THE FLY CASTER WHO TRIED TO MAKE PEACE WITH THE WORLD
Author: Randy Kadish
Publisher: KEOKE, Mar 2007
Historical novel about the history of fly fishing & fly casting in America. Many of the scenes take place on or near the Beaverkill River. 272 pgs.
Making peace with the world.
Sooner or later most of us have to. But how?
For Ian MacBride, his way begins almost accidentally when, in 1909, he watches a fly-casting tournament in New Yorks Central Park, and begins to dream of becoming a great fly caster.
But soon Ian experiences personal tragedy, and then is appalled by the unexpected slaughter of World War I.
He retreats into the world of fly fishing, and meets unforgettable anglers like: Doc, a Civil War veteran, who tells how, after he enlisted in return for drinking money, he was changed by the horror of war; Izzy, a mysterious immigrant, who teaches Ian perhaps the most important lesson of long-distance fly casting; and George M. L. La Branche who, though torn by self-doubt, writes the book that revolutionizes fly fishing.
These anglers help to change Ians hopes and values. Though his father questions his courage, Ian decides to become a teacher instead of a lawyer, and moves near the beautiful Beaverkill River, the birthplace of fly fishing in America.
But tragedy still follows him. Torn by grief, he curses the world and loses faith in it until, almost by accident, he finds a way to come to terms.
How? The answer will surprise you.
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 and Sweden's Rackelhanen fly fishing magazine. Much of Randys writing is about the techniques of spin and fly casting, and about the spirituality/recovery of fly fishing.
Ray wasnt at the Forks when I got there. I set up my Leonard rod and cast over the swirling eddies. The eddies, however, werent as strong as they were the day before; and neither were the armies flowing into the pool. Unlike the stone faces of mansions, the faces of the river had faded closer to anonymity, but I still recognized them.
Twenty minutes later, Ray still hadnt arrived.
Had he deserted me, like Izzy? If so why? Had I said the wrong thing? Or had he just assumed that I was a rich kid from New York?
A fly line unrolled upstream. Was it Rays?
I walked upstream. Mr. La Branche stood in the river. Tucking his rod in his armpit, he wrote something in a small book.
I yelled out, I think youre right!
Dry flies and fast water.
Dry flies and fast water. I like the ring of that.
I told him about the rises I saw on Ferdons Eddy.
Right now, he said, Im trying to create my own hatch of flies by casting to the same spot over and over again.
Though I didnt know if he wanted me to, I walked to him.
Watch, he said.
He cast. Again the loop curved downstream. Im sorry, he said. Did you tell me your name yesterday?
My name is Ian.
Ian, you see, according to my theory, closely matching artificial flies to hatched ones isnt crucial. Ive cut open trout and found little sticks and different insects in their stomachs; so I think whats crucial to catching trout is landing the fly gently on the right spot, and then drifting the fly without drag. Mr. La Branches voice sounded calm but passionate. I was impressed at how well he fit the opposite tones together.
To get the fly to land gently, he continued, I aim about five feet over the target, and slightly downward. You see, Ian, the trick is to get the line to land first and to therefore slow the leader and fly as they float down. Right now Im landing my fly three feet upstream of that long seam. To get a longer drift, Im curving my casts so the fly lands downstream of the line.
I didnt know a person can curve his casts.
To make a downstream curve, I cast with the rod forty-five degrees to the ground. Then I let go of the line before I stop my cast, and gently pull back the rod. To make an upstream curve, I dont let go of the line until I stop my cast. The more horizontally I hold the rod, the more my cast will curve. Sounds easy, doesnt it?
I dont know.
Curving my casts has taken me months and months of experiments.
I thought of my own casting experiments. Suddenly I admired Mr. La Branche, in spite of his two middle initials and his dressing like a dandy.
He took out his gold pocket watch. Its almost ten. I have to meet Mr. Theodore Gordon at the Covered Bridge Pool.
So you heard of him?
Hes also a great flytier. Were having a running debate on how to fish dry flies. Ian, why dont you come with me, and Ill tell you more on the way.
Ray, I assumed, wasnt coming; so why should I miss a golden opportunity to learn about dry-fly fishing and to see another pool? Besides, Mr. Gordon was a writer. I had never met a real writer.
I said, Sure.
Mr. La Branche owned a brand new, black Ford. We put our rods in the back seat. Ray strolled down the road, as if he had all the time in the worlduntil he saw me and glared.
I wanted to apologize to him, even though he was an hour late.
How are you, Ray? Mr. La Branche yelled out.
Fine, Ray answered coldly.
Well have some more work for you at the club.
I got in the car. Mr. La Branche drove back toward town, then turned left and drove past a long row of quaint homes with porches; and I realized I was beginning to like the look of a small town. Mr. La Branche turned onto a narrow road that ran alongside a river. The river had a lot of riffles and runs. The bank was lined with trees, posted with small signs that read: Fishing And Hunting Prohibited.
I asked. Is that the upper Beaverkill?
On both sides of the river were cornfields and farmhouses. Which farm, I wondered, was owned by the farmer in Johns story? I looked back at the river. Which pool is haunted? This one? But ghosts arent real. What a fool I am for believing, even for a second, all of Johns story.
You see, Mr. La Branche said, to get trout to see dries on fast water, we have to tie them differently than theyre tied in England. Our dries have to float higher on the water ...
Mr. La Branche told me how his experiments led him to believe some of the best places to fish dry flies were the mouths and tails of pools. Without stopping for a breath, he explained how to fish those parts.
I was lost in his explanations, the way I once was in Izzys. Was Mr. La Branche a mad scientist? If so, did I want to be his mad pupil?
Thinking I didnt, I looked forward to reaching the Covered Bridge Pool.
Ian, to summarize, I think the order of importance to fishing dry flies is: action, position, size, form and, last, color. Now Mr. Gordon does not agree with me. He thinks the order is: size, form and color.
What made you come to these conclusions?
You mean theories. My gut, at first. Were here.
Mr. La Branche drove down a hill, then through a one-lane, covered, wooden bridge. I felt as if we drove through a rattling barn. I imagined miniature Brooklyn Bridges connecting the banks of Beaverkill, but I didnt like the images, especially when Mr. La Branche parked on a clearing and I saw how beautifully the wooden bridge matched the pool. Besides, I didnt like the ring of the name: Suspension Bridge Pool.
Thats Mr. Gordons car. Mr. La Branche pointed to an older-model Ford.
The pool was about half the size of the Forks. Its turquoise-colored water looked as if it flowed in from the Mediterranean. The far bank of the pool was a high cliff, divided in half by a narrow waterfall, and covered with small trees and bushes. Suddenly I felt I was in the Hanging Garden of Babylon. But the garden, I remembered, was ancient and man-made. Wanting to be closer to modern times and to natural beauty, I imagined I was on the Tahitian island Fletcher Christian and his mutineers sailed to.
The tail of the pool narrowed, sped up and rushed down what seemed be a long, long sliding pond that dropped into an unseen abyss.
How high up was I? I wondered. On the top of the world? If so, it wasnt because an upside-down reflection seem to put me there, but because the Covered Bridge Pool, like the Forks, was one of the most beautiful places on earthso beautiful that only a God could have created it? God didnt create Penn Station. So man and Godif there was a Godcreated beautiful things, and horrible things like wars and earthquakes.
Would an earthquake ever rip the Beaverkill apart so, like Humpty Dumpty, it couldnt be put back together again? Would dead soldiers lie on the banks, the way dead soldiers once lay on the banks of Antietam, Manassas, Chickamauga? What was it about rivers that made them sites of so many bloody battles? Was it because armies tried, often in vain, to use them as barriers? Would armies one day climb down the steep bank of this pool and attack and be picked off by snipers? The survivors, at least, would then be protected by the walls of the covered bridge. The Union soldiers who crossed the Antietam stone bridge werent so lucky, even if, as my father said, they fought on a battlefield of great ideas.
Thankfully, no great ideas were on the Covered Bridge Pool. Armies therefore wouldnt march up the narrow, mountain road and kill and die just to capture a small piece of beauty. The pools only strategic importance was to anglers, not to generals. And if a general was also an angler, he wouldnt want his soldiers to bleed and bloody the turquoise water.
Maybe Gus was right: war and fishing stories werent meant to go together. If I wrote a fishing story about the pool I would leave out all hint of war and put in long descriptions of beauty.
But could I?
Using the pen and paper of my mind, I tried to describe the pool. My mind, however, whitened into a blank sheet. Feeling like a failure, I wondered, if great descriptive writing, like Coopers, is more beautiful than nature, maybe writing and nature cant be judged against each other because they are, in the end, different things, linked by an invisible bridge. What does this bridge look like? Is it covered? Is it stone or suspension? Or is it lacking shape or form? If so, how does it connect things? Certainly not by charging tolls. But regardless of how theyre connected, if writing is created by man, while nature is created by a power I cant understand, which is more important? Nature? After all, it came first. But nature is plentiful. Great writing isnt, maybe because it has to be revised four, five, or even ten times. Does nature have to be revised?
Lets 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.
George, whos 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 girls. 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. Heres 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, were having a sort of contest. My fly is a little bigger and darker than those that are going to soon hatch. Lets get ready. Ian why dont you stand in the middle. Let us know when ten minutes have passed.
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 dont 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, theyre just people, like me and, andlook, 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 didnt 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 wouldnt have broken off.
If I had a softer rod I wouldnt 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.
Lets 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 Docs 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 didnt 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 Clays monster trout. I held him up.
Mr. La Branche and Mr. Gordon applauded. I held the trout underwater and let him go. He didnt 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 Docs streamer. Mr. Gordon, could you tie the fly for me?
Mr. Gordon studied the fly. His brow wrinkled. He looked older again. Backwards? Interesting. Ive 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 Ill tie and send some to you. In the meantime, heres 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?
Hes a lawyer.
Im 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.
Was he laughing at my dream?
I envy Mr. Gordon for being a writer, Mr. La Branche said.
So you dont think Im 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 dont 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 thats 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 hell 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 Johns 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 arent you writing something?
Just taking notes. Im not a writer, even though Mr. Gordon wants me to write an article.
Why dont you?
Ian, supposing at the end of my long, long day, its proven that on fast water, wet flies take more fish than dries? Or supposing its proven the size, form and color of the fly are more important than the presentation? What a fool Ill look like. I wouldnt want to publish anything unless I know Im right; and sometimes, sometimes, I get so tired of all my experiments. Sometimes I wonder just what the hell Im doing. When I fish I dont even see the beauty of the rivers anymore. I dont, dont.
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 thats one way to look at it.
Another silence. This one wasnt 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 Branches 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 couldnt 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 well 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 wasnt there. My gratitude gave way to disappointment. I tied on one of Mr. Gordons dry flies and fished the tail, often looking over my shoulder and hoping Ray appeared.
Like Izzy, he didnt.
I looked at the fast rapids and wondered how many men, beside Rays father, were killed there. Was throwing men from their rafts the Beaverkills way of striking back at men for cutting down trees? For killing Indians?
It didnt seem possible.
I walked to Ferdons Eddy. Ray wasnt 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.
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 Docs 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 wasnt lonely or, for that matter, wasnt 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 didnt catch another trout, I wasnt 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 Clays lucky fly. I walked down to the crowded tavern, but didnt see Clay.
Ralph looked at me. Youre too young to drink.
Can you give this to Clay for me? I held up Clays 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 wasnt 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, comfortingyes, motherlyimages of a wider, more mysterious, often unseen world.
I closed my eyes and leaned my head back. I was proud I hadnt 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 wouldnt 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.
COPYRIGHT 2006 RANDALL KADISH ALL RIGHTS RESERVED