by Randy Kadish
time I saw myself as a solo angler, as someone who cherished fishing on
my own schedule - starting and ending whenever I like - without worrying
about someone else’s time card, so to speak.
And yet I also saw myself as a sociable
angler, as someone who looks forward to meeting and talking to anglers,
and to then moving on whenever the moment seems right.
And I was a happy angler - then
something changed. Suddenly, I became bored with fishing. So I started
taking stock of my life, and wondered if, because I was an outdoor
writer, fishing had really been a way to an end: to writing and getting
published. Could it be, therefore, that maybe, just maybe, I was never
really in love with fishing after all?
Again and again I asked myself this
question: and then one evening I was returning from fishing the Croton
River and got off the Metro-North train. A man about thirty years old
asked where I fished. I told him.
"I’ve heard about the Croton.
I’ve always wanted to fish it. How is it?"
"Not very long, but very
"I’m Peter. This is my wife,
"I’m Randy. Nice to meet you."
We shook hands.
"I’d like to go up there with
you sometime," Peter said. "I haven’t fished since I moved to New York."
"It’s better if we can go during
the week when the Croton isn’t so crowded."
"I can take a day off. I have a
license and a DEP permit."
I gave him my card. "Send me an email.
I’m sure we can arrange something." He stared at my card and smiled.
"You’re an outdoor writer."
"Impressive. I’ll be in touch."
A few days later I received an email
from Peter. He mentioned he was an architect, and could take off next
Tuesday, before he started work on his next project. I suggested we meet
in Grand Central Station and catch the 10:48 train. He agreed. Then I
wondered, Do I really want to spend so much time on a train with a
stranger? Besides, maybe Peter is just using me as an unpaid guide. I
shouldn’t have let him rope me in.
Monday night I didn’t work late,
luckily. The next day I met Peter in Grand Central Station. We bought
tickets and boarded the train.
"I hope you don’t mind," Peter
said, "but I googled you. I read ‘City Angler’ and ‘Going Back Again.’
Great stories. Your book sounds interesting."
"It’s not doing well. The truth
is if I had it to do over again I would have listened to my mother and
gone to law school." Quickly, I decided I didn’t know Peter well enough
to tell him that lately I felt like a failure.
"I feel lucky to be an
architect, but I’d feel even luckier if I could fish during the week,
I asked how he became an angler. He
told me his grandfather often took him fishing. "Fishing just stuck with
me. When I was in college I used to work during summers as a guide for a
lodge in Alaska."
"What was it like, being a
He filled me in on the good and the
bad, and I wondered if I should one day become a guide. Soon the
conversation drifted to the kind of architecture he designed and liked.
He and I both liked pre- and turn-of–the-century architecture. Suddenly
it occurred to me our conversation was flowing with the ease of a
country stream. I was glad I had committed to fish with him.
We were in Croton Falls before I knew
I said,"This is the whole town, all
one-quarter of a block of it."
We walked through the parking lot, and
then turned onto Croton Falls Road. We walked about a quarter of a mile
to the bridge above Bridge Pool. I said, "Look down."
About twenty rainbows were scattered in
Peter looked upstream. "Wow, a little
"The riffles are called Hal’s
Hole. He’s a guy who used to fish here all the time, especially, I
think, right after he went through a divorce."
We climbed down to the bank. I said,
"The upper part of the river is a long, long run."
We followed the path upstream. The
sound of the crashing water coming out of the dam got louder and louder,
and in my mind I heard the sound of an engine. About a minute later the
dam and the white, crashing water came into view, and in my mind I saw a
drift of snow.
I said, "This is as close to the dam as
we’re allowed to fish."
"This river is beautiful. An
architect couldn’t have designed it better."
"Remember the bitter, old man in
‘City Angler?’ That’s the log he was sitting on. It’s amazing the log is
still here after all the floods and all the years. I wish I were as
"What about the old man?"
"I never saw him again. I just
hope he’s still alive."
We put on our waders and set up our fly
I said, "We should fish different
flies. What are you going with?"
"What do you suggest?"
"A caddis emerger. I’ll start
with a streamer. Do you want to fish upstream of me or down?"
"I guess I’ll start a little
We climbed down into the stream and
started fishing about thirty feet from each other, within speaking
range. Peter roll cast three-quarters downstream, then so did I.
Suddenly, like actors on cue, we
stopped talking. I wondered if somewhere in the universe an angler’s
code said that not talking when fishing is okay.
No takes. Peter waded about ten feet
downstream. So did I.
I said, "This is where the father
taught the girl to fish in my story."
"You’ve given this place a lot
"Thanks, but I just recorded it.
Every time I fish this spot the thing I regret the most about the
choices I made is not having kids."
"Maybe you will."
Peter smiled, stiffly, as if he didn’t
know what to say.
Another silence. We again waded
We fished for about an hour. No takes.
I said, "I hope you’re not discouraged."
"Let’s go after the trout in
We climbed up the bank, and followed
the path downstream to the pool.
I said, "We’ll have to fish the pool
one at a time. You’re my guest. You go first."
Peter waded into the pool. I sat on the
The pool was much wider than the long
run. Peter roll cast across stream and let his emerger dead-drift
downstream. On his third drift he hooked and landed a sixteen-inch
Ten minutes later he landed another.
It was my turn. I tied on a caddis
emerger. No takes. I asked, "What am I doing wrong?"
"Don’t blame yourself? Keep at
it and the takes will come."
I thought, Why am I always so quick to
blame myself, in fishing and in life?
A take, finally! I pointed the rod up
and retrieved line. The rod pulsed once or twice, then went dead. The
rainbow was free.
I said, "I must’ve done something wrong
"Downstream takes are hard,
especially when we have slack in the line. What I like to do is try to
delay a second, then sweep the rod to the side and pull in line."
"I’m going to try that."
A few minutes later, a take. I followed
Peter’s advice. After a short fight I landed a beautiful rainbow.
"Peter. I’m glad you’re here."
The Croton beckoned more
and more anglers.
It was Peter’s turn again, and soon I
lost track of time, but not of the number of fish we landed. Peter
landed three more. I landed two.
I asked, "Let’s move downstream."
Two hours and no landed fish later we
reached Garcia Pool. No hatches. We tied on searching nymphs, Hare’s
I said, "Why don’t you take the water
just below the mouth. That’s where I once landed a huge rainbow. We’re
lucky to have the whole stream to ourselves."
We fished for another hour or so,
slowly wading downstream. Peter landed another nice rainbow. I hooked a
beast, but lost it just before I could grab it with my hand.
"That counts," Peter said. "If
you had a net you would have landed it. Anyway, I got to start heading
I looked at my watch. An hour of
daylight was left. Had I been by myself I certainly would have fished
it, but surprisingly I didn’t resent leaving the sunlight behind.
During the train ride back Peter told
me his father was a psychiatrist who specialized in treating adolescents
for depression, often with medication. I trusted Peter enough to admit I
had been in therapy for many years, but had never taken medication. "If
I had, maybe I wouldn’t have been so motivated to work out my defects,
but then again maybe I would have enjoyed my life more. I know
medication has saved my sister’s life. Have you ever taken any?"
"Once, after I went through a
break-up. Who knows, maybe they saved my life too."
Before I knew it the train pulled into
Grand Central Station."
"Randy, thanks so, so much.
You’re a great, great guide. Let’s stay in touch."
We got off the train, shook hands, and
headed for different subways. I was sad that one of my greatest fishing
days had come to an end. Then it hit me: The real reason I was tired of
fishing was because I was tired of fishing alone.
A few days later I emailed Peter and
told him I looked forward to fishing with him again, even if it were
during the week, when the Croton was crowded.
He didn’t email me back. Surprised, I
remembered how I once had trouble communicating, and wondered if I had
said something wrong. In my mind I replayed our day-long conversation.
Nothing I said seemed wrong. My resentment toward Peter exploded like a
caddis hatch. I’d have to go back to being a solo angler.
Alone, I walked to Bridge Pool. I
looked upstream, then down. No other anglers. I was disappointed, then I
told myself, Look at the other side. Be grateful. I have the whole
stream to myself. I put on my waders, set up my fly rod and again tied
on a caddis pupa. I waded into the pool, roll cast across and let my fly
drift downstream, twitching my fly rod, then, when the fly was directly
downstream of me, I raised my fly rod and waited a few moments.
No take. I cast again. A take! I landed
Is this a sign of good things to come?
It was. I landed about ten more
rainbows that day. Thrilled, wanting to share my success with someone, I
called Robert as soon as I got home.
Robert third-degreed me about where and
how I caught the fish. "When are you going again?" he asked.
"I’m going with you."
I thought of how Robert often made, and
then broke, fishing plans. "Are you sure you want to go?"
Wednesday morning, finally. My phone
rang. The number on the screen was Robert’s.
"Randy, I’m really sorry-"
"You’re not coming."
"Don’t you want to know why?"
"I don’t have time. I have to
catch a train."
Angry, resentful, I rode up to the
Croton, telling myself I was a fool for hoping that Robert had morphed
into a person who didn’t break plans. I walked to Bridge Pool, imagining
I was with a friend who didn’t cancel plans or use me as an unpaid
guide. My imagination, however, didn’t whitewash my negative thoughts,
so I told myself that catching fish would. I decided, therefore, not to
experiment with a new fishing technique. Again I tied on a caddis pupa.
I waded into the pool and, as I did a week before, roll cast and let my
fly drift downstream.
I cast again and again and again.
How can this be!? Last week I caught so
many fish using this same tactic Why is the Croton betraying me and
bringing me even more disappointment?
I tied on a streamer. Still no takes.
My anger toward Robert and Peter boiled into a rage. I cursed them. I
cursed the Croton. I closed my eyes. Even though I have the whole river
to myself, I’m hearing the resentment in my mind. Why can’t I hear and
see the beautiful sounds and images in nature? Why can’t I stay in the
moment? Have I forgotten everything I’ve learned in recovery?
I climbed out of the river, sat down
and leaned my head against a tree. I closed my eyes and asked myself if
the Croton were capable of betrayal. After all, one of the fundamental
truths of fishing was that a tactic that worked one day may not work the
next. I asked myself if my feelings of betrayal really flowed out of the
pain of my childhood.
I opened my eyes and looked downstream.
Some of the low, overhanging branches seemed to float on the water. Rays
of sunlight bolted through an opening in the leaf roof, crashed on the
water and turned into bobbing flames. I remembered how I once described
the sunlight as looking like sheets of hanging mist, and how I described
the sun-drenched leaves as stained glass in church windows. I told
myself that I should try to come up with new images to describe the
Croton. I reached for my pen and pad, but then I thought of how maybe,
on this day, I should let the beauty of the Croton speak for itself,
without my interpretation of it.
But is that really possible? After all,
ten minutes earlier the Croton didn’t seem so beautiful. Is the Croton,
therefore, a combination of its own reality and of my perception? Yes, I
think so. Then what changes my perception? My feelings-often negative
ones I’ve learned I can change through prayer and meditation.
I stood up, waded back into the river,
and cast. I retrieved line, varying my speed: sometimes fast, sometimes
slow, and varying my pauses: sometimes long, sometimes short. Before
long I lost myself and my resentments. Are my retrieves a way to create
my own time, my own reality, so that they, therefore, will wash away,
like a river flowing past me, the pain of my past, the hurt of my today
and the fear of my future? After all, Einstein said time is relative.
But relative to what? The speed of light. And on earth the speed is
absolute. So are my retrieves, therefore, really ways for me to stay in
time, in neutral, unalterable moments that will never betray me because
each moment is exactly like the ones before and after? Or maybe time is
both relative and absolute. How? By connecting - in my mind, at least -
the objective and subjective worlds?
Again I cast. Yes, Peter didn’t email
me back, but he helped me become a better angler. And yes, my parents
weren’t perfect, and now that they’re gone, I can see that they did the
best they could, and that feeling empathy toward them, and toward others
in great emotional pain, is the ultimate amends I can make.
Two hours and no fish later I left the
Croton, grateful for the lesson it had brought me. I looked forward to
coming back, whether alone or with someone else.
Spring retreated into summer. The price
of gas skyrocketed. The Croton, therefore, beckoned more and more local
anglers who didn’t want to travel to the faraway Catskill rivers; and in
doing so, the Croton brought me more anglers to talk to, to help me feel
like I was part of a club; but when August advanced, the price of gas
fell, and fishing on the Croton slowed, so most anglers deserted it.
Instead of looking forward to belonging, I again looked forward to
having all the pools to myself, to experimenting with different fishing
techniques. Yes, there were days I didn’t catch a fish, but instead of
frustration and disappointment, I felt connected to moments I didn’t try
to change; and in those moments I saw, all around me, the beauty of the
Croton, and I saw and felt, inside me, the goal of becoming a better
One day I fished the long run
downstream of the dam. Again I remembered that my disappointments in
life had forced me to wade into the river of recovery, and to learn how
to communicate, how to forgive, and how to rise above my failures and
character defects. And I remembered that the blood in my urine chased me
into my first major depression, and to my understanding, finally, the
deep pain my sister and others lived with.
The long run downstream of
I waded upstream toward the dam, the
source of the Croton. I watched a rotating cylinder of silver water rush
from the bottom of the dam, and turn into crashing, white foam, then
into calm, clear water. The shape of water, like my feelings, was not
absolute. Unlike time, it changed. I cast three-quarters downstream, and
watched my fly drift. When it stopped I waded a few steps upstream and
again cast. Again and again I repeated the cycle: wading, casting. Soon
I wondered if my wading was in some way symbolic of my journeying
upstream, into the future, and if my casting were symbolic of my
simultaneously staying in touch with my downstream, my past. Were my
future and past, therefore, connected in each moment so I could I ever
really lose all of myself? Or maybe, like a new writer, I was reaching,
straining for a metaphor, for an answer that didn’t exist, or like me,
were less than perfect, but still okay.
I looked to the bank, and in my mind I
saw the old, bitter angler. I thought of how, because of his anger, he
probably never saw the beauty I saw now. So even if he were here with
me, we’d be in different, perhaps parallel, universes.
For some reason I thought of Sol, my
mother’s brother. In my mind I saw him sitting in his wheelchair. I
wished he hadn’t died, and therefore hadn’t changed the course of my
life. But I couldn’t change the past, I knew. I could only learn from
it, and see that his life, though broken off so soon after the take,
Yes, I had to keep living, to keep
finding a way to enjoy a world that was less than perfect.
Perhaps that too is what the Croton was
telling me, or giving me, the way it once gave the things I didn’t know
I needed most: disappointment, then a feeling of belonging, and finally,
when I was at peace enough to enjoy them, pools all to myself.
Was the Croton, therefore, acting like
a loving Higher Power, a Higher Power I couldn’t always understand?
I looked at my watch. It was later than
I thought. I had a train to catch. Slowly, I waded toward the bank,
thinking that I couldn’t wait for my next trip to the Croton and see if
a new fishing technique would help me land trout. Then I thought of how
it was the "if," the not knowing what would happen on the Croton, that
was calling me back. Was it also calling me back to the joy of living?
And was something else also calling me back? Yes, now it was clear:
During my time on the Croton, nymphs evolved into mayflies, and, without
my knowing it, my feelings about writing and fly fishing also evolved. I
had fallen out of love with the work of writing and in love with the
beauty of fishing; and though the beauty couldn’t love me, it didn’t
matter because feeling love - something I could control - felt as good
as getting it.
So I guess in a way I am no longer a
solo angler. The way of spiritual recovery was always with me, and so
was and the way of the Croton and of all rivers.
I looked upstream, then down. I thanked
the Croton for the lessons it had taught me.
This memoir was originally published in
Yale Anglers' Journal.
Text and photos by Randy
Kadish 2010 ©
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The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make Peace With The World
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