Randy Kadish's Blog

October 1, 2013

My First Fishing Trip to the Beaverkill, September 1911

... Below me a fly line shot out and unrolled. The leader swung left, as if the caster had moved his elbow too much. The fly landed gently, upstream of the line and just outside a swirling eddy. The fly drifted about two feet, then was retrieved. The angler below me wore a black suit, hip boots and a gray cap. He cast again, pointing the rod out at an angle of about 45 degrees to the water. The leader swung again, and the fly landed just outside the eddy.

I walked off the bridge and down the road. Following Clay’s directions, I turned onto a narrow road and into a rocky clearing. The clearing, I quickly saw, was the north bank of the Beaverkill. Across the river, the far bank was about six feet high and tiled with big, flat rocks. Above the bank was a big corn field.

The angler under the bridge wrote something in a small notebook. He looked familiar. Could he be—yes he was, George M. L. La Branche!

I walked to him. “Mr. La Branche?”

He glanced at me. “Yes?” he said coldly.

“I saw you cast in a tournament.”

“I cast in a lot of tournaments.” He stuffed his notebook and pencil into his pocket.

“The one in Central Park that Izzy Klein won. Do you know what happened to Izzy?”

“Happened? I never saw or heard anything about him again. I’m very busy right now.”

Busy? He was fishing. I was stupid for starting a conversation with a man with two middle initials.

I walked downstream. The river widened into the shape of a huge funnel. The funnel, I knew, was the Forks. The stem was the Willowemoc Creek. Like the upper Beaverkill, it was riffled from bank to bank and reminded me of a marching army.

Why, I wondered, did images of armies, instead of beauty, pop into my mind? Was it because I felt I was in foreign, hostile territory and about to do battle with the Beaverkill?

If so, at least I was glad the Willowemoc and Beaverkill armies didn’t collide. Both slowed, surrendered and merged into a large plain of what seemed like neutral territory. The plain, however, was wrinkled by swirling eddies that soon changed directions, as if they were lost and couldn’t find their way.

What formed the eddies?

The biggest eddy disappeared, suddenly, then popped up a few feet downstream.
Did eddies, like stars, form out of nowhere and then disappear?

Way downstream of the big eddy was a big, round island, covered with tall, uneven grass. The island looked as if it needed a haircut; then I remembered the tree trunks that blemished so many mountains.

I thought, Maybe nature was better off not having Man as a barber.

I walked to the pool’s tail. Two currents flowed in opposite directions, like the lines of immigrants strolling up and down Orchard Street. Near the end of the tail, the upstream current about-faced and merged into the downstream current, and the whole river seemed to smooth into a football-field-long pane of sliding glass. At the end of the field, in the end zone, the river sloped sharply, sped up and reformed into a riffled, roaring army, more powerful than either of the armies flowing into the Forks.

Why was it, I wondered, the Beaverkill presented so many different faces of water? Was the Beaverkill like an exposed army donning different camouflages?

But the river had no real reason to feel exposed. A mountain protected it like a fortress wall and enabled the river to quickly surround the island; but instead of storming and sacking it, the river widened and gave way to it, then marched out of my view, without saying good-bye.

How could it? Did the Beaverkill, the sky or the mountains care about me? Wasn’t I like an unloved insect trapped in the vastness of the world? Or was I just trapped in one small world? If so, how many different worlds were there on earth? As many as stars in the sky? Could people go from world to world and not get lost or trapped? After all, less than thirty yards away was my eventual way out of the world of the Beaverkill: the railroad tracks. But for better or worse, for the next two days I had no other world to go to.

I set up my Leonard and tied on a Green Drake wet fly. I decided, however, to go after Clay’s monster trout later on. I walked back upstream, pulled line off the reel, and cast over the neutral plain. The eddies grabbed the line like a thief and wouldn’t let go. I pointed the rod up and tried to mend. The eddies pulled more strongly. I pointed the rod lower and fed line through the guides. The fly sank.

No take. I retrieved and cast a few feet downstream. The eddies left the line for dead, surprisingly. To give life to my fly, I slowly pointed the rod up and down, up and down.

Again no take. Again I cast, landing the line between two eddies. The smooth water grabbed the line.

An hour later I still hadn’t induced a take. Discouraged, I walked to the pool’s tail. The sliding water glowed brighter than a sun-reflecting marble floor.

Was the Beaverkill, or at least what I saw of it, more beautiful than Penn Station?

Not sure, I waded into the tail. The rocks on the bottom were flat, as if the moving water had shaped them so people could walk on them. The water rushed gently around my legs. Instead of trying to push me back or to knock me over, it seemed to caress and welcome me.

A cloud blocked the sun. The water’s glow faded and, like a chameleon, turned into the upside-down reflections of trees and the mountain. I thought it strange that less light brought out more images. The reflected trees and mountain looked as if they were sinking into the earth. Suddenly I didn’t know if I was in the bottom of a wide valley or at the top.

Or was I in both places at once?

I wished every time something bad happened, I could look at a reflection and the world would be upside-down. And then if I could also change the river’s direction maybe I could bring my mother and all the dead soldiers back to life.
But unlike flowing water, the reflections seemed cemented in place. ...

The Fly Caster Who Tried to Make Peace with the World
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Published on October 01, 2013 06:14 Tags: bereavement, fishing, fly-fishing, outdoors-and-recreation, recovery, spirituality

August 19, 2013

excerpt: George La branche, an Immigrant and the Fly Casting Tournament of 1911

... The man wearing a derby held up the megaphone. His derby looked too small for his long, potato-shaped face. His eyebrows were so bushy they looked like little canopies. “Ladies and gentleman, I’m Howard Tucker. Welcome to the Angler’s Club annual, long-distance, fly-casting tournament. Here are the rules. Each caster will use the same kind of reel, line and fly, and will get three casts. Only the longest cast will count, but only if the fly lands between the long ropes. George M. L. La Branche, last year’s runner-up, is first up.”
The spectators clapped. I wondered why Mr. La Branche had not one but two middle initials, and why he wanted both announced at a fly-casting tournament. He was on the small side. He had a black mustache and a cleft chin. He wore a perfectly tailored black suit, a black tie held in place by a small, ivory brooch, and a shirt with a standup collar that looked so stiff I wondered if it would cut into his neck and draw blood. Mr. La Branche looked like a dandy.

I decided to root against him.

He walked to the table and put one of the reels onto his fiery-orange rod. He pulled white line from the reel and fed it through the rod’s silver guides.

Howard Tucker gave him a small fly. He tied it on, walked to the end of the long dock and pulled more line from the reel. The reel spun and clicked loudly. The man in the back of the rowboat grabbed the line. The other man in the boat rowed away from the dock. The reel clicked louder and faster and seemed to neigh like a wild horse. When the boat was about a hundred feet from the dock, the man holding the line dropped it between the long ropes.

Hand over hand, Mr. La Branche retrieved about fifty feet of the line and piled it on the dock. He breathed deeply and crossed his heart. He moved his right foot behind his left, as if he was going to throw a ball, then bent his knees, leaned forward and pointed his fly rod toward the water. He cast the rod back, moving it somewhere between perpendicular and parallel to the water. The water, however, didn’t seem to want to let go of the line. As if in a tug-of-war, the water pulled back and bent the top half of the rod into a half-circle, so that the whole rod took on the shape of a giant question mark. Mr. La Branche stopped the rod suddenly. His casting arm was behind his body and, along with the rod, pointed to about 2 o’clock. The line sprayed water as it flew off the surface like a bird. The rod snapped straight. The front of the line formed a narrow loop. The top of the loop was much longer than the bottom. The loop rolled backward like a wheel, the top getting shorter and shorter, the bottom getting longer and longer, until the top and bottom were the same length—but only for a split second. Soon the rolling loop resembled a sideways candy cane.
Mr. La Branche cast the rod forward, then stopped it when it pointed to about 10:30. The front of the line formed another loop. The top of this rolling loop also got shorter as the bottom got longer. Mr. La Branche let go of the line and stabbed the rod forward. The loop streaked like an arrow, then unrolled. The straight line splashed down on the water, right in the middle of the long ropes.

The man in the back of the boat counted the crisscrossing lines. He put a long ruler on one of the long ropes. “Ninety-eight feet!”

We all clapped. Mr. La Branche didn’t move. He glared straight ahead like a zombie cut off from the rest of the world. He retrieved his line, finally.
His next cast was 96 feet, his last 94. He shook his head disgustedly and reeled in his line. Looking down as if he were disappointed, he walked back to the table. Though I didn’t know anything about fly-casting, 98 feet seemed like a heck of a long cast to me.

The next caster stood up, and one by one the fly casters, including the one with the handlebar mustache, used the same casting stance as Mr. La Branche and tried to cast farther than 98 feet.

None did.

The last caster stood up, finally. Tall and thin, his arms were as long as a gorilla’s. He was clean-shaven. His skin was almost as white as a cloud. He wore wire-rimmed glasses. To me he looked like a Sunday-school teacher. I wanted him to beat Mr. George M. L. La Branche.

Mr. Tucker held up the megaphone. “Ladies and Gentlemen! Our next and last caster has won this tournament five years in a row. He is probably the greatest long-distance fly caster on the planet, B. L. Richards.”

Again we clapped.

B. L. Richards put a reel onto his fly rod, tied on a fly, and marched down the dock like a soldier. When he was ready, he bent his knees but didn’t cross his heart. He cast back and forth, back and forth. He stopped the rod and let go of the line. The rolling loop tightened and turned into a pointy wedge. The wedge, however, still rolled like a wheel, until the top got real short and then flipped over. The straight line floated down.

The fly landed outside the long lines.

“Damn!” B. L. Richards yelled.

“No cursing!” one of the spectators insisted.

B. L. Richards didn’t apologize, as I thought he should. He retrieved some line and cast again.

The fly landed between the lines.

“One hundred four feet!” the man in the rowboat yelled.

Wildly, we clapped.

B. L. Richards, however, didn’t smile or nod. He cast again.

“One hundred two feet!”

B. L. Richards stomped his foot.

Mr. Tucker held up the megaphone. “For the sixth year in a row, our champion is B. L. Richards.”

“Maybe!” someone shouted. A young man carrying a fly rod stood on the top of the stone hill. He wore a long white shirt and faded, baggy pants. His hair was brown and wavy and combed straight back.

He climbed, then slid down the hill and walked right past me. He was average size. His eyes were small and close together. His nose was long and a little hooked. In his face, therefore, I saw the face of an eagle.

He walked up to the table. “I’d like a chance.” He spoke with a slight Polish accent. I wondered if he came from the Lower East Side.

“The tournament is only open to members of casting clubs,” Mr. Tucker said.

To me the rule didn’t seem fair, the same way it didn’t seem fair that immigrants had to live in tiny apartments that didn’t have bathrooms.

“But I’ve been practicing all year,” the young man said.

Mr. Tucker grinned. “Are you saying you
can beat the greatest fly caster in the world?”

“I’d sure like to try.”

“Have you ever cast in a tournament before?”

“No.”

“Where’d you get your rod?”

“The rod is legal. It’s eleven and a half feet.”

“Let him cast!” a spectator demanded.

“Rules are rules,” B. L. Richards stated.

“What are you scared of?” another spectator shouted.

“Only God,” B. L. Richards insisted. “The young man can join my club, but he’ll have to pay five dollars, like everyone else.”

The young man reached into his pocket and took out money. He uncrumpled two bills. “All I have is two dollars.”

“Sorry,” Mr. Tucker said.

I pulled my father’s arm. “Dad, can I have my next two weeks allowance?”

“He’s a stranger who probably won’t ever pay you back. Are you sure you want to give up your allowance?”

I thought of all the baseball cards I wouldn’t be able to buy; and how I still craved the card of the greatest shortstop of all time, Honus Wagner. “Yes, I’m sure. Please?”

“All right.” He gave me three dollars. ...
The Fly Caster Who Tried to Make Peace with the World
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Published on August 19, 2013 07:18 Tags: fishing, fly-casting, fly-fishing, outdoors, recreation, sports

July 30, 2013

excerpt: Where Rivers (and People) Converge

... I walked across the room, picked up the fishing lure, and blew dust off. I thought back to the day my aunt had telephoned and asked if I wanted anything in my grandmother’s apartment.

I answered, “I’ll come and take a look.”

An hour later, I scanned my grandmother’s furniture and bric-a-brac. There was nothing I wanted. Then I saw the lure. Sol had had bigger and more expensive toys, so why, I wondered, had my grandmother kept only this one? Was it because she knew that, in Sol’s eyes, the lure had symbolized what he could only dream of becoming: a healthy boy who fished, played sports and excelled in school?

A voice inside me said, Take the lure. I looked at my aunt and pointed to the lure. “This is all I want.”

“That? You’re kidding?”

“I’m not.”

“The lure always brought back bad memories for me, but I know it was important to Sol and your grandmother. I guess someone should keep it.”

As I rode the subway home, I stared at the lure, cradled it my hand as if it were alive, and wondered who had made it and who had given it to Sol. After all, fishing was never popular in Borough Park, Brooklyn. Is there more of a story to the lure than I know? Should I put hooks on it and see if it really catches fish? No, I can’t risk losing it.

I opened the door to my apartment. Without taking off my jacket, I opened one of my photo albums and turned to a faded, black-and-white photograph of Sol, taken just before he got sick. He’s about twelve. He wears shorts and a white shirt. He looks away from the camera and smiles as if everything is right with his world. Sol, after all, is my grandparents’ first-born and only son. He is their favorite because he is such a big part of their dream of coming to America, of working hard and then seeing their male children become successful professionals: a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer.

I stared into Sol’s eyes and thought, What if Sol had lived and dreamed of becoming a famous writer, disappointing his parents the way I disappointed mine?
The next photo is of my mother, Gilda. She looks right into the camera and smiles, also as if everything is right with her world. She is, after all, pretty, very pretty, and people tell her so and flatter her. She isn’t therefore jealous of her older brother, Sol. She loves and admires him, and is not concerned when, for no apparent reason, he falls down. But then he falls again and again. Other children laugh and make fun of him. My mother often begs him to get up and show everyone he’s all right. He struggles to. The children laugh again. My mother insists they stop. They don’t, so one day she curses and chases them. She catches one and punches him. Later, Sol asks, “Why am I falling so much?”

Soon they know. Sol, the doctors say, has muscular dystrophy and will grow weaker and weaker and then die. So as the months pass, my grandmother spends more and more time taking care of Sol. Soon he is confined to a wheelchair. Often my grandmother wheels him outside. He can’t sit up straight. Children laugh, and my grandmother tells him to ignore the laughter. He cries and demands to go home. Finally he refuses to sit outside.

My grandmother tells my mother, “You have to take my place and become a mother to your younger sisters.”

My mother obeys, but feels neglected and resentful. Her resentment simmers into anger and slowly boils into rage. Soon she wishes, secretly, that Sol would die so she could go back to being a child and having parents who pay attention to her; but when Sol dies her rage doesn’t.

As the years pass, she lashes out at anyone who seemingly wrongs her, especially me, her first-born son. Is it because it is now my task, passed on from Sol, to become the family’s first big success? Is that why I can never live up to her high expectations? Though my mother loves me, she often interrupts me, tells me I’m no good. She beats me with anything she gets her hands on. My arms are often bruised so I always wear long-sleeved shirts. And not once does she apologize. ...
The Way of the River My Journey of Fishing, Forgiveness and Spiritual Recovery
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Published on July 30, 2013 05:06 Tags: al-anon, family, fishing, parenting, recovery, self-help, twelve-steps

July 8, 2013

excerpt: An Angling Legend of the Harlem Meer (NYC)

... Now it was my turn to feel shot full of Novocain. I remembered the power of a good story, especially told by someone who had never written one. I remembered how my father, in his way, had also deserted me and how, even after his death, a part of me wanted him back, partly because I knew if he read my memoirs he would be proud, very proud.

I didn’t have to wonder why Thomas told me his story. He wanted me to write it and, in a sense, keep him alive in the small world of fishing. But did I, a little-known writer with a long line of mistakes in life, have power over who lived and died? If so, did I want it?

The wind, I noticed, had retreated. The leaves were still, and the Meer looked like a life-size frame on a movie screen. Then I realized it was a three-dimensional frame, seemingly a moment frozen in time. Did the Meer somehow create the frame to acknowledge Thomas and to give him a little more precious time? If so, I wished the much larger world could do the same, for him and for other cancer patients as well.

Though the water had become darker, the colors of its vibrating reflections—trees and tall buildings—had brightened, ironically. I thought, again I wish that, as the sun sets on our lives, we became beautiful, like autumn leaves. Are men and women less deserving than leaves because of our mistakes, especially our long, long string of wars? But now, as I look back, I see my cancer-stricken mother having been more beautiful just before she died.

A flock of geese dived and shattered the calm surface of the Meer. The geese and seagulls soon formed two distinct camps on the water. The camps reminded me of opposing armies on the night before they clashed. But the geese swam away. The seagulls didn’t pursue. Yes, geese and seagulls are more like anglers sharing the same lake or river than like opposing armies fighting, killing for the same land.

“Randy, I have to go. Good luck with your test.”

“Thanks, Thomas, thanks.”

I watched him drive out of the park. Will I see him again? I wondered. If I don’t, I’ll miss him. How I wish I could see my parents again. But at least I can still see my sister. Thank God she never overdosed. I wonder what’s going through Thomas’s mind, knowing he might not ever again see the Meer? What will his final journey—to where time cannot go—be like? And what will my final journey be like? Is it better if I don’t know? ...
The Way of the River My Journey of Fishing, Forgivness and Spiritual Recovery
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April 24, 2013

Pier Fishing (With a Fly Rod)

... I walked to the north side of the pier, tied on a popper, and cast upstream. My new strategy didn’t pay off. Were two schoolies all I had to show for my $625 fly rod?

The sun looked like the eye of a giant Cyclops peeking over New Jersey. But the sun’s face, like the face of Mr. Potato Man, was made up of many parts, including what seemed like the mouth of a fire-spewing dragon. The sun beamed down a burning path across the Hudson River. When the sun set, I knew, it would also set on my fishing year. Slowly, the Hudson darkened into gray, but instead of letting go of all its light, the river seemed to divide the light and reshape it into flickering columns. The columns, I saw, were not reflections of moonlight but reflections of the Riverside Park, man-made lights. To me, the reflections looked like the linear-shaped galaxies of a contracted, upside-down world—then the reflections looked more like giant, vibrating subatomic strings, particles supposedly holding the key to understanding the universe and the possibility of even a twelfth dimension.

I asked myself, Am I in it?

No, just in a place where a person’s disappointments, such as losing a friend, take up a single speck of space: in the three dimensions of a pier.

Five miles upstream, the lights of the George Washington Bridge formed the shape of a huge, hanging smile. The smile, surrounded by the shapeless, dark-blue sky, didn’t have a face. I wondered, Is the smile the mouth of the Cyclops? If so, it’s certainly a happy monster, maybe even a bait fisherman who won’t eat the Manhattan skyline. Are the monster’s nose, chin and ears also disguised and hidden in the beauty surrounding me and surrounding all the piers I fish? Beauty, perhaps like the idea of a God or a Higher Power, doesn’t have boundaries like rivers and harbors. Beauty can spread, even to monsters.

A voice inside me said it was time to let go of fishing for the year, and to make peace with winter. I retrieved my popper in a straight line, frequently pausing and creating rings on the water. The movement, I realized, reflected my fishing adventures. They too moved in a line of time, frequently creating fishing rings filled with anglers, including bait fishermen, I could speak to and then feel less alone. ...
The Way of the River My Journey of Fishing, Forgivness and Spiritual Recovery
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Published on April 24, 2013 06:34 Tags: fishing, outdoors-and-recreation, recovery, self-help, spirituality

March 15, 2013

Memories of a Central Park (NYC) Angler

... I turned from the cove, looked across the lake and scanned the banks for other anglers. I didn’t see any. Surprised, I wondered if the anglers had outgrown the lake, or even fishing itself. Will I one day? How many hours have I spent fishing this lake? How many hours talking to tourists and strangers?

“Are there really fish in the lake?” The accent was English and thick as grease. It belonged to a man about my age. His shirt was light gray, and his chest was shaped like a barrel. He reminded me of the Tin Man, but a nice camera hung from his neck. I assumed he had a heart.

I answered, “Big bass.”

“In England I used to fish for carp.”

“Used to?”

“Now I’m more into traveling, but I still have my father’s fishing rods. Maybe they’re worth some money. How could I find out?”

“You can check on the Internet.”

“The Internet? Right. How’d we ever live without it?”

“That’s what they said about the wheel.”
He laughed. “Good luck.”

“Thanks.” I cast, and then thought, Another future memory, I’m sure. Memories, I guess, are like stars: new ones are always forming. But memories don’t have real dimensions. Do memories, therefore, exist only in the expandable hard drives of human minds, like the first memory I have of fishing this lake?

She wore thick, granny glasses and looked like a middle-aged hippie. She told me she was from Boise. I told her I had never met anyone from Idaho. She told me Boise was a great city with a beautiful river and a great orchestra. I wondered if she was just a bit biased, but wanting to fish instead of talk, I looked away from her and watched my fishing line, but out of the corner of my eye I saw her standing there, watching me. For me, the silence between us became uncomfortable. Finally, she broke it and asked questions about New York. Soon I realized she too was lonely and sort of lost. I looked at her and suggested places in the city she might be interested in seeing.

“I used to fish with my father,” she said. “Funny, for so long I kind of forgot how those were the only times I really got to talk to him. I guess now that’s he’s gone I try to forget that he was only sober for two things: working and fishing.”

I thought of asking her if she was a twelve-stepper, but I wasn’t sure if asking was appropriate. Wondering what to say, I came up blank, until I remembered what I had read about listening and showing empathy by reflecting back a person’s words. I said, “That sounds like it must’ve been really hard on you.”

“It was. That’s why I don’t think about it, I guess. Did your father take you fishing?”

“My father only took me to do only what he wanted to do.”

“Are you from Manhattan?”

“Brooklyn, originally. I went to the same high school as Sandy Koufax.”

“Too bad you didn’t have his fastball. I’m sorry, I mean about the Dodgers moving.”

“My uncle still hasn’t gotten over it, even though we got the Mets.”

“What was growing up in Brooklyn like?”

“Great. Filled with endless street games: stickball, football, hide-and-seek. I guess back then we all thought the whole world was part of Brooklyn.”

We continued talking, mostly about the two cities we loved, and soon talking to her seemed more important than fishing.

She looked at her watch. “I should really get going. It was great talking to you. Maybe New Yorkers really are friendly.”

I laughed.

“I’m Joan, by the way.”

“I’m Randy.” We shook hands and said good-bye. As I watched her walk away I felt grateful I had met her. At first I wasn’t sure why, until I realized it was partly because I had helped someone feel welcomed in a huge, foreign city.

I snapped out of my memory and reeled in line and thought, I hope Joan, wherever she is in the world, has found the love we are all looking for. I thought back to when I was so shy I couldn’t look anyone in the eye or express my thoughts and feelings, to when I finally admitted I needed help, and then took workshops and read books, and learned how to communicate. If only I hadn’t spent so many years unable to ask for help. Yes, I was damaged, but I didn’t cause it. Today I must not regret or deny the past. My memories will keep it alive.
The Way of the River My Journey of Fishing, Forgivness and Spiritual Recovery
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Published on March 15, 2013 06:18 Tags: fishing, outdoors-recreation, recovery, self-help

February 19, 2013

Opening Day

... Sure? I wondered. I was once sure I had more time with my parents. The only thing predictable about cancer, the doctors told me, was its unpredictability. Is life like cancer? I never thought I’d be where I am in the river of life: a childless, journeyman writer. No wonder I can’t stop regretting the past, no matter what the recovery books say.

I roll cast across stream, mended and retrieved my fly, then again. No take. Time for streamer technique number two: I roll cast, then, using the jerk-strip retrieve I had learned in Kelly Gallop and Bob Linesman’s book, I worked my fly downstream.

Stay in the moment, I reminded myself. Cover as much water as possible and use several different streamer techniques, one right after another. What if time could learn from streamer fishing and not repeat itself?

Would the world be even more unpredictable? Maybe Einstein would know.

Again I cast and jerk-strip retrieved. No take. Time for technique number three: I back cast—right into a branch. I’d forgotten to look behind. A spring-training error. I pulled my fly free, luckily, cast three-quarters downstream, and let the river dead-drift my fly. I moved my fly rod side to side, feeding line through the guides. When my fly was directly below me I pointed my rod tip up and waited. No take, still, so I quickly retrieved and then cast my fly closer to the far bank. I listened to the gurgling river and the singing birds.

Yes, I thought, rivers are the music halls of the universe. Maybe the Croton is playing only for me. Maybe the river doesn’t want to be alone and has a soul and feelings that it transforms into passionate music.

I waded downstream and started another fishing cycle.

Close to the bank the water was foamy. Illuminated by sunlight, some of the foam looked like floating silver dollars. Alongside them were small eddies that swirled so quickly they looked like spinning tops, or miniature black holes. If they are black holes, maybe, like black holes in the universe, they’ll stop time, at least on the Croton. After all, out here I’ve lost track of my regrets and resentments. Suddenly, I’m happy. Are rivers—their sounds, their images, their beauty—reflections of some sort of divine, eternal plan that scientists like Kepler, Newton and Einstein spent their lives trying to uncover? Were any of those men fly fishermen? ...
The Way of the River My Journey of Fishing, Forgivness and Spiritual Recovery
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Published on February 19, 2013 06:24 Tags: fishing, fly-fishing, outdoors-and-recreation, physics, recovery, science, self-help, spirituality

January 27, 2013

An Angler Returns

... Quickly I changed, set up my fly rod, and marched down the narrow boardwalk and up a short flight of steps. I stood at the top of the high dune.

A fiery corridor of reflected sunlight blazed at right angles to the advancing, gently breaking waves. The long beach was spotted with only a few clumps of people. Instantly, nature painted over the images in my mind of a fast-moving, automobile-choked, concrete and brick city. I became as calm as the beach. The five years I had been away seemed to have collapsed into five days. I thought, Maybe Einstein is right about time being relative, or maybe a part of me never really left the island.

I didn’t see other anglers. The tide was high. I scanned the beach looking for a big point and found one about fifty yards to the west. Seagulls streaked above the surf. Their piercing squawks made them sound like drunken hooligans cruising for a fight. I wondered, Why can’t seagulls sing beautifully, like other birds? At least they can circle and dive, and show anglers where bait fish, and possibly stripers, are.

This time, however, they didn’t circle and dive.

Though I didn’t have their help, I wasn’t discouraged. I marched across the soft, warm sand to the harder, cool surf. I walked to the big point where years before, for perhaps the first time in my life, I had voluntarily surrendered to something much bigger than myself: the infinite beauty all around me, a beauty that made me forget all the pain and disappointment I had been through.

Again I wanted to surrender, maybe because nature was a higher power I could believe in. I put on my stripping basket and then false cast, letting out more and more fly line. Finally, I made my presentation cast and let the line go. My front loop took the shape of an arrowhead. My green Deceiver turned over and landed about eighty feet out, just beyond an incoming wave. Unlike the seagulls, the breaking waves spoke softly. They splashed around my legs and greeted me, one by one. As they slid back out, they tried to pull me with them. I fought their beckoning, stood my ground, and retrieved my line, six inches at a time.

I thought of how all the clichés about fishing—being caressed by nature’s beauty and being washed of self and time—were true; and though as a writer I always tried to avoid clichés, now, as I stood in nature’s canvas, I was sure no one, especially me, would criticize the clichés in my mind. ...
The Way of the River My Journey of Fishing, Forgivness and Spiritual Recovery
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Published on January 27, 2013 07:27 Tags: fishing, fly-fishing, outdoors-and-recreation, recovery, self-help, spirituality

January 10, 2013

An Angler Asks: Who Am I?

The old angler's laugh sounded like a howl. It chilled me like a wind. I remembered there were coyotes in Westchester.

“I have no favorite river,” he insisted. “Why discriminate? Like people, rivers have their own characteristics, but what kind of angler are you who doesn’t know that when you come right down to it, all rivers are a chain of riffles, runs, and pools?”

I wondered, are people really like rivers? 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?”

“Will knowing help you catch more fish?” He laughed again.

I thought, maybe he’s right. After all, will knowing change this moment and help me put my thoughts and feelings aside? Will it help me assume the shape of this river? Help me become as tall and as wide as I can see and hear? Help me meander through this hilly countryside for the next thousand years?

No, because soon I will grow old and weak and unable to stand here and cast a fly rod, unable to lose myself and, in a sense, become only what I see and hear, the way so many other anglers—Jim, Gil, Pat, Garcia—also have, the way so many anglers one day will. So in this moment am I every one of those anglers? Am I therefore no one? Am I just a tiny, tiny link in the chain of infinity?

But today I didn’t have to ride the rails and join the Croton Fishing Club. I must, therefore, be more than just a neutral, passing moment. But what? A chain of choices? A self? So when night—a real 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 my dreams and memories of catching trout and of becoming a father. I just wish trout could choose between dreams instead of deep pools, or shallow riffles, or long runs.

But trout, unlike me, aren’t city anglers. ...
The Way of the River My Journey of Fishing, Forgivness and Spiritual Recovery
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Published on January 10, 2013 06:17 Tags: fishing, outdoors, recovery, self-help, spirituality

December 31, 2012

Downriver in the Hudson and in My Life

Downriver, the Hudson flowed into the New York harbor. To me, it suddenly seemed amazing that a shallow, tree-lined stream in upstate New York could turn into a wide, deep, building-lined river. I wondered, Was the Hudson, therefore, a reflection of the flow of humanity? After all, our knowledge supposedly deepened as generations flowed on. But the Hudson eventually flowed into the ocean and lost its shape and identity. Perhaps if it knew where it was flowing to it would stop and wait, forever. But, like me, there are things a river can’t cure, though in a few hours, when the tide changes, the river will turn around and go back, at least for a few hours. Is that a metaphor for the river flowing back into its character defects, the way I have? In many ways I’m like the river. I’m also flowing toward losing my identity, toward the final unknown. But before I reach it, will I somehow pull a Houdini and escape the dead-end in front of me? If only I could turn around and become a doctor, a lawyer, a forgiving son instead of an angry one. But like the banks of the Hudson, my past is shaped in stone. ...
The Way of the River My Journey of Fishing, Forgivness and Spiritual Recovery
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Published on December 31, 2012 08:27 Tags: bereavement, fishing, outdoors-and-recreating, recovery, spirituality