FLY CASTING WITH THE
MAN OF LA MANCHA
The sunlight shined through the blinds. Time for
me to get out of bed. I tried, sort of, but felt weighed
down, as if I were a knight, fallen, encased in heavy armor.
Was I defeated?
I pulled the sheets over my head and hoped the new year,
2007, would bring sales of my book, and money so I could
finally travel to faraway fishing destinations. But 2006
started with so much hope. What did it bring?
I thought of the vision test I failed, ending my hopes
of becoming a court officer. I thought of all the mistakes
in the first printing of my book—the proofreader had
fallen down on the job—forcing me to have the book
reprinted, at my expense. Two major disappointments.
Two major reversals. Was I being punished, trampled
on like the knight Don Quixote, for dreaming of doing
good? If only the Man of La Mancha had succeeded in
making the world a fairer place, then I’d be standing
victorious. Wouldn’t I?
I thought of the two magazines that bought my stories but, for different reasons, didn’t publish their next issues.
I thought of my new job.
Three more disappointments, five so far for the year. More than in most novels. And I still wasn’t in the final crisis.
I thought of the GLX fly rod I lost. I thought of the woman from the army who turned out to have a boyfriend.
Seven disappointments in all: not quite as many as Don Quixote, but Don wasn’t real. Maybe that’s why he never
had trouble getting out of, or even into, bed. I wanted to be more like the Don, whether he was real or not. Besides,
the weather was unusually mild, as if I were in southern Spain. A plus. An opportunity to fish and write myself a
I rolled out of bed, ready to battle with striped bass. Instead of armor, I took my fly-fishing equipment and headed out
the door. Less than an hour later I walked to the north end of Roosevelt Island, and into a scene as beautiful as any
in La Mancha. I was in Lighthouse Park. The small park was named after a tall, narrow, stone lighthouse that I knew
was not an evil giant.
I didn’t attack.
Roosevelt Island was about two miles long, and a hundred yards wide. It split the East River, a major migratory route
for stripers, in half. North of the island, the river again split, this time around Randall’s Island. Half of the river turned
eastward, and flowed under the Triboro Bridge—a bridge connecting three counties of New York City—and merged
with Long Island Sound. The other half of the river hooked westward, and straightened and flowed out of my view
and eventually, I knew, merged with the Hudson River.
I looked west, across the river, and saw about a half-mile of the Manhattan skyline. Most of the buildings were built in
the fifties and sixties, eras when New York architects were concerned with cost and function; so though few of the
buildings were beautiful, they matched and, like bodies of water, merged and formed a skyline whose whole was
greater than the sum of its parts. Another plus, in my book.
I turned, looked east, and saw an ugly Queens housing project. A minus. Unlike the different shaped and sized
buildings of the Manhattan skyline, all the project’s dark brick buildings were seven-stories. I wished I could be a real
Don Quixote and obliterate them. But obliterating them wouldn’t be easy, especially because they suddenly looked
like giant soldiers—maybe from outer space—all wearing the same uniforms and standing in perfect formation.
Were they planning an attack, perhaps against the high-income buildings of the Manhattan skyline? Was I standing
on another world’s—perhaps a parallel universe’s—battle line? Would the rules of the Geneva Convention apply?
They wouldn’t have to. The housing project, I remembered, was home to many people. No matter how ugly it was, I
didn’t want to see it go.
I set up my fly rod and tied on a white and green deceiver. The wind, not strong but steady, blew from Manhattan.
To cut through it, I’d have to back cast straight back. Still, I was confident I’d cast close to a hundred feet. I faced the
housing project and false cast, shooting more and more line. But my casts sagged. My loops opened wide. What
was I doing wrong? Or was I, like the pirated Don Quixote, just in a bad sequel? If so, I wanted out, or at least a fly
casting coach, a Sancho Panza so to
speak, to keep my casting on the straight and narrow.
I told myself I shouldn’t have stopped practicing long-
distance fly casting. After all, Don Quixote, up until his
demise, didn’t get burned out. Why not? Because clutched
to his impossible dream to save the planet, even before
there was global warming. I, on the other hand, was tired of
writing and clutching to my dream, tied of trying to change
my sister and so many of the other people in my life.
I accelerated my cast, then abruptly stopped it and let go
of the line. My deceiver landed only about eighty feet away.
Disappointed, I quickly retrieved. Again I false cast. Again my
casts sagged. I cursed. I wondered, Why, after years of cast-
ing tribulations, after finally coming to believe I fixed my casting
defects, does a new one confront me like a villain, at a time
when I don’t think I can deal with yet another reversal, another
obstacle? But obstacles are meant to be overcome. Just ask
I thought back to the first chapter of my fly-casting adventures:
I tried to decipher fly-casting book after book, then I marched
to a lawn and practiced casting, day after day.
I thought back to the second and third chapters: I tried to cast
farther than 80 feet. But the fly often hit me. A reversal, unex-
pected. Why? I reread my fly-casting books and learned that I
was lowering my rod hand at the end of the cast, and therefore
pulling down the fly line. I returned to the lawn, and though I
tried not to, I still lowered my rod hand. So four times a week,
month after month, I experimented with every part of my cast—stance, trajectory, follow-through—but the fly still hit
me. An obstacle I just couldn’t seem to overcome. Downtrodden, feeling I was at a dead end, I trudged home,
thinking of how foolish Don Quixote was for trying to change the world, and how foolish I was for trying to cast over a
And so I wrote another failure into the story line of my life. A few weeks later, this new failure began to chomp away
at me, at my already fragile self-worth; so I somehow summoned the energy and got back on my fly-casting horse
and resumed practicing. Then by accident I realized that when I cast with my elbow pointed all the way out, my rod
hand moved downward and pulled down the fly line.
Thrilled with my new discovery, I cast back and forth and watched my long loops tighten and streak like arrows.
During the next few months I overcame other fly-casting obstacles, and finally I cast a hundred feet! I reached my
impossible dream—for a while anyway, because as I fished on Roosevelt Island I painfully accepted that some
dreams, at least, are fleeting.
Seagulls dived in the East River. Bait fish! Maybe Stripers were chasing them. I cast toward the birds. Again my line
sagged. I couldn’t reach my target. I cursed, then remembered I wasn’t in a real-life tragedy, though, like Don
Quixote, I was a character in publications, my own, including my article about long-distance fly casting. Maybe it held
a forgotten solution to my casting defect. And if not, well, I still had faith the new obstacle was something I could
overcome. So instead of feeling defeated, I enjoyed fishing and feeling connected to the beauty all around me.
Four hours later, as soon as I got home, I started rereading my casting article. About a third of the way through, I
read that if my back cast and forward cast formed an angle greater than 180 degrees I probably stopped the rod too
late, after it started unloading and losing power. If I back cast parallel to the ground to cut through the wind,
therefore, I shouldn’t forward cast downward, even though I was standing on an island and was a few feet above the
I rediscovered my solution! My story had a good ending.
Grateful, I closed my eyes and wondered why casting ten or twenty feet farther was so important to me. Were my
casting experiments about more than distance?
Yes, they were also about my coming to believe in an ideal casting form, as absolute as a perfect literary form, like
Shakespeare’s 29th and 30th sonnets, as absolute as a law of physics, like Special Relativity. But why is, why was
that so, so important? Is it because even though the world is riddled by random turns of history and bloodied by
wars, the world is also unified by ideals that form a working order? If so, are ideals, whether they’re the techniques
of fly casting or the Twelve Steps, invisible and so hard to discover for a reason: so I can’t invent them in the world
of my mind? Why? Because what gives ideals meaning is the search for them, and then the attempt to use them to
overcome my defects, my failures, and to connect to the good in the world.
Isn’t that what spirituality is about? Perhaps an ideal, therefore, is just a part, not a whole. And perhaps so am I, so
when I tried to will things my way, I almost always fell off my horse and crashed down and cursed the things I couldn’t
But that was then. This is now, and now I’m able to deal with disappointments, one by one, and keep going, like Don
Quixote, and keep believing that there is a working order of things—yes, a Higher Power, and maybe even a loving
one at that.
Yes, I believe by the end of the book of my life, the good will outweigh the bad. That’s not such an impossible dream.
Copyright 2007 by Randall Kadish