Some stories are harder to tell than others. They can be harder to write, too. This is one of those stories.
It came to me while I was having a glass of wine with an old friend. He had just returned from Montana, having lived there for the last several years. Said he missed the Catskills and the early fly hatches. Anyway, as the night progressed with more wine poured, he loosened up and began his tale. Even though we were close, he never told me why he left and I didn’t press. I did have my suspicions. As he warmed to the story, I learned my theory was right. He left after breaking up with his girl friend, or, as he explained, she broke up with him. This happened in the early 1990s. Soon after, he left for Montana. A failed relationship can do that to people, and until this night, I hadn’t a clue. Anyway there we were, after all this time, with him unburdening his soul.
It began when he met a young woman who at the time worked at the local bread and butter shop. He stopped there every morning on his way north, to pick up a coffee before making the long drive to the office. As time went on, they began to chat, and when she learned that he fly fished, her ears perked up. She told him that she had tried on a local stream, but wasn’t very successful and would like to learn. Soon they met for lunch, where he learned that she had a little boy, and was leaving her husband. Shortly after that, he agreed that they should move in. Seemed they needed a place to stay. I was stunned by this revelation, wondering what my friend was thinking getting involved with a situation like that.
At the time, he had a camp on a famous Catskill river, and soon my friend and his “new family” were spending weekends there. As time went on, he provided her with a complete fly fishing outfit—all the equipment needed for a day on the river. And rather than teach her the finer points of casting, he arranged for instruction at one of the more famous eastern fly fishing schools. “She was a good student and took to fly fishing very quickly. And I’ll never forget our last night on the river,” he recounted, after a third glass of wine. “I had the boy on my shoulders as we waded toward where his mother was fishing, he ever vigilant for rising trout.
“It was late spring in the Catskills, about the time the purple iris were in bloom. It was her favorite pool, with a downed tree on the far bank. As we approached I marveled at how well she cast after such a short time. As we got closer, her rod bent, a trout jumped, and it wasn’t long before she had a nice brown in the net.”
He went on to explain, “like most relationships there were some issues, and it wasn’t long after our last night on the river, she and the boy left.” I asked what happened that made her take such a sudden leave. “It’s hard to say,” he responded. “I did everything I could to support them, but in the end it just didn’t work out. And do you know, I never went back to that pool on that river, and probably never will.
“It would be just too painful to recall the good times we had there. Too many ghosts of days past.”
“Yes,” I said. “I completely understand. Sometimes it’s probably better not to mix fly fishing and romance.”