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Excerpt: An Angler of the American Civil War


New member
April, 1911

Two weeks later I went back to the Saw Mill, even though I still
wondered if I really wanted to be an angler.

Someone fished about fifty feet upstream of the fallen tree.
He was tall and thin, and wore what looked like a blue, baseball
cap. Hooked in the cap were about twenty different flies. The cap
looked like a miniature birdcage. The angler lifted the line off
the water. The line unrolled perfectly. The angler cast the rod
forward, smoothly, effortlessly. The fly kissed the water near
the bank. The man, I knew, was a real angler. He glanced at me
and smiled. He was elderly. His long hair and thick mustache were

I yelled, "I want to fish downstream of you?"

"Wade slowly. If you spook a fish - well at this point in my
life, catching one more fish isn't going to matter."
His beautiful voice resonated like bass notes. I waded
toward him. His hat, I noticed, was a Union, Civil War hat. Had
he been a soldier in the war? He wore a green sports jacket. The
jacket was old and dirty. The front pocket was torn. The angler
didn't carry a creel.

"Are you new here?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. I'm just learning how to fish." I stopped wading.

He cast about 45 degrees to the right of straight
downstream- or three-quarters, as the books said. "Welcome to the
club." He fed line through the guides. "I've been fishing this
stream for forty years. I guess that makes me the senior member
of the club."

"Were you in the Civil War?"

He seemed to read my fly rod as if it were a book, then he
looked downstream. He retrieved slowly. "Is that a Leonard?"
Was resentment in his voice? Did I deserve such a good fly
rod? "Yes, it's a Leonard."

"How did you get interested in fishing?" he asked.

"I saw a fly-casting tournament."

"I guess we all get here from different roads."

Did we? "Sir, may I ask: What road did you take?"
He shook his rod side-to-side. "I've always wanted to cast a

I waded close to him and held out my rod. He smiled. His big
blue eyes and his big, square jaw seemed too big for his narrow
face and small nose. His face looked put together from parts of
different faces.

He took my rod and handed me his. Its finish had several,
varnished-over chips. The new varnish was a little darker than
the original. The red thread-wrap that held one of the guides
didn't match the other wraps. I reeled in all his line.

"What do you have on there, a wet?" he asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Have you caught any fish with the rod yet?"


He pulled line off the reel and, at the same time, false
cast, letting out more and more line. He let go of the line. The
fly landed just behind a big rock. I was impressed. He smiled.

"This rod feels like it casts on its own. Guys around here call
me Doc. I fish mostly streamers. At my age I like to keep things

"My name is Ian. Are you a doctor?"


We shook hands. Since he was a doctor, why didn't he have a
better rod and a better jacket?

"And yes, Ian, I was in the Civil War."

Again I was impressed; maybe because instead of looking at a
photograph of a soldier, I was looking at a real, live one. "My
father used to collect and read books on the War."

"Used to?"

"Yes, when my mother got cancer he stopped."

"How's your mother now?"

"She passed away."

"I'm sorry. I despise cancer." The fly floated downstream
and away from the bank. Doc kept the rod pointed at the fly and
fed line through the guides. "Do you read about the War?"

"Only for school."

The fly floated under the fallen tree. Doc pointed the rod
tip up, but didn't say anything. The long silence
between us became uncomfortable. The chirping birds sounded as if
they were screaming. I wondered if they, like me, were angry at
the world. Finally, I said, "My father thinks Grant is one of the
greatest generals who ever lived."

He laughed; sarcastically, I thought. Wanting to know how he
had found the courage to fight in a real battle, I asked, "What's
it like being in war?"

"What's it like?" His eyes seemed to go blank.

I cursed myself for asking my question.

Doc looked downstream again. "Sometimes this stream looks
like a road to me, a road where things flow one way. I like it
that way. For me the start of this stream is the dry, dusty road
that led to the battle of Cold Harbor." He again cast
three-quarters downstream. "Ian, when I was about your age I
loved two things: drinking and fighting. When conscription came
in 1863, I was only eighteen. Since I was too young for the
draft, me and my friend, Jim Mullen, decided to get
three-hundred-dollars drinking money by going to a bounty broker
and taking the place of rich guys who just got drafted. As soon
as we were paid we got good and drunk and stayed that way until
the money ran out. Then we reported for duty. We were assigned to
Eighth, New York, Artillery Regiment. Our job was to guard
Washington, DC. So we were known as just dress-up regiment. But
our commander, Colonel Porter, wanted his chance to prove that we
were real soldiers, soldiers of honor and courage who believed in
the ideas of a preserved Union and liberty for all. And most of
the men in the regiment wanted to prove it too. I, however, just
wanted to get back home and start drinking again, but I guess
feelings, even good ones, are like diseases: they spread. Soon I
became infected with honor and courage and the Union cause. When
Porter drilled us hard, day after day, I stopped cursing him and
started respecting him. So in the summer of 1864 when we were
ordered to march towards Richmond I was happy."
Doc stopped feeding line. He pointed the rod tip up and
waited. "And so we marched under the hot sun, on desert-dry
roads. The dust was as thick as fog. It dried and burned our
throats. At every river we came to - The Rappahannock, The
Mattapony, then finally the Pamunkey - we kneeled down and drank
like wild animals. We crossed the Pamunkey and heard cannon fire.
Suddenly we stopped singing, but the birds, I remember, didn't.
I'm not sure what I felt. I guess a part of me looked forward to
the fight, but another part - the part that wouldn't speak in my
mind - was scared. The sun rose higher, blazed down on us like
fire, as if it wanted to punish us and burn us into ashes and
then into wind-blown dust.

"The sound of the cannons got weaker; so we thought the
battle was dying down, but soon we saw the truth: we were lost.
When Porter finally figured out the right way, he marched us all
night so that we wouldn't lose our chance to fight the Rebs.

"When the sun rose we were surrounded by thin trees that
looked like giant pencils. The leaves on top of the trees shaded
us like umbrellas. We were grateful for the shade, but exhausted.
Porter ordered us to rest, not realizing that as we rested the
Rebs were digging deeper trenches. On top of the trenches they
built defensive breastworks of dirt and long logs; so looking
back, I often wonder if Grant should have realized that the
tactics of the war were about to change."

There was another silence. Doc stared downstream. He didn't
move the rod or retrieve line. I wondered if he was lost in his

Doc reached for his canteen and drank. "Still to this day I
wonder, and I guess I always will. Ian, as my regiment waited,
some men read the Bible for the first time, surprisingly even
Jim. Other men reread letters from home or wrote new letters. As
for myself, I just wished I had some whiskey. Finally the day
turned into night. I lay on my back, and looked up at the stars.
Somehow I just didn't believe that the next day I would die. I
fell asleep and was woken by rain, a warm, comforting rain. Many
of us took the rain as a good sign from God. But the Rebs, I
knew, got the same rain."

Doc lowered the rod, finally, and retrieved line. He cast
almost straight downstream.

I wasn't sure I wanted to hear more of the story, but I knew
it was too late to ask him to stop what I had started.

"Ian, at first I thought I might sink and drown in the mud,
but soon I got used to the mud. It almost felt like a soft bed.
Finally the rain stopped. The sun rose and we were covered with a
heavy, wet, fog that blocked our sight like a wall. Half-blind,
we formed a long, long line and marched straight towards the

"Through the fog I saw a long, dotted line of about a
hundred small flashes. Then I heard a long, rolling explosion
that sounded like thunder. No one in our line fell. The Rebs'
first volley was too high. We marched on in a perfect straight
line. The Rebs rifles flashed and thundered again. A bullet
whizzed right past my ear. I heard a loud pitter-patter of thuds
and a thunder of screams. The thuds were the sound of bullets
tearing into flesh and knocking men to the ground. Some men fell
straight back, others circled like tops. The fog, I saw, still
hid the Rebs. 'Hold your fire!' we were ordered. 'March on!'

"Like good soldiers we did. I saw more flashes and heard
more explosions. Thinking back, the explosions sounded like the
loud, fast clicking of a fly reel. Above the Rebs' line I saw
small puffs of smoke. The puffs hung like balloons, then expanded
and blended into the white fog. The deepened fog seemed to cancel
out the sun. More friends screamed and fell. I glanced to my
left, then to my right. Our line was full of gaps instead of
soldiers. Since some soldiers attacked faster than others, our
line had become a long, irregular wave. I saw the Rebs' rifles
sticking out from their breastworks.

" 'Fire!' one of our officers called out. We fired, then
quickly we reloaded. More friends screamed and fell. I guess the
only thing protecting us from the lead bullets were the
weightless fog and smoke.

"I thought of turning and running, but I knew if I did,
everyone back home would know. Shame seemed worse than death; so
I ran forward, yelling, 'One Union! Liberty!' And suddenly it was
as if the explosions and the screams weren't real, or as if a
steam engine inside me burned and melted my fear, and molded it
into anger. I ran right at the Rebs. Again I fired and reloaded.
The smell of gun powder burned my nose and throat and seemed
choked me. I sucked in air and coughed. All of a sudden the
soldiers leading our attack turned and ran towards me. 'Retreat!'
they yelled.

"I turned and ran too, straight back to our officers who sat
on beautiful horses. The officers ordered us to stop. Like good
soldiers, we obeyed and reformed our line. Again we attacked, and
again friends screamed and fell. This time, however, we got so
close to the Rebs we saw the outlines of their faces.

"But again we retreated. We ran and ran, then stopped and
frantically dug a long, wide trench with our bayonets. Someone
yelled out that Colonel Porter was dead. When the trench was
about a foot deep, we lay down, reloaded and waited for the Rebs
to attack.

"And we waited. And the fog and smoke lifted. And we looked
at hundreds of our fallen friends, who covered the field like the
rocks covering the bottom of this stream. But even worse than
looking, we listened to their loud, shrieking cries and pleas.
Some of the pleas were for water, others for their wives. One
eighteen-year-old, Johnny Briggs, pleaded, 'Mom, please, come get
me. Please take me home. Please don't let me die!'

"In the trench, a few men prayed to God to end the
nightmare. But God didn't seem to hear them, because the sun rose
and burned, and the battlefield seemed as hot as an oven.
Suddenly I felt like the reality on the ground was spinning like
a tornado and sucking me up into it.

"I got real dizzy, Ian. The cries and pleas got louder and
louder. But the Rebs' sniper fire pinned us down; so all we could
do was listen. Without thinking, I prayed that Jim was alive, but
then I realized that praying was stupid because, even though I
didn't believe in God, I now believed in Hell. I cursed myself
for joining the Union Army to get drinking money, and told myself
that if I survived the war, I would never drink again, because
after experiencing Hell, nothing, nothing would ever be worth
drinking for."

Suddenly the fly line tightened. The rod bent. A rainbow
jumped out of the water and shook its head. The line sagged.

I said, "He got away."

"I didn't set the hook, Ian. This is your fly rod. You're
going to be the first one to catch a fish with it."
Doc retrieved line and cast straight downstream.

I waited for him to continue telling about Cold Harbor.
Doc didn't. He stared downstream. I looked into his eyes. He
seemed to be in some sort of trance. I hoped he didn't come out
of it, because I wanted to hear only the gurgling stream and the
singing birds.

"Ian, where was I? Yes, nothing would ever be worth drinking
for. We waited and waited, and urinated and defecated right where
we lay. And we wondered why the Rebs didn't attack. For some
reason I thought back to how my father only cared about card
playing, and how he always yelled at my mother and me. At first I
got really angry at him, and blamed him for my drinking and for
my lying in the stinking trench. But then a strange thing
happened: my hatred drifted away like the morning mist. I felt
sorry for my father. Suddenly I wanted to see him again, not to
hear him apologize, but to tell him I still loved him, in spite
of everything.

"I began to cry, but I didn't want anyone to see, so I
rested my face on top of my arm and lost track of time. Then the
sun, I realized, didn't feel so hot. I looked up. The sun had
slid behind the trees. If the Rebs were going to attack, I knew,
they had to do it soon. Looking down the barrel of my rifle, I
stared across the body-littered field. Finally the sun set. I was
grateful because I knew I would live another precious day.

"I tried to sleep, but couldn't. Instead I stared at the
black, star-filled sky and wondered how the sky could be filled
with such awesome beauty while the earth was filled with such
bloody slaughter. Then all of a sudden, one by one, the stars
seemed to brighten, then dim, brighten then dim; and soon it was
as if the stars beat with life, or signaled to each other in
their own way. Could it be possible, I wondered, that the stars,
like we Americans, speak the same language? If so, would the
stars, like we Americans, ever try to extinguish each other? I
couldn't answer; so more than anything I prayed that the stars
would go on beating and not fade into a brightening sky, and that
the blackness of night would keep the slaughter from resuming.
But somehow I fell asleep.

"The rising sun woke me to the chorus of crying and pleading
men. But the chorus wasn't as loud as it had been. Many of the
singers had died. Trying not to see the dead, I again stared down
the barrel of my gun, across the blood-painted battlefield. The
sun rose higher and burned brighter. We smelled rotten eggs. But
the eggs, we knew, were really the dead. The sun inched to the
top of its arc, and scorched my back. I cursed the sun and took
another gulp of water from my half-full canteen. Maybe, I
thought, we're all going to just die of thirst.

"The sun inched down its arc. I was grateful, until the
smell of the dead got stronger, then turned into a putrid stench.
To stop the smell, we tied kerchiefs around our faces, but the
stench came right through the cloth. I wondered if the Rebs would
attack and kill us all, or if we would retreat. Grant, I knew,
hated retreats.

"So I waited and wondered, until finally the sun retreated
behind the trees. The Rebs didn't attack. I would live another
day; so even though the stench grew even stronger, and my throat
burned as if the sun were inside it, I was grateful. I treated
myself to one gulp of water.

"And so, Ian, for three long days we waited, until finally
the chorus of pleading and crying men burned out like a melted
candle and turned into a stench so bad I had to force myself to
breathe. I drank the last gulp of water in my canteen."
Doc cast toward the bank, then stared at the fly as it
drifted slowly downstream. He didn't say anything. I was
disappointed. I guess in spite of the horror in his story, his
soothing voice had sort of hypnotized me, like my mother's piano
playing. Now I wanted him to go on, but knew I shouldn't force
him to relive his past, I said nothing.

"Even in Hell, Ian, there are miracles. Grant, to his
credit, called a truce. A few volunteers collected our canteens
and filled them with water that tasted better than wine or beer.
My thirst finally quenched, I walked up and down the line,
looking for Jim. I didn't find him. Jim, I knew, was dead, and so
was almost one-third of our regiment. And so we did what we had
to: dug big mass graves. We walked onto the battlefield and
picked up the rotting corpses that once breathed life and lived
with us like brothers. Many of the dead had their mouths and eyes
wide open as if they died gasping for air and looking up at the
sky. One poor soldier had a gaping bullet hole in his stomach.
Through the hole his intestines crept out like a snake. But the
soldier hadn't died right away, because his bloody hand held a
bloody harmonica in his mouth. I tried to pry the silver
instrument out of his stiff fingers, but suddenly, even though no
one was looking, I felt ashamed of my greed. I carried the poor
soul to the mass grave. I covered his face and harmonica with

"We spent most of the day burying our friends and turning
the battlefield back into a meadow, in spite of the blood. Then
something real strange happened: Many of us, including me, walked
across the meadow. The Rebs waved to us. We waved back. They got
out of their trenches and met us halfway. We shook hands and
shared cigars, cigarettes and stories of the war. Except for the
color of their uniforms and their accents, they didn't seem any
different from us, especially because none of us talked about the
politics of the war. I guess for that hour or so we all felt we
were on the same side: Hell's.

"One of the young Rebs had a baseball and asked if I wanted
to have a catch. As we threw the ball back and forth he told me
his name was John Turner, and his family owned a big farm in

"I told him my name and that I was from Lockport, New York.

" 'Are you a farmer?' he asked.

" 'I'm really not much of anything,' I answered shamefully.

" 'Yank, I'm a man of the soil and of the lakes and the
rivers. I can't wait to plant seeds and to fish. Yank, do you
like to fish?'

" 'Never have.'

" 'When I fish I feel close to God.'

"Now Ian, the idea of fishing and being closer to God seemed
real strange. So I hoped the Reb would explain it. 'If the good
Lord is willing,' he said, 'after the war, when the blood has
flowed out of these rivers, I'm going to come back up here and
fish. What are you going to do, Yank, when you get home?'

" 'Don't really know yet.'

" 'Soon I reckon you will.'

"Suddenly we were ordered back to our trenches. I carried
the ball to the Reb, shook his hand, looked into his eyes and
thought of how strange it was that in another hour he might kill
me or I might kill him. We turned and walked away from each

"We lay in wait in our trenches for five more long,
endless-like days.

"Finally, before the sun rose on the sixth day, we were
woken and ordered to retreat down a narrow, dusty road. A few
days later, we figured out the road led towards Petersburg. Grant
had changed his plans, and also his tactics. You see, from that
point on, Ian, he didn't order any more frontal attacks.

"Now because my regiment was so battered, we were moved to
the rear of the army, and luckily didn't come under any heavy
fire during the next nine months of the war.

"One more thing I should tell you. During our march towards
Petersburg, I wrote to my father, and told him that I couldn't
wait to see him. I waited for his reply. It never came. When I
got home I learned why. My father had been killed when he was
caught cheating in a card game. My uncle then told me that, over
the years, my father had invested all his winnings in railroad
stocks. My uncle gave me the certificates. They were worth a
small fortune I thought of selling them, but instead I took a job
on the Erie Canal. But no matter how hard I tried to stop them,
the cries and stench of the dead soldiers, their frightened
stares, kept going through my mind. Often I lay awake all night,
scared that the sun would rise and that the killing would start
all over again. Then one morning I got a notice from the post
office. I answered it and was handed a long, thin package. The
young Reb I had the catch with had mailed me one of his handmade
fishing rods. Luckily, I worked with a guy who taught me how to
fish, and on the first day he did, I forgot about Cold Harbor. So
I fished almost every day; then I landed a big fish and I looked
into his eyes and realized that, after seeing so much death, I
wanted to save life. I released the fish and decided to become a
doctor. I sold some of my stock, thanked my father and went back
to school."

Doc looked at me. He smiled suddenly, turned and cast
three-quarters upstream.

I turned with him. "How do you feel about the war now?"

"On one side of the scale are 300,000 dead boys, robbed of
the most precious thing on earth: their lives. On the other side
of the scale are the Emancipation Proclamation and a preserved
nation. Who knows which way the scale will tip a hundred years
from now. But what I often wonder about, Ian, is who really knows
why in war one man lives while another, perhaps even more moral,
dies. Is it because of where they kneel in a battle line? And who
knows why a battle is won or lost? Is it because an officer
misreads a map and gets lost? Or is it because a pouring rain
slows an army's advance?

"And who knows if the fate of a battle, and maybe even the
whole war, will turn on some small act, and if this act is random
or the will of an unseen God." He stared at my fly rod. He ran
his fingers over its smooth finish. "Leonard gave up making guns
so he could make rods. He was an artist. Thank you for letting me
use his rod."

"Sir, thanks for the story."

"I hope you always will."

I wondered what he meant, but I didn't want to sound
foolish. I didn't ask.

Doc reeled in the line, reached into his pocket and took out
a small, tin box. The box was full of flies. The flies were about
an inch long and rainbow-colored. "I tie these streamers myself,
some backwards; so when I drift them downstream, they swim
headfirst. My streamers may look strange, but they're my secret
weapons. Take four. On a narrow stream like this, fish the
backwards ones like a wet fly, except move the rod tip side to
side. When the fly swings directly below you, jiggle the rod side
to side, wait, then retrieve. Now when you get downstream, just
past the long pool, you'll see an opening on the west bank. Take
that opening and you'll be two blocks south of the train

"Maybe I'll see you next time."

"Ian, my wife had a stroke, so I really don't get out here
much anymore."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Hell, we're just happy to be alive." He smiled. His teeth
were crooked and yellow.

"Doc, did you ever come to believe in God?"

He looked into my eyes and smiled. "Ian, in my office I have
notebooks with the names and the weights of the 2,011 beautiful
babies I brought into this world. And with each birth I am awed
by the magnificent, complex make-up of every living creature. It
defies imagination. So every time I am awed, I thank a power,
whether I call it God or not." Doc put his hand on my shoulder.

"Ian, it's time for you to find your fishing way."

We again exchanged rods. I didn't want to leave someone
whom I suddenly saw as a real friend, but I knew he wanted me to.
I waded downstream, ducked under the fallen tree, and thought of
how strange it seemed that I learned more about the Civil War on
a stream than in a classroom or from my father. But I wondered
about Doc's old coat, and his old, chipped fly rod. Weren't
fisherman supposed to be great tellers of tall tales? Maybe Doc
hadn't really fought at Cold Harbor.

I waded around the bend and into what looked like a
different stream. This stream's banks were low and lined with
mushroom-shaped bushes. The sun, unblocked by overhanging trees,
burned a narrow trail all the way down the long, smooth pool.
Squinting, I looked for seams to cast to, but didn't see
any. I decided to follow the instruction of the fly-fishing books
and fish the deeper, cooler water. Stepping on the flat, gravel
bottom, I waded toward the middle of the pool. When the water was
above my waist, I stopped wading and pulled line off my reel. Way
downstream the river seemed to shrink into a circle that got
smaller and smaller, then disappeared into the meadow. Suddenly,
in my mind I saw and heard Union soldiers attacking, and falling,
and crying out to their loved ones. Maybe, I realized, it doesn't
matter if Doc made up some of his story. It seems to have enough
truth to be real. But what about me? Do I have the courage to
attack in a bloody battle like Cold Harbor?

I don't, probably. Do I deserve to hold this beautiful rod
and to fish when so many boys fought and died in wars? Maybe not,
I decided. But I'm here. And maybe I really was a good son to my
mother and, therefore, should just forget about wars and enjoy
what's left of the day.

I fished for two hours without a take. Discouraged, I
thought of turning back, of wading toward Doc and fishing some of
the broken, shaded water. But I didn't want Doc to think I gave
up so easily, especially now that the sun was sinking and now
that the bushes shaded the water along the west bank.
I took out Doc's fly and wondered if it really worked. I
tied it on and cast toward the shaded bank. My fly drifted slowly
downstream. I raised the rod tip up and down, then side-to-side.

No take.

I waded 5 feet downstream and again and again cast toward
the shaded bank.

Still no takes. Maybe I was foolish for believing Doc.

Again I cast. The line slid away from the bank. It snapped
tight and pulled on the rod tip.

A fish was on!

I raised the rod and quickly reeled in line. Electric-like
surges pulsed down the rod, my arm and through my body. The fish
bolted downstream. I squeezed the rod handle. The fish pulled
line off the reel. The reel clicked, faster and faster, then

I pulled my elbows in and pressed them against my chest.

The fish didn't let up. The rod throbbed. The reel shrieked
like a frightened pig.

Slowly, I raised the rod tip and put more pressure on the
fish. I tried to retrieve line, but the fish fought back hard.
Afraid he'd break the thin tippet, I quickly lowered the rod tip
and reeled in slack line. I again raised the rod.

The fish slowed. The line and the rod went dead, suddenly. I
held the rod still, hoping to feel a pulse. I didn't.
Damn! I thought. I lost him. What did I do wrong?

I reeled in line.

Bang! The line snapped tight, jolted me like lightening and
bent the rod into a half-circle.

The fish jumped out of the water, shaking its head. It was a
huge rainbow. It dived.

The line sagged like a loose clothesline.

Reeling as fast as I could, I wondered if the rainbow was
still on. I stopped reeling and stood still. The rod pulsed

The rainbow was still on!

Slowly, I raised the rod tip. The rainbow bolted downstream
again, this time toward the east bank.

Keep him away from the bank, I remembered. Don't give him
any slack!

The reel shrieked again. I tried to pull the rod tip and
point it toward the middle of the stream. I couldn't. The rainbow
seemed to weigh a ton. My heart seemed to hammer the inside of
me. I fought to hold the rod tip up and wondered, is this what it
feels like to be in battle?

Deeply I breathed, waiting, hoping for the fish to tire. Was
the rod, I wondered, throbbing in sync with my heart? Were the
rod and the line some sort of umbilical cord connecting my
spirit, at least, to the rainbow's?

Again I tried to turn the rainbow. Again it fought back

My arms felt heavy and tired. The rainbow pulled my elbows
out from my body. He was winning the tug of war. Fighting back, I
pulled my elbows in.

I was bent over.

Slowly, I straightened up, wondering, will I ever get him
in? Keep the pressure on him! Keep the rod tip up!

The reel shrieked. The rainbow pulled my elbows out again. I
closed my eyes. My back ached. The rod seemed to turn into heavy
lead. I thought, is this why I became an angler - to be in a
small war? Don't I hate war?

The rod felt lighter, I realized. The rainbow was tiring

I inched the rainbow away from the bank, then lowered the
rod and reeled in line. The rainbow broke toward the other bank.
Surprisingly, I easily turned him. My rod pulsed weakly. It
was time, I knew, to try to bring the big fish in.

Holding the rod tip high, I slowly, steadily reeled in line,
expecting the rainbow to bolt again.

He didn't.

Finally, I brought him close to me. He swam to my right. I
easily turned him. He swam to my left. Again I easily turned him.
I reeled him close to my feet. He was over a foot long.
I kneeled down and grabbed his tail. He seemed to look at

I wondered, did he ever see a person before? And what do I
look like to him? An evil monster?

I said, "Don't worry, Mr. Rainbow. I'm not going to hurt
you. After a fight like that you deserve to live. And so do I."
I tucked the rod under my arm and pulled out Doc's fly. For
about a minute I pushed and pulled Mr. Rainbow back and forth to
get water through his gills. Finally Mr. Rainbow tried to break
free. I let go, expecting him to swim away.

He didn't. Scared, I wondered if I hurt him. I splashed
water. He darted away and disappeared into the pool. Grateful, I
stood up. My heart still beat fast and hard. I told myself, now
I'm a real angler! But I'm alone. Will anyone beside Doc and my
father believe I caught such a huge rainbow? Well I believe it.
For now, I guess, my belief will have to be enough.
Strangely, I didn't feel like fishing any more, but instead
wanted to tell Doc about Mr. Rainbow. I reeled in the line and
waded upstream.

Doc wasn't there. Disappointed, I told myself I again would
see Doc. I climbed out of the stream.

As soon as I got home I told my father about Mr. Rainbow.

"And I met this old guy who told me about, about -"

"About what, Ian?"

My father, I realized, probably didn't want to hear about
the Civil War. "About how he loved my Leonard fly rod."
Later, I went into my father's study, picked out a Civil War
book, and started reading about the battle of Cold Harbor.
Suddenly I didn't care if the book's version matched Doc's. In my
mind Doc's version would always be the true version; and after
hearing it, I was now sure I really wanted to be an angler as
much as I wanted to be a long-distance fly caster.
I closed the book and started counting my father's Civil War
books. I counted 57. I told myself that, even though I still
hated war, I would keep all the books until the day I died.
Excerpt from The Fly Caster Who Tried to Make Peace with the World
Christ, it gets worse.

Hardly constructive criticism, but certainly a concise and accurate description of how he feels. If you are a regular here you'll know Ross is seldom lacking in opinions, and he's usually not shy about airing them. His is the kind of attitude that makes living here in NJ so much fun. As much as we sometimes poke at each other here, I like Ross. Even if and maybe especially because I don't always agree with him.

I'm sure your book will sell better than his.
Hardly constructive criticism, but certainly a concise and accurate description of how he feels. If you are a regular here you'll know Ross is seldom lacking in opinions, and he's usually not shy about airing them. His is the kind of attitude that makes living here in NJ so much fun. As much as we sometimes poke at each other here, I like Ross. Even if and maybe especially because I don't always agree with him.

I'm sure your book will sell better than his.

Hey, even if I don't like his writing, doesn't mean I don't like Randy. However, once you start self-publishing on the internet, you're wide open.

For the record, I've done my share of writing for some of the most discriminating sporting publications out there. Am I a great writer? Hell no! And I am thankful I know my limits. The fact that bad writing gets published doesn't make it any better. One glance at the books on the best-seller list should drive that home.
OK, here's some constructive criticism. Avoid repetition of words and phrases:

The reel clicked, faster and faster, then shrieked.

The reel shrieked like a frightened pig.

The reel shrieked again.

The reel shrieked.

Reeling as fast as I could, I wondered if the rainbow was still on.

The rainbow was still on!

The rainbow seemed to weigh a ton.

My heart seemed to hammer the inside of me.

He seemed to look at me.
OK, here's some constructive criticism. Avoid repetition of words and phrases:

The reel clicked, faster and faster, then shrieked.

The reel shrieked like a frightened pig.

The reel shrieked again.

The reel shrieked.

Reeling as fast as I could, I wondered if the rainbow was still on.

The rainbow was still on!

The rainbow seemed to weigh a ton.

My heart seemed to hammer the inside of me.

He seemed to look at me.

Where's the rest of it !!!! ???

When I discovered that was it... I skrieked and skrieked for what seemed like a seemingly long time...

Did you land that trout or what!!!???
The fact that bad writing gets published doesn't make it any better. One glance at the books on the best-seller list should drive that home.

I can assure you that not all bad writing gets published, I have the rejection letters to prove it. :eek:

I also agree that putting excerpts of any work on an internet forum, is asking for comments from the masses. Then again you'll notice Randy has Mr. Met for an avatar, so the masochistic proclivities are well established.
I don't have any pretensions as a literary critic. I wouldn't know technique or style if it got up on it's hind legs, and bit me in the nose.... I stopped analyzing literature when I finished the required literature courses in college, and just use novels for amusement.

However, for the most part I enjoyed it:

I found the conversation with "Doc", including the war story, intriguing.

The fishing afterwards was, by comparison anticlimactic, but still held my attention. I didn't notice the repetitiveness, until Ross pointed it out, but it's possible that it made this sequence less riveting than the rest.

I didn't "get" the last part (at home). Perhaps, in the context of the entire book (rather than an excerpt), I would have had more insight into the relationship between the protagonist and his father, and seen the point.
Thanks so much for your insights. I appreciate your help.

Who knows, maybe one day we can all meet and discuss our different views of literature and fishing.

A Fly Casting Novel



It's nice to see that you can actually post to a forum without using copy and paste.

Book sales must be in a slump.

My question is...Why would you post your long drawn out story here rather than making it an NEFF Article so it will be in our faces forever? As a thread, it will quickly slip to the bottom of the screen, then drop off into the bit bucket in the sky...well, unless you revive it from time to time.

Thanks for the comments.

One of the problems posting an excerpt is that it doesn't read like a complete story.

I've never posted as NEFF article. I'll look into it.