April 23rd, 2001

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

An Angler Asks: Who Am I?
By: Randy Kadish

Three hours of fishing, and finally my first catch was in reach. I landed the twelve inch rainbow without a net, then held him up. He stopped fighting. He knew my hand decided whether he lived or died.

I pulled the barbless Royal Wulff out of his mouth. Since he was stocked and probably wouldn't survive the hot summer, I asked myself, should I keep him? After all, I eat fish, don't I? Aren't I, like the trout, a predator?

We looked into each other's eyes. His seemed to bulge with fear.

What did he see me as? I wondered? A human being with feelings?

No. To him I must seem like a mountain-size monster.

Maybe I can change his point of view.

I gently put him back into the stream and let him go. He darted away, grateful to be free.

I cast to the outside seam in the wide bend. My loop was tight. My fly turned over and floated to the surface. For some reason I thought of how, before I knew it, I'll see autumn's floating leaves, then winter's snowflakes.

And it will be too cold to fish.

Unless I could do away with winter.

But I couldn't. Besides, didn't all those hours last winter I practiced fly casting pay off?

And didn't all those hours I stripped, and varnished, and polished this soft-tip, antique, bamboo rod just so it could absorb the shock of a fish's run and land him?

Next winter, I told myself, I'll read as many fly fishing books as I can and become a better angler.

I lifted my rod above my head, mended upstream and thought, I've spent so many hours practicing casting, so many hours restoring this rod. Why? I wondered.

Just to catch a fish and let him go? What's the sense of it all? Why is it the older I get the more I fish, the less I work?

Just who am I these days? Do I really know?

The fast-moving water had bowed my line. My fly dragged. Too late to mend, I retrieved and again cast upstream.

Suddenly, my face was cold. The sun had retreated behind the king-size trees lining the stream like a fortress wall.

Upriver, beyond the bend, the rippled tail I had just fished no longer shimmered with glaring rays. The ripples, now reminding me of miniature undulating hills or sand dunes, would hide me from the lunker trout who always lived there.

Maybe, I told myself, I'll get lucky and land one. Should I wade back to the tail?

To wade back: if only I could so in life; then maybe instead of being the smallest guy on my football team I would've played baseball and become the star my father wanted. And maybe instead of staying away from my mother when she was alive, I would have accepted her and become the son she wanted.

But in life's stream I can't go back.

I'll fish where I am. Besides, another pool always waits down river. When I get there, should I fan cast a streamer?

Is that what more experienced anglers would do when insects aren't hatching? If only I had a longer, richer angling past to draw from, to predict the future from.

But does past experience solve the riddles of the future? If it did, wouldn't I know if I'll ever earn enough money to support a family? Or if I'll be a good father?

No, I can't know.

I felt powerless and frightened, like the trout I had let go.

I cast more to the inside of the bend.

The rushing water pushed hard on my line. I mended and retrieved, mended and retrieved. My fly seemed to sit on slow-rolling glass.

It floated passed me.

I reached for my water bottle, but then looked down at my feet. Though I stood in a knee-deep pocket, I counted the lace eyes of my boot. I bent down and cupped my hand. The water tasted cool and smooth.

Suddenly, birds pierced the sky with loud, sharp songs, echoing off the high, wide umbrellas of branches and leaves.

I looked up, hoping to see a flock of colorful-breasted birds.

I saw only two.

Many more, I knew, were camouflaged by the trees.

I closed my eyes. The sound of the gurgling stream got louder.

Since nature always broadcasts in high-fidelity stereo, I wondered why, for the past hour or so, I had heard only the lone, incessant voice in my head.

I opened my eyes and retrieved about six feet of line.

Forget about fishing the next pool, I told myself. Concentrate on this run.

I cast deeper inside the bend, then thought of how all streams are a chain of pools, riffles and runs.

And am I just a chain of regrets, hopes and fears? I asked myself.

My line bowed down stream. Again I had forgot to mend.

I cast close to the undercut bank, under a low, overhanging branch.

For some reason I wondered just how streams were formed. What kind of angler was I who didn't fully know?

But do I have to? I realized. For even though I understand how my 'self' was formed, does understanding change this moment?

No. For now that I have chosen to put my regrets and fears aside, I am shaped by this stream. I am as far as I can see; as far as I can hear.

Therefore, am I really anywhere?

And how long has this meandering stream wandered, like a lost child, through this hilly countryside? A hundred years? Five hundred? Will this stream's search for the wide river ever end?

I have no way of knowing, the way I know that, unlike this stream, I will soon grow old, unable to stand here and cast a fly rod, unable to be this vision, as so many anglers have before me.

As so many will after me.

So in this moment I am every one of them.

Therefore, am I no one?

Am I but a choice? A moment? A part of infinity?

And when darkness, a link in the chain of time, comes and I reach home, will I allow my fears and regrets to rise and blind me like the sun?

Or will I look to the moment and be as far as my sense of sight and sound, and as close as my hopes of catching more trout and my memories of letting many go?

I just wish they also could chose infinity instead of deep pools, or shallow riffles or long runs. ~ Randy Kadish

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