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The Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum
Beaver Kill River - Photo Credit: The Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum

The Fly Caster Who Tried to Make Peace with the World
Chapter 11
by Randy Kadish

Page 2 of 2

et’s walk to the mouth,” Mr. La Branche said.

The pool semi-circled to the right. Upstream of the pool was a long, narrow run. Standing in the end of the run was a small man wearing a plaid jacket and a gray cap. His hair and mustache were streaked with gray. He looked about ten years older than my father.

“Theodore!” Mr. La Branche called.

The Fly Caster Who Tried to Make Peace with the World

“George, who’s your friend?”

“Ian. He has the curiosity to become a great angler.”

I was proud.

“Nice to meet you,” Mr. Gordon said.

We shook hands. His grip was weak, like a girl’s. He looked suddenly ten years younger than my father, maybe because of his diminutive size or because the way the sunlight brightened his smooth, baby-white face.

“George, here are the flies I tied for you.” Mr. Gordon handed Mr. La Branche a small matchbox.

“Thank you. The hatch should start soon.”

“Yes. I already tied on my fly.” Mr. Gordon held up a tiny, dark-brown fly. “Here’s the one I tied for you.” Mr. Gordon spoke softly, as if his voice were a fly he was scared of splashing on the water. He opened his silver fly box, took out a fly and gave it to Mr. La Branche.

Mr. La Branche studied the fly, then tied it on.

“Theodore, I see two good seams: the vertical one at the mouth and the horizontal one up there.”

“Fine. Ten minutes at each seam. Ian, we’re having a sort of contest. My fly is a little bigger and darker than those that are going to soon hatch. Let’s get ready. Ian why don’t you stand in the middle. Let us know when ten minutes have passed.”

“Sure.”

“George, how are things at the club?” Mr. Gordon asked.

“We had a knockdown, drag-out debate last night over your last article. Some members just don’t want to see that there might be a new truth to fishing dry flies. Instead, they prefer to sit in judgment and look down at us.”

“George, they’re just people, like me and, and—look, the hatch!”

Mr. La Branche walked upstream.

Mr. Gordon, I soon saw, was a good caster, but not as good as Mr. La Branche. Several times his fly missed the seam or splashed on the water.

Ten minutes later the anglers switched positions. As I watched the contest, I wondered if I witnessed history being made. If so, how important was the history in the scope of the history of the wide world? It certainly didn’t compare to Gettysburg, or perhaps even to the Hudson River celebration. But at least at the Covered Bridge Pool, I was the only witness. Besides, was there any way to tell how big small histories would one day become?

Three more times Mr. La Branche and Mr. Gordon switched positions. When the contest was over Mr. La Branche had hooked four trout, but lost one. Mr. Gordon had hooked and landed two trout. Both anglers released their catch.

“George, if you had a softer rod, that trout wouldn’t have broken off.”

“If I had a softer rod I wouldn’t have been able to hit the target so many times.”

“The fish that count are the ones an angler lands.”

“Not to me.”

Mr. Gordon smiled. “Stubborn as ever.”

“Maybe, but remember: I believed in you when almost no one else did.”

“Let’s fish for the love of it,” Mr. Gordon said. “Ian, take my favorite spot, the tail.”

I walked downstream and studied the tail. It had many seams. I decided, therefore, to fan cast the tail with Doc’s backwards streamer. And so I cast about 20 feet straight across, let my fly swing directly downstream, then waited, gently moving the rod tip up and down. Finally, I retrieved my fly, cast 5 feet farther and let my fly swing downstream in a wider arc.

I continued the fishing cycle until my cast almost reached the bank, then I waded five feet downstream and restarted another cycle.

An hour or so later, I didn’t have a single take even though Mr. La Branche and Mr. Gordon each had several. Embarrassed, I was angry at myself for choosing the wrong strategy. Wanting to prove to the men I was a real angler, I decided to change strategies and cast directly to some of the seams. I retrieved my line. It felt heavy, as if my fly were caught on something. I pointed the rod up. The line seemed to pull back. A massive brown trout jumped. Quickly, I lowered the rod and reeled in slack line. Knowing I had to keep the brown out of the fast, tail water, I baby-stepped backwards toward the bank, then jogged downstream, reeling in more and more line. The brown broke upstream for slower water. The first tactical advantage went to me. Pointing the rod up, feeling it throb, I slowed my whirling reel with my palm and kept steady pressure on the brown. He broke for the far bank. I lowered the rod, waited, and turned him. The throbbing weakened into a pulse. Reeling in line, I quickly waded to the middle of the pool. The brown swam in a small oval. I waded right up to him. He swam right into my hand, as if he knew I was going to let him go and wanted to say hello. He was as big as Clay’s monster trout. I held him up.

Mr. La Branche and Mr. Gordon applauded. I held the trout underwater and let him go. He didn’t seem to want to leave, as if liked being with me. Still, I splashed water and chased him away.

A few minutes later Mr. La Branche yelled, “Ian, I have to head back.”

I reeled in my line and walked upstream.

“Ian, what did you catch the brown on?” Mr. Gordon asked.

I showed him Doc’s streamer. “Mr. Gordon, could you tie the fly for me?”

Mr. Gordon studied the fly. His brow wrinkled. He looked older again. “Backwards? Interesting. I’ve never seen anything like it? Who tied it for you?”

“A drunk who fought in the Civil War, then became an angler and a doctor.”

“Give me your address, Ian, and I’ll tie and send some to you. In the meantime, here’s some dry flies for you to practice with.”

“Thanks, Mr. Gordon.”

Mr. La Branche and I rode back through the covered bridge.

“Ian, what does your father do?”

“He’s a lawyer.”

“I’m in investment banking. Is that what you want to be, a lawyer?”

I decided to tell Mr. La Branche I wanted to be a writer.

He grinned.

Was he laughing at my dream?

“I envy Mr. Gordon for being a writer,” Mr. La Branche said.

“So you don’t think I’m crazy for also wanting to be one?”

“In the end, we all have to do what we believe in. Mr. Gordon could have been successful in business, but he chose not to. True, I don’t understand how he can live with just a dog on the Neversink River. It must be lonely as hell, especially during the winter. He used to fish with a woman. I think she broke his heart and that’s why he shuts people out. But who knows? Maybe his heart was broken for a reason, because he needs the time alone to write. One day he’ll be remembered for revolutionizing fly fishing in America.”

Will wanting to be an angler and a writer, I wondered, lead me to living alone, like Mr. Gordon?

We passed another farm.

Could Mr. Gordon really be the ghost in John’s story? Is that why his skin is so pale and why his age seemed to keep changing?

“What will I be remembered for,” Mr. La Branche muttered. “Making money?”

“But aren’t you writing something?”

“Just taking notes. I’m not a writer, even though Mr. Gordon wants me to write an article.”

“Why don’t you?”

“Ian, supposing at the end of my long, long day, it’s proven that on fast water, wet flies take more fish than dries? Or supposing it’s proven the size, form and color of the fly are more important than the presentation? What a fool I’ll look like. I wouldn’t want to publish anything unless I know I’m right; and sometimes, sometimes, I get so tired of all my experiments. Sometimes I wonder just what the hell I’m doing. When I fish I don’t even see the beauty of the rivers anymore. I don’t, don’t—.”

A silence. For me, an uncomfortable one. I tried to think of the right words to say. Finally they came to me. “But you do see the beauty of your experiments.”

He smiled. “I guess that’s one way to look at it.”

Another silence. This one wasn’t uncomfortable. I looked at the Beaverkill River and wished I could turn into a bird and see the whole river in a few hours.

“Ian, where can I drop you off?”

I still hoped to see Ray. “At the Forks. I have a few hours before my train.”

“Next season would you like to fish at my club?”

Did Mr. La Branche’s invitation mean I passed his fishing test? Or did it mean he accepted me because my father was a lawyer? Or both? Or neither? Whatever it meant, I wanted to accept it, but I also wanted to be loyal to Ray and to the anglers closed off from parts of the Beaverkill. How could I want two very different things at the same time? But I couldn’t be disrespectful after all Mr. La Branche taught me.

“Sure, Mr. La Branche.”

He reached into his pocket and took out a business card. “Next spring telephone me and we’ll arrange something.”

We reached the Forks and said good-bye. His firm handshake, his warm eyes, his gentle nod told me his invitation was sincere. Grateful, I walked to the banks of the Forks. Ray wasn’t there. My gratitude gave way to disappointment. I tied on one of Mr. Gordon’s dry flies and fished the tail, often looking over my shoulder and hoping Ray appeared.

Like Izzy, he didn’t.

I looked at the fast rapids and wondered how many men, beside Ray’s father, were killed there. Was throwing men from their rafts the Beaverkill’s way of striking back at men for cutting down trees? For killing Indians?

It didn’t seem possible.

I walked to Ferdon’s Eddy. Ray wasn’t there. I waded below the mouth and practiced what Mr. La Branche had explained about casting. First, I aimed 5 feet above the water and slightly downward. The line landed first. The fly floated down like a leaf.

Proud, I pointed the rod to the side and cast, trying to make the leader curve.

I couldn’t.

What if I cast vertically and pretend to throw a curveball? I wondered.

I did. The leader curved upstream! Again I cast, pretending to throw a screwball.

The leader curved downstream!

Thrilled that I had combined techniques of casting and pitching, I decided to forget about Ray and to enjoy the hour of fishing I had left. I tied on Doc’s fly and cast 45 degrees downstream. After every third cast I waded about five feet downstream. Though I tried to watch the line for takes, in my mind I kept seeing beautiful images of the Forks and the Covered Bridge Pool.

Suddenly I realized I wasn’t lonely or, for that matter, wasn’t anything except lost in the beauty of the Beaverkill. Where I came from and where I was going, no longer mattered; so even though I didn’t catch another trout, I wasn’t disappointed about anything, until I looked at my watch and saw the time.

I walked back to the Antrim Lodge, packed, went downstairs and heard loud laughter in the tavern. I opened my fly box and looked at Clay’s lucky fly. I walked down to the crowded tavern, but didn’t see Clay.

Ralph looked at me. “You’re too young to drink.”

“Can you give this to Clay for me?” I held up Clay’s fly.

“Sure. Sooner or later he always ends up here.”

A half hour later I sat in the train, looked out the window, and saw a green clearing that stretched across two mountains. The clearing looked like a beautiful lake. A few minutes later, the mountains disappeared. Had I left the Catskills too soon? Did I to have to wait eight, long months, an eternity, to see them again?

I saw two distant mountains, one behind the other. Their slopes seemed to crisscross like swords. I was proud of my simile, until a minute or so later when I realized it wasn’t right for me to compare the peaceful Catskill mountains to weapons, and to compare the Beaverkill to a long battlefield. To apologize, I told myself I would see the mountains and the river differently, the way they really were: soothing, comforting—yes, motherly—images of a wider, more mysterious, often unseen world.

I closed my eyes and leaned my head back. I was proud I hadn’t given in to my fear and stayed home, and therefore had come to believe that, in spite of the death of my mother and the death of so many young soldiers, maybe the world, or at least some of its smaller worlds, were beautiful. But could I be a part of the Beaverkill world and, at the same time, a part of the New York City world?

I hoped so, then I wouldn’t have to leave my father and sister. You see, already I knew the Beaverkill was going to be a part of my life, or should I say, I was going to be a part of its.

I wondered how big a part.

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Copyright © 2007 - 2013 Randall Kadish, All Rights Reserved

Additional Articles
Fishing Beneath a Marble Sky
Going Back Again
The Fly Caster Who Tried to Make Peace with the World
Fight Wind: Learn The Double Haul
Reach That Faraway Target

About the author
Randy Kadish is an outdoor writer and avid angler who has spent countless hours experimenting with long-distance fly casting techniques. For this novel he extensively researched the history of flyfishing, particularly on the famed Beaverkill River during the golden era of the early 1900s. "Flycaster" is his first novel, but his short stories and articles have been appeared in many publications, including Flyfisher, Flyfishing & Tying Journal, Fishing And Hunting News, StriperSurf.com and Sweden's Rackelhanen fly fishing magazine. Much of Randy’s writing is about the techniques of spin and fly casting, and about the spirituality/recovery of fly fishing.
Randy’s novel, The Fly Caster Who Tried to Make Peace with the World, is available on Amazon.

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