May 7th, 2001

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

An Angler Returns
By: Randy Kadish

Margaret called and told me she had the beach house to herself. "You haven't been out for years," she said. "You're invited."

"Stirring up memories of all those great summers might be painful."

"The stripers are running," she said.

I looked at my nine-weight fly rod, then asked, "Is old Pete, the fisherman, still out there?"

"I don't know who old Pete is."

"I'd love to see him, if he's still alive."

"So you're coming?"

I picked up my fly rod.

The next afternoon I boarded the Long Island Railroad, then the Fire Island Ferry.

When I stepped on the island the sun was low in the sky. It glowed soft-orange.

Margaret greeted me on the porch. Her father had been a fly fisherman, so I knew she'd understand when I said, "I'd like to get some fishing in before sunset."

Quickly I changed, set up my rod, and walked the narrow, wooden boardwalk to the beach.

A fiery corridor of reflected sunlight blazed on the calm ocean. Since it was late on a weekday, only a few clumps of people spotted the long beach. Instantly, nature painted over the images in my mind of a fast-moving, concrete, automobile-choked city. Suddenly, I was as calm as the beach. All the years I had been away seemed to condense into a few minutes.

Maybe, I thought, a part of me never left.

I studied the surf. The tide was high. The biggest point was about fifty yards to the west.

A flock of seagulls streaked passed. Hoping for a sign of bait fish and stipers, I waited for the seagulls to circle, then dive.

They didn't.

I headed for the point, and soon stood where, years before, I first voluntarily surrendered a part of myself to the large, infinite world: the cool surf.

I put on my stripping basket, false cast line out, and presented my green deceiver.

The low, slow-rolling waves gently broke. Speaking softly, they splashed around my thighs and greeted me, or at least that's what I imagined; but when they slid back out, I fought their beckoning, stood still, and retrieved my fly with short, six inch strips.

No, I told myself. I won't completely surrender and merge with the sea.

I realized all the cliches about fishing: being caressed by nature's beauty and stripped of much of self and time, were true; and yet as writer I always strove to avoid cliches--on paper, because standing in nature's canvas, I suddenly was confident of allowing myself to put cliches together any way I wanted.

Hadn't I also been confident fifteen years ago? I remembered. Back then, when I first fished the beach with a seventy-dollar spinning outfit, I was sure that, because of my strong will, I was going to become a famous novelist.

And then, only then, I would become grateful.

But as years came and went, as the rejection slips piled up, my doubt and bitterness swelled and pounded my self with the fury of a raging, wind-battered surf.

I picked up my line and cast again. My tight loop arrowed though the air. My fly turned over about ninety feet away.

Grateful there was no wind, I thought, isn't it strange I became a published author of fishing and casting articles? What would Carl and Dick, two surf casters, think if they knew what they had started when they asked if I wanted to cast.

Afraid of making a fool of myself, I said, "I'll pass."

"C'mon," Dick said. "We won't laugh."

Reluctantly, I took his long, white spinning rod.

I cast about forty feet.

"Not bad," Carl said sincerely.

I cast again and again, and thanks to their instruction, I finally cast about a hundred feet.

I was proud.

Two days later I bought my first rod and reel. When I hit the beach again I sought other anglers and, for the first time in my life, eagerly asked for help.

And so old Pete took a liking to me. He was probably in his late sixties then. Wearing a white, floppy hat, carrying his surf rod, he always walked the beach by himself, hunting for a good place to cast.

As he shared his angling know-how, he rarely looked into my eyes; and I became scared that becoming an angler might turn me into a loner, and therefore might not be such a good idea after all.

Still, I absorbed everything Pete said.

Yet I wasn't satisfied; so I read books and articles on surf fishing. When old Pete saw I had become a real angler, instead of giving me lessons, he just said hello and walked on, as if he knew I had found my angling way.

But what about other ways, other lessons? I wondered. Again I asked for help. I went to a bookstore and bought my first of about twenty books on writing.

I cast again. Wanting my fly deeper, I retrieved longer and slower. I twitched the rod to the side. I looked behind me. The sun pulled back behind the high dunes. I had about a half-hour of sunlight. Don't worry about catching a fish, I reminded myself. Enjoy what's in reach: this fishing moment. With what I've learned about fishing, sooner or later I'll land one. Hasn't fishing also taught me how to have faith?

"Catch anything?" someone asked.

I turned. A couple, probably in their sixties, walked by.

"Just starting," I said.

"Well good luck."

I cast again, and thought of how, when I fished, I usually met strangers; and though most of them had receded from my memory, a handful often came back to life in my mind, like the old man who, from a distance, watched me fly fish a trout stream. I kept glancing at him. He stood motionless, droopy-eyed. I tried to interpret his look, but couldn't. Suddenly, he reminded me of Pete. I waved hello. He turned away, then back, abruptly. He shuffled over to me. His eyes fixed on my rod, he told me he had seen me fish the stream before. He asked what fly I had on.

I told him, then asked, "Do you fish?"

"Used to fish a lot," he said, glancing into my eyes. "During the Second World War, I always dreamed of returning to Europe and fishing some of the rivers and streams I had crossed as an nineteen-year old infantryman."

He watched me cast. I expected him to continue talking, but he didn't. I asked, "Did you go back?"

"Yes, fished in Europe for about two months, but it wasn't like I thought it would be. All I kept seeing were the dead and dying soldiers, their blood flowing into the rivers and turning them muddy red. I was glad to come home. Maybe if I went back now I'd enjoy fishing."

"Why don't you?" I turned to him.

He looked into my eyes and smiled. "At my age? Besides, what if the memories come back again?"

"I guess I'd also be scared of going back. Would you like to cast my rod?"

He thought for a few moments, then said good-bye.

Sorry he left, I kept thinking of him. When I got home I realized what the droopy-eyed look on his face had been: grief.

I never saw the old man again, but other anglers, Richard the actor, Gus the limo driver, became long-lasting friends.

I let my fly sink to the bottom.

No, I told myself, fishing didn't turn Pete into a loner.

How lucky I am to have most of my fishing life still ahead of me.

Yes, maybe this beach hasn't changed, but I sure have.

Soon the sun set and gave way so that the advancing evening could spread it's deepening haze.

I retrieved my line and cut off my fly.

How ironic, I wondered, that by doing what I loved, fishing, I learned how to become a better writer.

Were Dick, Carl and Pete my starting points of a journey that was meant to be?

Maybe there really is a higher power or some divine plan, I concluded.

Wanting to thank Pete for his help, I thought of walking to his house, but then I became scared of learning that it wasn't his house anymore, and that he had passed away.

Selfishly perhaps, I told myself that, since I had found my way, Pete, wherever he was in the universe, wouldn't mind if I headed straight back to Margaret. ~ Randy Kadish



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