Updated
2010-
12-05
Swedish version
   

SOLO ANGLER
by Randy Kadish

  At one 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 beautiful."

  "I’m Peter. This is my wife, Maria."

  "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."

  "Yes."

  "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, like you."

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 guide?"

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 it.

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 the pool.

Peter looked upstream. "Wow, a little island. Beautiful."

  "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 durable."

  "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 rods.

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 down."

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 of history."

  "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 downstream.

We fished for about an hour. No takes. I said, "I hope you’re not discouraged."

  "Let’s go after the trout in Bridge Pool."

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 bank.

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 rainbow.

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 that time."

  "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.
(Garcia Pool)

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 Ears.

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 back."

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."

Absolutely."

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 a rainbow.

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.

  "Next Wednesday."

  "I’m going with you."

I thought of how Robert often made, and then broke, fishing plans. "Are you sure you want to go?"

  "Positive!"

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.

No take.

I cast again and again and again.

No takes.

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 angler.

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 the dam

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, still mattered.

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

Check out Randy's historical novel;
The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make Peace With The World
It is available on Amazon.

 

 

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