LB Gschwandtner
LB Gschwandtner

The One Who Got Away

To be honest I cannot remember his name or how I met him. So let’s call him Carl. I do know I was living in New York at the time. We talked about fishing up near Hunter Mountain in the Catskills. This area had bittersweet memories for me, of a relationship that had only recently gone sour, so when Carl said he was going trout fishing  there the next weekend and asked me along I said “Okay.” I don’t know what I expected.

We left the city in the early morning of a summer Saturday. We drove over the George Washington Bridge and headed upstate on the New York Thruway.
“So you’re an artist.” Carl was a bit intimidated by this since Wall Streeters didn’t really mix with us creative types. “I’ve never known an artist before.”
“That’s because we keep ourselves pure by never associating with anyone who does anything real for a living. I was allowed by my cell captain to go on this outing so long as I signed a paper saying I would sketch at least one scenic panorama to justify letting me out of the city for a day.”
I didn’t actually say this. But I’m sure I thought it.
“What do you do on Wall Street?”
An elaborate explanation of puts and calls followed and then, “Who invests your money?”
“My father,” I answered. Bang.

The drive up the Thruway progressed and we finally pulled off the road and began winding around the hills in that lovely green scenery that I remembered so well until we reached the wide part of a trout river and debarked from his car. He opened the trunk revealing an impressive array of fishing gear. Rods, reels, leaders, tackle boxes, waders, hats, feather lures galore, boots, you name it, it was there. He’d obviously spent a great deal of time at Abercrombie and Fitch, not the new incarnation that sells frat boy and sorority girl clothes but the old one in Manhattan selling all sorts of high priced sporting gear to New Yorkers who rarely used this equipment but knew that if they were ever in a position to actually be on, say, a trout stream, they would be outfitted in the very finest gear they could overpay for. A friend of mine, for instance, bought an elephant gun there. He lived on west one hundred and seventh street. One doesn’t run into too many elephants on that particular block. On the other hand he was in a position to take out any number of trash cans or the largest rat in the borough of Manhattan.

Carl, or whatever his name was, slid on a pair of rubber waders and tromped over to the river bank where he sat on a flat rock and began squinting at the rod he’d chosen as he fooled with the leader line and one of the lures. I followed along and stood by the rock watching him. He held the leader up to the sun and then slipped the nylon line up his nostril and rolled it around for a couple of seconds. Then he pulled it out and tied it onto the lure.

I walked back to the car, kicked off my shoes and socks, rolled up my jeans, picked a light spinning rod and reel at random and headed downstream until I found a group of small round rocks half in the water. I picked up a larger rock and smacked it down on the smaller ones, then turned them over to reveal the stunned minnows underneath. I picked a plump one and fastened it to my hook, walked into the water until it was past my knees, cast out toward a large rock that had a deep pool behind it on the downstream side and let the minnow sink a bit before jigging the line slightly while pulling it toward me. Just past the rock I felt a tug and saw the trout take the minnow. I played him in slowly trying to avoid catching the line under any rocks. This trout was crafty and I had to walk farther into the stream bed and away from the shallows to land him. I got pretty wet, but it was a warm summer day and the cool, clear water felt good. Soon Mr. Trout was by my feet. He wasn’t too big, about two thirds the length of my forearm, and I unhooked him and held him under water until he was strong enough to swim away. I didn’t even bother showing Carl. The fish and I had our moment together. We didn’t need Carl.

I walked downstream and fished for about an hour, following the same formula. I landed a few more, threw them all back and ended up sunning on a rock until Carl came to get me.
We walked back to the car where he gathered up our lunch cooler. We set up on a grassy area. After eating he stretched out on his back. He began to make amorous noises in my direction, not actually making a move, but threatening if given even the most obscure signal.
All I could think of was that nylon line up his nose.

I’d spent the better part of ages five through eighteen either fishing, practicing casting or traveling to or from a fishing trip. In all those years spent with some of the most famous guides in America, fishing some of the most hallowed spots for some of the most sought after sport fish, I never once saw anyone stick a leader line up his nose.
Lying there in the afternoon sun, I tried to picture having sex with this guy. My fantasy, which is stretching it, couldn’t get past the image of that plastic leader line up his nose. I snuck a look at him. He was watching the sky, looking very serious. And still wearing those ridiculous waders, which he didn’t even need. He never went deep enough into the river current to get wet past his ankles.
I pictured him arriving at the bedroom ready for sex, stripped of his clothes, wearing nothing but his olive green waders. It was too ludicrous. I missed my old boyfriend, the one who had taught me how to stun minnows with a rock, and find trout under big stone crags where they’d hide in a pool to sleep.

In a river just like this one, he’d shown me how he caught trout with his bare hands before he came to America, when he was a young boy and his family still lived in the Ukraine. He waded out to a big rock in the deeper water, wearing old shorts and a battered shirt, no shoes, no hat, no sunglasses. He was tall and sturdy and elegant. All his senses were perfectly acute. He had thick, curly hair and a Greek statue profile. He moved with grace, had tapered fingers and expressive hands that were being trained to perform delicate, open-heart surgery.
Lying on his stomach on the big flat rock, he slowly inched his way to the downstream edge and until he could see clearly to the river bottom beneath  rock. He slipped his hand into the water and with great care lowered it farther and farther, his hand facing up, cupped a little. Then he waited patiently until he saw the shadow of a slender body swim up and disappear like a ghost under the ledge. He watched and waited until the trout chose a spot where the water under the rock was moderately still. The trout faced the current and fell into a dozing state. Then my fishing surgeon would slide his hand under that trout’s belly and come up behind his gills and zip, he would lift him into the air and the trout was caught.

This happened twice during the two years that we were together. All the other times he used the stunned minnow and spinning rod approach. After fishing at a place that he called Danny’s Hole, named for a boy who had drowned in that part of the river when my fishing surgeon was about eleven, we would set up a tent and camp for the night. Night sounds and the river flowing by us, talk of the future and the dreams we had for our lives, what happened when we were children, how his family had run from their home in Ukraine, first from the Nazis and then from the Communists, landing at Innsbruck in Austria and then coming to New York when he was seven. After getting settled in the city, many of the Ukrainian immigrants went north to the mountains in New York state where the topography reminded them of the rolling mountains they had left behind. They built Greek Orthodox churches, decorative wooden structures that mimicked the ones in their memories, and houses that could easily be found anywhere in the Ukraine. For us it was more than leaving the city for a weekend or an overnight trip of camping and trout fishing. It was like going to another world. For him it was like visiting the part of his soul left behind when his family was uprooted by war.

I never saw any of that with Carl. On that sterile trip Carl never caught one trout. And he never asked how I had done. It’s possible to go somewhere with someone and not be together at all. I missed my lost love so much it hurt.


New fiction by LB Gschwandtner


  1. Spiderman

    Orestes was great, wasn’t he?

    • L B Gschwandtner

      I remember the night you got drunk and took apart his apt’s air conditioner.

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