I am a
I was born in a city,
and grew up in a city, and fish in a city or in rivers that are near
train stations close to a city; so when I walk down the street or ride
the subways, when I carry my fly-fishing gear, when I wear my official
fly-fishing vest and wear my galoshes over my felt-soled wading boots,
people stare and probably wonder: Is he an alien?
No, I'm not, I know.
I'm just someone on
his way to Grand Central Station, where last week I bought a train
ticket and a slice of Junior's cheesecake, and rode the rails up to
Croton Falls to fish the Croton River.
The branches of the river flow into a big pool about a hundred yards
behind the small village. The pool reminds me of the famous Junction
Pool on the Beaverkill River, but the Croton Falls Pool is not famous;
and neither am I, though I once wanted to be.
I stepped off the
train. Since the Croton River is fly-fishing paradise for many, no one
in the town stared at me. I was sort of invisible. Thankful, I tried
to decide where to fish.
The big pool? The
shallow, rocky riffles of the East Branch? The long, long, slow pool
of the lower West Branch? The classic trout water of the upper West
The Upper, I knew,
was popular with the anglers who formed, what I called, The Croton
Falls Fishing Club.
But I was from the
city and not a member.
I put on my waders,
set up my seven-foot, four-weight rod and thought, it's a weekday. The
Upper shouldn't be too crowded. Besides, I can walk the path alongside
the river, and easily find unfished water. And if the Upper is a
crowded--well, aren't I a little lonely?
I crossed the
footbridge, then Route 100. I turned left on Butlerville Road. Only
three cars were parked near the bridge over Garcia Pool. I knew,
therefore, I would have most of the river to myself, but not whether I
should I be grateful.
I looked through the
woods. Three anglers stood in the clearing on the pool's bank. The
clearing was really a clubhouse without walls. Wondering if I was
going to be welcomed, I stepped into the woods and walked into the
clearing. A bulletin board hung on one of the trees.
The anglers looked at
me. They were in their sixties, probably, and were strangers to me.
They stood around a small table, a rectangular piece of wood nailed
onto a fallen tree. They ate sandwiches, using waxed paper as plates.
"With all the
cold weather fishing has been real slow," the angler with long,
hippie-like, gray hair said.
The stocky, bald
angler stared at my galoshes.
I said, "They
make funny noises when I walk."
the stocky angler said. "Where'd you come from?"
"The city. I
took the train up."
the long-haired angler said.
the tall angler said.
"Have you ever
fished up here?" Gil asked.
"Two years ago I
fished here a lot. Are the big browns still around?"
Jim bit into his
roast beef sandwich. "The state and city, "he said with a
full mouth. "Aren't taking care of the river the way they
"And they're not
doing anything to stop the poachers," Gil insisted. "Guys
are coming in, using worms and taking fish."
"We call the DEP
Police," Jim stated. "But they take their time getting here,
and by then the poachers are gone."
I looked at Pat. He
said nothing. He was the quiet one, I assumed.
Jim and Gil filed
more complaints in my mind. Soon, however, their complaints shucked
their anger and hatched into cherished stories about big fish they
caught or lost, and about how, ten years ago, the Croton was a great
river to fish.
So I wondered, was
there was a golden age of fly fishing the Croton the way there was a
golden age of fly fishing the Beaverkill? And are these obscure
anglers - Gil, Jim, Pat - of the Croton, reflections of the historical
anglers - Hewitt, LaBranche, Darbee - of the Beaverkill?
"After that one
got away," Jim said. "I never used 7x tippet again."
Jim looked into my
eyes, warmly and, without speaking told me I was accepted into the
club, in spite of my galoshes.
I asked, "Who is
Gil grinned. He
finished his turkey sandwich and said, "He's a heck of a guy and
an angler who used to be like the Mayor here. Just before he moved to
Vermont we named the pool in his honor."
"But we might
rename it again," Jim said.
shouldn't," Gil argued. Looking right at me, he said, "You
want to know about Garcia? I'll tell you. Garcia always boasted of his
skill at playing and landing fish. Well one day he forgot to bring
leaders; so he borrowed a 4X, fluorocarbon leader from his buddy, Sal,
then tied on a Woolly Bugger. About twenty minutes later Garcia hooked
a monster rainbow. He played the fish for about five minutes, but just
as he was about to land him, the fish broke off. Garcia lunged with
his net, but slipped and fell face-first into the river. His hat came
off and started floating downstream. Garcia jumped up, and started
chasing his hat. Finally he landed it with his net. He put it on.
Water dripped down his face. He stared at Sal and yelled, 'Are you
sure that was 4X fluorocarbon?' Sal swore it was and said, 'At least
you landed your hat.'
"Anyway, about a
year later Garcia and Sal were eating breakfast in a diner when Garcia
started reminiscing and laughing about his losing the rainbow and
falling into the river. Sal finally admitted that he had mistakenly
given Garcia a 5X nylon leader. Garcia jumped up, marched out of the
diner and didn't talk to Sal for a month."
The members of the
club laughed; so I did too.
"What about the
time," Jim said. "Garcia spent days trying to catch the big
brown living below the bridge. He tried twenty different flies; then
one day as he ate lunch, an angler no one had ever seen before, made
three casts under the bridge and hooked the big brown. Garcia spit out
his soda and screamed, 'He took my fish! He took my fish!'"
To me the Garcia
stories didn't ring true. But again I laughed; and in my eyes Gil and
Jim stood in a warmer light, maybe because I often wrote half-true
fishing stories, and because I knew Gil and Jim were just trying to
turn someone they missed into a legend.
Will anyone ever want
to turn me into a legend? I wondered. Probably not, I answered, then
remembered I had a seven-seventeen train to catch. I asked,
"What's been taking fish lately?"
"Nymphs and Caddises. I'm going with Hare's Ear. Well, let me
give it a a shot. I'll take below the bridge"
Jim said, "I'll
take the middle. I'm staying with my beetle."
I looked at Pat.
He didn't say
One by one the
members of the club stepped down the bank and waded to their
I thought of walking
upstream and leaving the boundary of the club, but then I decided I
didn't want to be alone yet, especially since there was plenty of
unfished water upstream of the pool's mouth.
But there wasn't a
hatch; so I tied on my favorite attractor, a Royal Wulff, and waded
toward the mouth.
The Mouth Of Garcia Pool
The water was almost
up to my waist, but so clear it looked as if it wasn't there. I
counted the lace eyes of my boot, then looked upstream. The river,
shaded by overhanging branches, reminded me of a train tunnel. The
roof of the river tunnel, however, had holes in it. Sunlight poured
through the holes and seemed to turn into flat, hanging sheets of
weaved mist. But when the sunlight crashed onto the river it seemed to
break and scatter and turn into small, bobbing flames.
I stared at the fire
and was sort of hypnotized. Then I snapped out of it and remembered
where I was. I pulled line off my reel and cast my fly down and
I fished for about an
hour, often watching the members of the club, often hearing the voices
of Gil and Jim. But most of their words were drowned by the rumbling
of the turbulent tail water. I managed, however, to hear something
about someone named Robert, then something about Gil's ex-wife moving
to, or living in, Vegas.
reason - maybe my own projection - I sensed that Gil still missed her,
then I thought of a woman I still missed. For the hundredth time I
asked myself if I should have said good-bye. Then I told myself, I'm
not here to find an answer. I'm here to fish!
Slowly, I waded and
fished upstream, losing sight of Gil, then Jim, then Pat. The sound of
the rumbling tail faded into the sound of boiling water.
I didn't catch a
fish; so I retrieved my line, looked at my cherished Royal Wulff and
told myself not to be stubborn.
I tied on a beetle.
Ten minutes later I
landed a twelve inch rainbow. I pulled the beetle out of his mouth and
looked into his eyes. I saw fear, whether it was visible or not, and I
wished I could tell the rainbow we were in a no-kill zone.
And if we weren't? I
wondered. Would I still let him go? Was I as he was: a predator? Or
was I as he saw me: a mountain-size monster? An alien?
No. I was none of
those; so I wanted to change the rainbow's point of view. Gently, I
put him back into the river and let him go. He darted away, grateful
to be free, I was sure.
I cast to the seam
behind a fallen tree. My loop was tight. My fly turned over and fell
gently; and in my mind I saw orange and gold leaves falling, then
white snowflakes. Soon, I told myself, it will be too cold to fish,
unless I can do away with winter.
But I can't. So next
winter I'll study fly fishing, the way
I studied fly
casting. And maybe, finally, I'll become a good angler.
Why? I wondered. Just
to catch a fish and to let him go? What's the sense of it all? Why is
it the older I get the more I fish, the less I work? Just who am I
these days? Do I know, really?
The fast-moving water
bowed my line downstream and dragged my fly. I forgot to mend. I
retrieved line and cast upstream, again.
Most of the small
flames, I noticed, had gone out. The sun had retreated behind the
king-size trees that lined the river and reminded me of a fortress
wall. The darkening riffles reminded me of miniature, undulating hills
or sand dunes.
The riffles, I
thought, will hide me from the trout. I'll be invisible, again.
Thankful, I looked
downstream and saw a rise, then another. I thought of wading back; but
then a young girl and a man I assumed was her father waded into the
river, near the rises.
Now it was too late
to wade back, the way it was too late to wade back in life and to play
baseball instead of football - a sport I was too small for - and be
the athlete my father wanted, and it was also too late to accept my
mother before she got sick and be the close son she wanted.
father stood behind his daughter, and moved her casting arm back and
forth. Finally, the father let go of his daughter's arm. Her loops
widened into circles. She giggled.
I wondered, am I ever
going to be a father? Or has too much time passed by?
I retrieved my line,
waded to the bank and climbed up to the path. I walked upstream,
toward Frustration Pool, the big pool below the bridge at Croton Falls
An angler wearing a
white baseball hat fished the pool.
watched the angler false cast. His loops were wide, like the girl's.
His line splashed onto the water. He too was a novice angler; so I
wanted to help him, but knew I couldn't unless he asked.
I climbed down the
steep bank and waded into the run below the pool. I cast upstream. My
beetle landed in the fast tail water. I retrieved my line, quickly and
asked myself, is the water too foamy for trout to see a floating
insect? Should I try a weighted streamer? Is that what more
experienced anglers would do? If I only had a longer, richer angling
past to draw from, to predict the future from. But does the past
always answer the questions of the future? If so, why don't I know if
I'll one day earn enough money from writing to support a son or a
Suddenly, I felt
powerless and frightened, like the trout I had let go. I tied on a
weighted Woolly Bugger and cast to the tail, again and again.
Still no fish. I
climbed up the bank and walked upstream.
The novice angler
looked at me. He was young and big and built like a weight lifter. I
smiled and asked,
"I'm new at
how I feel."
He grinned. "I
fish up here because I'm scared that the guys down there will laugh at
A big guy like you, I
thought of saying.
you," he said. "You can really cast." He hung his head,
shamefully I thought.
Is he just too afraid
to ask for help? I wondered. "I didn't laugh at you," I
said. "My loops were once wide too."
I smiled. "Well,
what I learned is not to pull and push my elbow. Instead, I keep my
elbow closer to my body, and rotate my hips and let them move my elbow
back and forth. To help me to that, I start the cast with my right
foot a little behind my left."
His dark eyes opened
wide. He was really listening, I knew.
I demonstrated a
cast, then said. "Also, casting a fly rod is different than
throwing a baseball. When casting I always try to move my hand in a
straight line. To do that, I break my wrist only halfway at the end of
my forward cast."
He lifted his line
off the water, keeping his elbow in place. His loop was tight. He cast
the rod forward, moving his hand in a straight line. His loop was
again tight. I was gratified.
"Thanks. Where'd you learn to cast?"
"I guess from
His mouth dropped
open. My answer confused him, it seemed; but not having time to
explain it, I walked on.
He yelled out,
"My name is Brad."
I looked back, told
him my name and said, "Maybe I'll see you on the way back."
And maybe, I thought,
I am a good teacher, like the father downstream.
I crossed the bridge,
and walked passed the little island, and then the wide bend. I waded
into a slow-moving, dry-fly run, and tied on a Royal Wulff, again.
Thirsty, I reached for my water bottle, but then I cupped my hand and
drank from the river. The water tasted cool and filtered-clean.
Suddenly, it was as if surround-sound speakers were turned on. Birds
chirped, but their notes - some loud, some faint - were spattered like
paint on a high ceiling and weren't shaped into a song.
I looked up but saw
only one big, black bird. If I could disappear, I thought, like a bird
in a tree, I'd catch more trout.
I closed my eyes. The
gurgling river played a looped, soothing melody. I was sort of
hypnotized, again. I snapped out of it, and asked myself, since nature
always broadcasts in high-fidelity stereo, why for the past hour have
I heard only the lone, incessant voice in my head? I opened my eyes,
pulled line off my reel and cast toward the gentle riffles. I told
myself, forget about fishing the big pools. Concentrate on this run.
Upstream below waterfall
Upstream the river
was as straight as train tracks. The plunging, crashing water of the
distant waterfall shined like white silver and sounded like the
rumbling tail of Garcia's pool.
An angler sat on the
bank. A low branch his face. Startled, I flinched, then waited for the
angler to say something.
I stepped upstream,
passed the low branch. The angler, I saw, was old, close to eighty,
probably. I asked, "Did I take your spot?"
resting. Are there a lot of guys downstream?"
"Up here the
fishing isn't as good, but sometimes I have it all to myself."
"So you don't
like fishing Garcia's Pool?"
"I come here to
fish, not to talk," he stated. "Besides, the pool isn't
anyone's to name. I started fishing the pool right after I got back
from the war. There was no Garcia around then."
The old angler wasn't
a member of the club, I knew. I said, "I see your point."
hundreds of faces come and go on this river, hundreds, including yours
now. And I've, I've...."
I waited for him to
I pulled line of my
reel and asked, "Do you fish anywhere else?"
"I fished almost
every great river in this country: The Madison, The Ausable, The
angler around here has fished the Beaverkill."
favorite river?" I cast upstream, slightly.
His laugh sounded
like a howl. It reminded me of a chilling wind. "There is no
favorite," he insisted. "Like people, rivers have their own
characteristics, but what kind of angler are you that doesn't know
that hen you come right down to it, all rivers are a chain of riffles,
runs, and pools?"
Are people really
like rivers? I wondered. Are we all just a chain of regrets, hopes and
fears? I said, "Maybe you can tell me something I should know:
How are rivers born?"
help you catch more fish?" He laughed again.
Maybe he's right, I
thought. After all, will knowing change this moment and help me put my
regrets, hopes and fears aside? And will knowing, therefore, help me
assume the shape of this river? Help me become as tall and as wide as
I can see and hear? Help me run through this hilly countryside for the
next thousand years?
Because soon I will
grow old and weak and unable to stand here and cast a fly rod, unable
to borrow, to become this vision, as so many anglers - Jim, Gil, Pat,
Garcia - have before me; and as so many anglers will after me.
So in this moment am
I every one of them? Am I therefore no one? Am I just a link in the
chain of infinity?
But today I didn't
have to ride the rails and join the angling club; so I must be more
than a moment. But what? A chain of choices? A self?
So when night - a
link of infinity - comes and I ride the train home, maybe I won't
choose to hear or to see my regrets and my fears. Maybe I'll instead
hear and see dreams and memories of catching trout and letting them
go. I just wish trout could choose also more than deep pools, or
shallow riffles, or long runs.
But trout aren't city
My line bowed way
downstream. I forgot to mend, again.
"Are you fishing
or dreaming?" The old angler asked sarcastically.
I retrieved my line
and looked at my watch. It said six-forty. I waded to the bank,
climbed out of the river and walked back to the train station.
I fished the Croton
three more times that season. Each time many of the faces and the
names of the anglers changed.
And the face of the Croton changed too. It became lower and slower.
And the hatches
changed. They became sulfurs, then tricoes.
And, as I knew they
would, the colors of the overhanging leaves changed. They became
orange and gold.
And though the holes
in the roof of overhanging branches didn't change, one cloudy day the
holes let in rain instead of sunlight; and the water became pockmarked
with large, splattering drops.
But it wasn't only
the river, the anglers, the hatches and the leaves that changed.
I changed too. I
still thought of my regrets, my hopes and my fears, but they became
shallower, slower and fainter.
And through it all
something didn't change. I still walked the streets and rode the
subways, carrying my fly gear, wearing my vest and my galoshes.
And I still received
I was still a city
And something more.
Maybe one day I'll
exactly know; but today it's all right if I don't.
Text and photos by
Randy Kadish 2005 ©