Mullen was a sign painter, wiry and spry, surely no more than a hundred pounds soaking wet. His shop was unpretentious and well hidden from casual customers. I wanted to learn the trade so I would often hang around, but my patience was too short and my business acumen nil. We always ended up talking about fishing.
One day he pulled a rumpled, paint-smeared tide book out of a little pocket in the front of his overalls. "See here," he said, pointing to the numerals. "There's a good tide in three days. Would you like to go out to the bridge?"
At that point my experience was primarily academic so far as fly casting for striped bass was concerned. Walt did not fly-fish but he knew instinctively I would catch fish on the streamers I showed him.
I had read about certain pioneer anglers on the East Coast who caught striped bass by fly-fishing. Among them was Joe Brooks, the noted Virginian, who caught one weighing 29 pounds six ounces in 1948 out of Coos Bay, Ore. This fish was acknowledged as the world record for fly tackle.
Walt and I fished together regularly for several years. Then I married and became too busy and he closed his shop, moving his business into an adjoining county. Occasionally I would see him at the bridge. His eyes were failing and he did not trust himself in a boat anymore so he would cast from the rocks, often a futile gesture since the stripers rarely fed that close to shore.
One windy evening Bill Schaadt and I were in a boat at the third light. "Look." Bill pointed. Hunched against the railing on the bridge, oblivious to speeding traffic and thoroughly unable to distinguish Bill or me, was Walt. He was clutching an enormous spinning rod, which he cocked back, then used to drive his lure in a trajectory that carried it over a school of bass I'm sure he never saw. His face was locked in an expression of determination that made him look like an angling Ichabod Crane.
"Boy," Bill said. "There's a guy who likes to fish!"
Walt hooked a striper as we watched and stalked grimly back to the rocks to land it.
After that, many years passed during which I did not see Walt Mullen. Then one cold spring morning I was out at the bridge alone. I'd begun going at odd hours and on poorish tides simply to avoid the noisome mob of trollers.
When it grew light I could see someone casting from the rocks. Walt! I drew up my anchor and rowed in, circling widely so I wouldn't spoil anything. Close in I turned but could no longer see anyone.