“YOU’LL WANT TO PUT ON A CADDIS. Tan. Light as you’ve got. About a fourteen. Maybe even a twelve.” Ridley was already going through his fly box, and as soon as Andy hauled himself dripping over the side, he held out a caddis for him.
Andy bit off his old flies, handed them to Ridley, launched out the caddis, and was into another cutthroat in seconds. “Things’ll start getting a little wild now,” Ridley said.
And they did. The trout porpoised up and over the moths, jumping clear now and then, missing sometimes, overanxious, pushing the flies away with the bulge of their own rush into the air.
“Dad,” Andy said, releasing a heavy rainbow. “You should set up your rod. Really.”
“I’m good. I’ll just watch. Stick to the sticks.”
“But Dad.” Andy held out his hands, not in dismay, some complaint to an imaginary ref, but more in awe, the fish rising and splashing as far downriver as they could see. “You’ve got to get some of this.”
“I’m good,” Ridley said again, and Andy cast downstream, into the line of foam and moths and swirling fish, and when he struck this time he said, “Oh,” and then, “This one’s for real.”
RIDLEY WATCHED THE LINE PEEL OUT, the fish turning downstream toward the deepest, fastest water. Andy held up the rod, fed the loose line from around his legs, and then it was into the reel, still spinning, that lovely ratcheting whine.
Amid the cutthroats there’d been a few leaping rainbows, some of both pushing 18 inches, but this fish stayed deep, a power unlike anything before. After a minute Ridley said, “Brown?”
Andy shrugged, the first hint of a possible gap in his knowledge, and Ridley said, “Got to be.”
When Andy brought it close to the raft for the first time, Ridley whistled, and Andy said, “Did you see that?”
“I saw it.”
At the first glimpse of the raft, the fish bolted for the current, every inch of line Andy’d gained lost again, and Ridley pulled into the eddy, warning Andy before he bumped the shore. “Hop on out,” he said. “Walk him down the bank, eddy him out.”
Andy turned his first look to Ridley. Didn’t say a thing. Line still peeling out.
Ridley glanced at the boot, open on its side across the plywood, then at Andy’s bare, white, terribly thin calf. He took up the oars, pushed out of the eddy, and with backing peeking through the last loops of line on Andy’s reel, he took to the current, chased after the fish like a marlin boat.
“You know, Dad,” Andy said, cranking back line as they gained on the trout, “even if I can’t play this season, I’ll never be Cal.”
Ridley blinked, just barely managed a “Praise the Lord,” but Andy skewered him with a look, still holding up the rod, switching it across the bow as the brown changed sides and headed back toward them. “I’m serious,” Andy said.
Ridley hauled back on the oars, the trout gaining on them so quickly that Andy held the rod over his head, abandoning the reel and stripping in line with huge rips.
“You think I want you to be Cal?” Ridley asked, breathing hard.
“I don’t think you’d mind.”
“No,” Ridley said, spinning the raft as the trout headed back upstream, the boat huge and lumbering behind it. “One Cal’s enough for this world.”
ANDY GOT THE FISH BACK ON the reel, and after bowing the rod for a second it let itself be turned, the upstream charge into the current exhausting the last of its reserves. “I think it’s done,” Andy said.
“Watching you, Andy,” Ridley said, “seeing you go your own way, it’s been . . . You know, with Cal, I always wondered if I just pushed him, if—I don’t know—if he was only ever doing it because he thought that’s what I—”
“Dad.” Andy brought the brown in close, gold in the water. “What if it goes worst case? If I can’t play again?”