Wading for Godot

Out of the blue, my roommate gave notice that he was moving out. He’d lived with me in a run-down-but-inexpensive West Los Angeles apartment for four years, and we’d gotten along fine. Our politics mesh, and we have commiserated when one of us was having “woman troubles.” I’d miss Joey’s company, certainly, but he wasn’t moving too far away, so we’ll still catch a movie occasionally. Instead of the dread I felt in my gut at the prospect of interviewing roommates, perhaps I should look at Joey’s parting as an opportunity to get out of this dumpy dwelling and into a house with a yard (good for lounging) and a garage (good for tinkering). Of course, for me to be able to afford even a rental house in the Los Angeles area would take the world’s luckiest break or a monetary advance on a novel I haven’t finished or submitted. Besides being expensive, L.A. has become progressively less inhabitable, with traffic so bad that I often walk up Santa Monica Boulevard faster than the cars drive.

So it looked like time to move on. This would be my chance to find the mountain cabin on the banks of a trout-filled stream; the A-frame in the forest, through which I’d hike and bike; the loft above the small-town movie theater, from which the smell of popping corn would waft in my open window as I crafted literary masterpieces. Bye-bye, L.A.; hello, … where? A look at an Atlas confused and disheartened me. As much as I got excited about the prospect of arriving in Missoula, Montana — a destination I almost moved to 15 years ago but somehow never rented the U-Haul — I became intimidated by the endless winters. I grew up in L.A., and nine months of Montana snow might turn me into Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Portland, Oregon, then. The two times I’d visited, I’d actually said aloud, “I could live here.” The size of the town seemed manageable, the public transportation system is first-rate, numerous parks green up the gray-drizzle and Powell’s Books is enough of a literary institution to tempt any avid reader with relocation. But Joey had moved to L.A. from Portland because Los Angeles offered more opportunity and vibrancy. Moab, Utah, and its limitless salmon-colored slick rock trails? Reno, Nevada, which delivers countless nearby outdoor opportunities, and an energetic city to boot?

Any small town in Louisiana that sits along the Atchafalaya Basin, where Cajun culture holds sway? How about Deadwood, South Dakota, where I was impressed by the people, the mountain biking and, frankly, the ability to legally steal from casino-going tourists in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em? And what about Colorado, a state I did not know well, but might it be time to look around? In other words, I was confused, looking for answers, grasping at straws. A fishing boat in Alaska? An ashram in Calcutta? Would I really never live abroad? What about a tiny cottage overlooking the Irish Sea, an environment that many writers have found inspiring? In my bafflement, I set out for Castaic Lake, less than 50 miles from my door, north up Interstate 5. I had grown up knowing the lake existed, passing it on the way to points north, but I’d “discovered” it only a couple years ago. I hadn’t actually visited the 2,500-acre main reservoir, but had only dropped a line in the 180-acre Afterbay Lagoon, which sits below the dam.

The real lake is legendary among bass anglers, since for many years five of the seven largest bass ever caught worldwide had been pulled from that lake. The numbers have changed recently, but it is still considered a prime fishing spot, and not just for largemouth. Trout, catfish, bluegill, stripers and smallmouth also swim Castaic’s waters. I settled into one of the 60 simple campsites on a bluff above the lagoon. It was a weekday, and I was the only camper in my section. As dusk settled, I glanced out at the placid water of the lagoon and saw a man rowing a small dinghy, accompanied by his dog. Another man pedaled a fishing kayak about 40 yards off the shoreline, his hands free to fish while his legs provided the propulsion. I settled in my trailer for the night, then dreamed I lived in the Michigan woods, calling the land of Hemingway’s Nick Adams home. By 8 the next morning, I had slipped into my waders and stepped into the lagoon’s cool water. I had only worn waders a few times, and always while trout-fishing in some exotic (to me) location — on a guided trip in Colorado, a remote river in British Columbia and a fast-running Montana stream.

But I intended to wade in, then use night crawlers to land some bass that morning. I’d checked the fishing regulations, however, and the chance of catching a legal largemouth — at least 18 inches long — were very slim, especially since I was having trouble keeping the gear where I could use it productively while picking my way around rocks and tree stumps on the lake bottom. Within minutes, though, I’d caught a small bass. A few minutes later, I released a blue gill, then another. Nibble, nibble, bang, another undersized bass was challenging me. I’d caught four fish in about 20 minutes, and I felt darned good about my day. Then I saw my line swim to the left, without me having felt much of anything. I set the hook like a man possessed, then hung on. Whatever had taken the bait made a run so hard that I actually lost my footing. I finally got it turned around, then coaxed, then horsed the beast my way. I netted the largemouth, then held it up with a shout of delicious satisfaction. It measured a good 18-1/2 inches. I took that as a sign, then headed home and started
interviewing potential roommates. Castaic Lake, (661) 257-4050, www.castaiclake.com.

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