THE SECOND FLY CASTER
Fatherhood, Spirituality and
an Unforgettable Tournament
(Now an e-story at: Amazon, Apple, Sony and Smashwords.)
When I was a boy I thought my father was the greatest fly caster on
earth, so I grew up dreaming of following in his way and not of
becoming, as my mother wanted, an accountant.
Today, I am a man who often relives the important events in my life, but
when I think back to the five state casting tournaments my father won,
most of their images and sounds have melted and flowed into
downstream memories, except for the images and sounds of one
special tournament. Instead of fading over time, they ripened in my mind
in more than just a visual way, and now they are almost as vivid as the
moments of today.
I’ll start telling about the tournament this way: Our small, historic town
was almost exactly in the middle of our state. On the outskirts of our
town was a beautiful, banana-shaped lake. The lake and our town were
in a valley, and therefore shielded from the biggest enemy of fly casting:
Those are the real reasons the annual casting championships were held
in our town, though now I’ll admit there was some truth in the
accusations of jealous people who said my father founded the Casting
Association just so he could win tournaments in front of his friends,
neighbors and me.
But there will always be even more truth in the fact that my father won
the tournaments fair and square. You see, day after day, year after year,
he loved practicing with his beautiful bamboo fly rod and trying new
techniques, such as holding his rod hand at different levels and
lengthening his casting stroke. He loved practicing so much so that I
often wondered if he loved fly casting more than he loved me. In spite of
my wondering, I, as well as he, often prayed that he would one day
reach the cherished goal of casting as far as humanly possible, perhaps
even as far as a hundred feet.
As for my mother: Did she mind that he spent so much time away from
her? I guess she suspected that fly casting and fly fishing were what
really kept my father sober; but then again she spent a lot of time
reading romance novels, so looking back, I now know she craved the
affection that my father couldn’t give her, or for that matter, give me. But
I didn’t mind. Day after day, when he practiced on our lawn, I often
watched him in awe, and told myself that, if he hadn’t hurt his elbow in
minor league baseball, he would have become one of the best pitchers
in the majors, instead of a carpenter.
And I told my friends. They were so impressed that some even asked
me for his autograph.
I always gave it.
It was about a month months before the special tournament. My father
said I could go with him to the Casting Association meeting as long as
my mother said it was okay. Later, after dinner, as my mother cleared
the dinner table, I asked her if I could go.
“You have homework tonight and school tomorrow,” she answered.
“That’s what should be important to you if you want to become
someone in this world and not end up wishing for things that will never
“I’m twelve. I should be allowed to go, especially since I’ve already done
“All of it?” she seemed to accuse.
“Well, most of it. I’ll finish the rest when I get back.”
“Then don’t listen to me. Just go.” she stated.
“Are you sure I can?”
She put away the bread, walked to the sink and turned on the water.
“Do what you want.” Her words sounded as cold as ice. For a few
seconds I felt as if I couldn’t move. Finally, I picked up my plate and
glass, gently put them on the counter and ran to my father. He hugged
me, and I told myself that I had the greatest father in the world.
The meeting was held in our old, white, wooden church. Six other men
attended. They formed a small circle of folding chairs below the stained
glass window of Mary holding baby Jesus. They didn’t put out a chair
for me, so I sat in the front pew.
For the next few hours the men talked about changing some of the rules
of the tournament, like how much time and how many casts a caster
should be allowed. Before long, the talk bored me. Because I was
worried that my mother was still mad at me, I wished I hadn’t argued
with her and had stayed home. If I had, my new radio would be on real
low so she couldn’t hear it, and I’d be listening to the broadcast of the
minor league baseball team I loved, the Fire Birds, and I’d be seeing
them—in my mind, at least—hitting home run after home run.
I looked up at the image of Mary and Jesus, and I prayed that the Fire
Birds finally would break their long losing streak.
I stood up, went to the back pew of the church and lay down. I closed
my eyes and dreamed of becoming a great fly caster. When I tired of the
dream, I simply changed the scenery in my mind and became a great
pitcher. I threw blazing fastball after fastball and struck out batter after
batter. The capacity crowd rose to their feet and cheered wildly.
The sound of the church door being flung opened knocked my
daydream off its tracks. I bolted up.
A stranger stood in the doorway. He looked old, maybe because of his
long, gray hair and beard. He chewed hard on something and wore a
plaid shirt that wasn’t tucked in and old, dirty jeans. On his sleeve was
what looked like a tobacco stain.
My father and the other men stared at him. A silence seemed to explode
and fill the church, and though silence, I knew, didn’t weigh anything,
this silence felt heavy and seemed to somehow stop time. Everyone in
the church seemed frozen in place. I heard myself deeply breathe.
Finally, the stranger took two steps inside but didn’t close the door. He
said, “I’m here to enter someone in your so-called tournament. That
someone’s name is Shane Riley, and he’s the greatest distance caster
in the country.” The stranger’s voice was deep and powerful and
sounded too polished for his hobo-like appearance.
“Does he live in the state?” my father asked.
“Since six months ago.”
“Where did he live before?”
“That’s no concern of yours.”
Another silence. This one was even more uncomfortable than the
first, at least for me.
My father held up a registration form. “Have him fill this out and mail it in
with ten dollars.”
The stranger marched to the front of the church. His boot heels banged
like a hammer on the wood floor. He took the form, looked it over, then,
without saying thank you, stuffed it into his shirt pocket and grinned. He
strolled back towards the door, then glanced right at me. His eyes were
blue and deep-set. They seemed to shoot bullets. I didn’t duck. The
stranger nodded slightly and then left, leaving the door open behind
him. His bad manners angered me.
I got up and closed the door.
“The gall of that guy,” Bill Lambert said.
“That’s real chutzpah,” Steve Cohen said.
I looked at me father. He had a blank look on his face. I wondered if he,
like me, was suddenly scared that this Shane Riley might win the next