, 'Mom, please, come get me. Please
take me home. Please don't let me die!'
In the trench, a few men prayed to God to
end the nightmare. But God didn't seem to hear them, because the sun rose and burned, and
the battlefield seemed as hot as an oven. Suddenly I felt like the reality on the ground
was spinning like a tornado and sucking me up into it.
I got real dizzy, Ian. The cries and
pleas got louder and louder. But the Rebs' sniper fire pinned us down; so all we could do
was listen. Without thinking, I prayed that Jim was alive, but then I realized that
praying was stupid because, even though I didn't believe in God, I now believed in Hell. I
cursed myself for joining the Union Army for drinking money and told myself that, if I
survived the war, I would never drink again, because after experiencing Hell, nothing,
nothing would ever be worth drinking for."
Suddenly the fly line tightened. The rod
bent. A rainbow jumped out of the water and shook its head. The line sagged. I said,
"He got away."
"I didn't set the hook, Ian.
This is your fly rod. You're going to be the first one to catch a fish with it."
Doc retrieved line and cast straight
downstream. I waited for him to continue telling about Cold Harbor. Doc didn't. He stared
downstream. I looked into his eyes. He seemed to be in some sort of trance. I hoped he
didn't come out of it, because I wanted to hear only the gurgling stream and the singing
"Ian, where was I? Yes,
nothing would ever be worth drinking for. We waited and waited, and urinated and defecated
right where we lay. And we wondered why the Rebs didn't attack. For some reason I thought
back to how my father only cared about card playing, and how he always yelled at my mother
and me. At first I got really angry at him, and blamed him for my drinking and for my
lying in the stinking trench. But then a strange thing happened: my hatred drifted away
like the morning mist. I felt sorry for my father. Suddenly I wanted to see him again, not
to hear him apologize, but to tell him I still loved him, in spite of everything.
I began to cry, but I didn't want anyone
to see, so I rested my face on top of my arm and lost track of time. Then the sun, I
realized, didn't feel so hot. I looked up. The sun had slid behind the trees. If the Rebs
were going to attack, I knew, they had to do it soon. Looking down the barrel of my rifle,
I stared across the body-littered field. Finally the sun set. I was grateful because I
knew I would live another precious day. I tried to sleep, but couldn't. Instead I stared
at the black, star-filled sky and wondered how the sky could be filled with such awesome
beauty while the earth was filled with such bloody slaughter. Then all of the sudden, one
by one, the stars seemed to brighten, then dim, brighten then dim; and soon it was as if
the stars beat with life, or signaled to each other in their own way. Could it be
possible, I wondered, that the stars, like we Americans, speak the same language? If so,
would the stars, like we Americans, ever try to extinguish each other? I couldn't answer;
so more than anything I prayed that the stars would go on beating and not fade into a
brightening sky, and that the blackness of night would keep the slaughter from resuming.
But somehow I fell asleep.
The rising sun woke me to the chorus of
crying and pleading men. But the chorus wasn't as loud as it had been. Many of the singers
had died. Trying not to see the dead, I again stared down the barrel of my gun, across the
blood-stained battlefield. The sun rose higher and burned brighter. We smelled rotten
eggs. But the eggs, were knew, were really the dead. The sun inched to the top of its arc,
and scorched my back. I cursed the sun and took another gulp of water from my half-full
canteen. Maybe, I thought, we're all going to just die of thirst.
The sun inched down its arc. I was
grateful, until the smell of the dead got stronger, then turned into a putrid stench. To
stop the smell, we tied kerchiefs around our faces, but the stench came right through the
cloth. I wondered if the Rebs would attack and kill us all, of if we would retreat. Grant,
I knew, hated retreats. So I waited and wondered, until finally the sun retreated behind
the trees. The Rebs didn't attack. I would live another day; so even though the stench
grew even stronger, and my throat burned as if the sun was inside it, I was grateful. I
treated myself to one gulp of water.
And so Ian, for three long days we
waited, until finally the chorus of pleading and crying men burned out like a melted
candle and turned into a stench so bad I had to force myself to breathe. I drank the last
gulp of water in my canteen."
Doc cast toward the bank, then stared at
the fly as it drifted slowly downstream. He didn't say anything. I was disappointed. I
guess in spite of the bloodshed, his soothing voice had sort of hypnotized me. Now I
wanted to hear the rest of his story, but knew I shouldn't force him relive his horrific
past. I asked,
"Do you fish streamers the
same way you fish wets?"
"Even in Hell, Ian, there are
miracles. Grant, to his credit, called a truce. A few volunteers collected our canteens
and filled them with water that tasted better than wine or beer. My thirst finally
quenched, I walked up and down the line, looking for Jim. I didn't find him. Jim, I knew,
was dead, and so was almost one-third of our regiment. And so we did what we had to: dug
big mass graves. We walked onto the battlefield and picked up the rotting corpses that
once breathed life and lived with us like brothers. Many of the dead had their mouths and
eyes wide open as if they died gasping for air and looking up at the sky. One poor soldier
had a gaping bullet hole in his stomach. Through the hole his intestines crept out like a
snake. But the soldier hadn't died right away, because his bloody hand held a bloody
harmonica in his mouth. I tried to pry the silver instrument out of his stiff fingers, but
suddenly, even though no one was looking, then I felt ashamed of my greed. I carried the
poor soul to the mass grave. I covered his face and harmonica with dirt.
We spent most of the day burying our
friends and turning the battlefield back into a meadow, in spite of the blood. Then
something real strange happened: Many of us, including me, walked across the meadow. The
Rebs waved to us. We waved back. They got out of their trenches and met us halfway. We
shook hands and shared cigars, cigarettes and stories of the war. Except for the color of
their uniforms and their accents, they didn't seem any different from us, especially
because none of us talked about the politics of the war. I guess for that hour or so we
all felt we were on the same side: Hell's. One of the young Rebs had a baseball and asked
if I wanted to have a catch. As we threw the ball back and forth he told me his name was
John Turner, and his family owned a big farm in Arkansas. I told him my name and that I
was from Lockport, New York.
'Are you a farmer? he asked.
'I'm really not much of anything,'
I answered shamefully.
'Yank, I'm a man of the soil and
of the lakes and the rivers. I can't wait to plant seeds and to fish. Yank, do you like to
'When I fish I feel close to God."
"Now Ian, the idea of fishing
and being closer to God seemedreal strange. So I hoped the Reb would explain it.
'If the good Lord is willing,' he
said, 'after the war, when the blood has flowed out of these rivers, I'm going to come
back up here and fish. What are you going to do, Yank, when you get home?'
'Don't really know yet.'
'Soon I reckon you will.'
Suddenly we were ordered back to our
trenches. I carried the ball to the Reb, shook his hand, looked into his eyes and thought
of how strange it was that in another hour he might kill me or I might kill him. We turned
and walked away from each other.
We lay in wait in our trenches for five
more long, endless-like days. Finally, before the sun rose on the sixth day, we were woken
and ordered to retreat down a narrow, dusty road. A few days later, we figured out the
road led towards Petersburg. Grant had changed his plans, and his tactics too. You see,
from that point on, Ian, he didn't order any more frontal attacks.
Now because my regiment was so battered,
we were moved to the rear of the army, and luckily didn't come under any heavy fire during
the next nine months of the war.
One more thing I should tell you. During
our march towards Petersburg, I wrote to my father, and told him that I couldn't wait to
see him. I waited for his reply. It never came. When I got home I learned why. My father
had been killed when he was caught cheating in a card game. My uncle then told me that,
over the years, my father had invested all his winnings in railroad stocks. My uncle gave
me the certificates. They were worth a small fortune I thought of selling them, but
instead I took a job on the Erie Canal. But no matter how hard I tried, the cries and
stench of the dead soldiers, their frightened stares, kept going through my mind. Often I
lay awake all night, scared that the sun would rise and that the killing would start all
over again. Then one morning I got a notice from the post office. I answered it and was
handed a long, thin package. The young Reb I had the catch with had mailed me one of his
handmade fishing rods. Luckily, I worked with a guy who taught me how to fish, and on the
first day he did, I forgot about Cold Harbor. So I fished every almost every day, then I
landed a big fish and I looked into his eyes and realized that, after seeing so much
death, I wanted to save life. I released the fish and decided to become a doctor. I sold
some of my stock, thanked my father and went back to school."
Doc looked at me. He smiled
suddenly, turned and cast three-quarters upstream. I turned with him.
"How do you feel about the
"On one side of the scale are
three-hundred thousand dead boys, robbed of the most precious thing on earth: their lives.
On the other side of the scale are the Emancipation Proclamation and a preserved nation.
Who knows which way the scale will tip a hundred years from now. But what I often wonder
about, Ian, is who really knows why in war one man lives while another, perhaps even more
moral, dies. Is it because of where they kneel in a battle line? And who knows why a
battle is won or lost? Is it because an officer misreads a map and gets lost? Or is it
because a pouring rain slows an army's advance?
And who knows if the fate of a battle,
and maybe even the whole war, will turn on some small act, and if this act is random or
the will of an unseen God."
He stared at my rod. He ran his fingers
over its smooth finish.
"Leonard gave up making guns
so he could make rods. He was an artist. Thank you for letting me use his rod."
"Sir, thanks for the
"I hope you always
I wondered what he meant, but I didn't
want to sound foolish. I didn't ask. Doc reeled in the line. He reached into his pocket
and took out a small tin box. He opened the box. It was full of brown and orange flies.
"These are my secret weapons,
so to speak. I tie them myself. They're streamers. Here. Take three. Now when you get
downstream, just past the long pool, you'll see an opening on the west bank. Take that
opening and you'll be two blocks south of the train station."
"Maybe I'll see you next
"Ian, my wife had a stroke,
so I really don't get out here much anymore."
"I'm sorry to hear
"Hell, we're just happy to be
alive." He smiled. His teeth were crooked and yellow.
"Doc, did you ever come to
believe in God?"
He looked into my eyes and smiled.
"Ian, in my office I have
notebooks with the name and the weight of the two-thousand-eleven beautiful babies I
brought into this world. And with each birth I am awed by the magnificent, complex make-up
of every living creature. It defies imagination. So every time I am awed, I thank a power,
whether I call it God or not."
Doc put his hand on my shoulder.
"Ian, it's time for you to
find your fishing way."
I didn't want to leave someone who I
suddenly saw as a real friend, but I knew he wanted me to. I waded downstream and ducked
under the fallen tree. How strange it seemed that I learned more about the Civil War on a
stream than in a classroom or from my father. But what about Doc's old, dirty coat, and
his old, chipped fly rod? Weren't fisherman were supposed to be great tellers of tall
tales? Maybe Doc hadn't really fought at Cold Harbor.
I waded around the bend and into what
looked like a different stream. This stream's banks were low and lined with
mushroom-shaped bushes. The sun, unblocked by overhanging trees, burned like a flame on
the smooth surface of a long, long pool.
Squinting, I looked for seams to cast to,
but didn't see any. I decided to follow the instruction of the fly-fishing books and fish
the deeper, cooler water. Stepping on the flat gravel bottom, I waded toward the middle of
the pool. When the water was above my waist, I stopped wading and pulled line off my reel.
Way downstream the river seemed to turn into a small circle that got smaller and smaller,
then disappeared into the meadow. Suddenly, in my mind I saw and heard Union soldiers
attacking, and falling, and crying out to their loved ones. Maybe, I realized, it didn't
matter if Doc made up some of his story. It seemed to have enough truth to be real. But
did I, who didn't have the courage to stand up to Brett, have the courage to attack in a
bloody battle like Cold Harbor? I didn't think so. I looked at my Leonard fly rod and
wondered if I deserved to fish when so many boys fought and died in wars. Maybe not, I
decided. But I'm here. And maybe I really was a good son to my mother and, therefore,
should just forget about wars and enjoy what's left of the day.
I fished for two hours without a take.
Discouraged, I thought of turning back, of wading toward Doc and fishing some of the
broken, shaded water. But I didn't want Doc to think I gave up so easily, especially now
that the sun was sinking and the bushes were shading the water along the west bank.
I took out Doc's fly and wondered if it
really worked. I tied it on and cast toward the shaded bank. My fly drifted slowly
downstream. I raised my rod tip and waited. No take.
I waded five feet downstream and again
and again cast toward the shaded bank. Still no takes. Maybe I was foolish for believing
Again I cast. The line slid away from the
bank. It snapped tight and pulled on the rod tip. A fish was on!
I raised the rod and quickly reeled in
line. Electric-like surges pulsed down the rod, my arm and through my body. The fish
bolted downstream. I gripped the rod handle. The fish pulled line off the reel. The reel
clicked, faster and faster, then whined. I pulled my elbows in and pressed them against my
chest. The fish didn't let up. The rod throbbed. The reel shrieked like a frightened pig.
I slowly raised the rod tip rod and put
more pressure on the fish. I tried to retrieve line, but he fought back hard. Afraid he'd
break the thin tippet, I quickly lowered the rod tip and reeled in slack line. I again
raised the rod.The fish slowed. The reel whined. I again lowered the rod tip and reeled in
line. The line and the rod went dead. I held the rod still, hoping to feel a pulse. I
didn't. Damn! I thought. I lost him. What did I do wrong? I reeled in line.
Bang! The line snapped tight and again
throbbed with electic-like jolts. The rod bent almost into a half circle. The fish jumped
out of the water. It was a huge rainbow. The line sagged like a loose clothesline. Reeling
as fast as I could, I wondered if the rainbow was still on. I stopped reeling and stood
still. The rod pulsed weakly.
The rainbow was still on! I slowly raised
the rod tip. The rainbow bolted downstream again, this time toward the east bank. Keep him
away from the bank, I remembered. Don't give him any slack!
The reel shrieked again. Slowly, I tried
to pull the rod tip and point it toward the middle of the stream. I couldn't. The rainbow
seemed to weigh a ton. My heart pounded. Struggling to hold the rod tip up, I wondered, is
this what it feels like to be in battle?
Deeply I breathed, waiting, hoping for
the fish to tire. The throbbing weakened slightly. Again I tried to turn the rainbow.
Again he fought back hard. My arms felt heavy and tired. The rainbow pulled my elbows out
from my body. He was winning the tug of war. I fought back and pulled my elbows in. I was
bent over, I realized. I slowly stood up straight, wondering, will I ever get him in? Keep
the pressure on him! Keep the rod tip up! The reel again shrieked. I told it to shut up.
The rainbow pulled my elbows out again. I closed my eyes. My back ached. The rod seemed to
turn into heavy lead. I thought, is this why I became an angler - to be in a small war?
Don't I hate war? The rod lightened, I realized. The rainbow was tiring too! I inched the
rainbow away from the bank. I lowered the rod and reeled in line. The rainbow broke toward
the other bank. Surprisingly, I easily turned him.
My rod pulsed weakly. It was time, I
knew, to try to bring the big fish in. Holding the rod tip high, I slowly, steadily reeled
in line, expecting the rainbow to bolt again. He didn't.
Finally, I brought him close to me. He
swam to my right. I easily turned him. He swam to my left. Again I easily turned him. I
reeled him close to my feet. He was over a foot long. I kneeled down and grabbed his tail.
He seemed to look at me. I wondered, did he ever see a person before? And what do I look
like to him? An evil monster? I said,
"Don't worry, Mr. Rainbow.
I'm not going to hurt you. After a fight like that you deserve to live. And so do I."
I tucked the rod under my arm and pulled
out Doc's fly. For about a minute I pushed and pulled Mr. Rainbow back and forth to get
water through his gills. Finally Mr. Rainbow tried to break free. I let go, expecting him
to swim away. He didn't. Scared, I wondered, did I hurt him? I splashed water. He darted
away, suddenly, and disappeared into the pool.
Grateful, ecstatic, I stood up. My heart
still beat fast and hard. I told myself, now I'm a real angler! But I'm alone. Will anyone
besides Doc and my father believe I caught such a huge rainbow? Well I believe it. For
now, I guess, my belief will have to be enough. Strangely, I didn't feel like fishing any
more. I wanted to tell Doc about Mr. Rainbow. I reeled in line and waded upstream.
Doc wasn't there. Disappointed, I told
myself I again would see Doc, and climbed out of the stream and rode the train back to New
York. As soon as I got home I told my father about Mr. Rainbow.
"And I met this old guy who
told me about, about...."
"About what, Ian?"
My father, I realized, probably didn't
want to hear about the Civil War.
"About how he loved my
Later, I went into my father's study,
picked out a Civil War book, and started reading about the battle of Cold Harbor. Suddenly
I didn't care if the book's version matched Doc's In my mind Doc's version would always be
the true version; and after hearing it, and after getting to know him, I was sure I really
wanted to be an angler as much as I wanted to be a long-distance fly caster.
I closed the book and started counting my
father's Civil War books. I counted fifty-seven. I told myself that, even though I still
hated war, I would keep the fifty-seven books until the day I died.
By Randy Kadish, USA, ©
The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make
Peace With The World, is available on