Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

Posts tagged “fishing history

The timelessness of a river

“..the river moves on and on ; the heart follows, willingly, always glad to be Hunter, discoverer.”   Harry Middleton

We describe rivers as living beings. The concept resonates and it allows for the attachment of a personality to a thread of water in Trout country. That seems appropriate. Yet rivers, if they are to be living things, are an anomaly, because they never die.  Sure, in the lowlands, some factory may dump waste and the river “dies”. But even there, look at the Thames and its tributaries now compared to how they were in the industrial revolution!  When man has burned out and imploded in millennia to come, I suspect the Thames will still be there, and I suspect it will have a healthy run of salmon.

A berg stream, will in all likelihood have a an easier go of things. Up there in a steep sided kloof  there is a more evident timelessness. A recent rock fall: a fresh slab of white sandstone, skidded to a halt half way down the mountain, is still fresh thirty years on. The word “recent” takes on a new timeline. We can go back up there and throw a fly as we did half a generation ago, and it is still as it was. 

In a pretty run of water a small trout will be finning, as it was back then. Its presence and purpose there as meaningless and beautiful as a dazzling brushstroke on a canvas.  As one can stand in an art gallery and contemplate a work of art, in order to discover its meaning, so too, one must hike into the mountains and watch that finning Brown. In so doing you will give it meaning, but you will not be able to describe it, and every man will find his own meaning. You have to go there for yourself.  Years on, you will need to go back there again to place another dot on the map of life. Two points on the page set the trajectory. They point you to where you are going.

1984 (5 of 6)

Above:  1982

…..thirty two years later:

Below:  2014Game pass (1 of 1)

My photographic equipment improved in the intervening years. I aged (a bit!). My fishing improved.The farm got expropriated. The government changed. The tree grew.

And the river stayed the same.

On the water with older folk

I have a few good fishing pals  who are older than I am. I really enjoy fishing with them.

Jem (1 of 1)

I have never been able to put my finger on why that is. In mulling over why that might be, these two conversations come to mind:

A friend of mine recently returned from a family holiday. It was one of those extended family things where each family within the greater gathering takes a bungalow, and then you get together for meals to argue and create family politics. You know the set up. Anyway, he and his wife were placed with some of the older folk. That is to say, my pal is the right side of fifty, and the “older folk”  with whom they shared a bungalow are the wrong side of seventy.

His comment on the whole arrangement was “What a pleasure!”. There was banter, but no barbed remarks. There was enthusiasm but no real competition. There was passion but no agenda. No one was practicing one-upmanship, and no one was judging. You had achieved what you had achieved in your life and it didn’t matter. What mattered was that you were there, and you were living in the moment.

“Rustig” I think he said.  (An Afrikaans expression meaning Relaxed, At peace)


  I totally got it.

Then Roy  wrote me this last week:  

My January copy of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying arrived yesterday.  There is an letter from an Irishman complimenting a recent article about flyfishing being good for your health.  The chap continues refering to a very good friend and fishing companion (also an Irishman), who travels alone from his home in Long Island, New York every year to fish his beloved Liffey with his mate.  The chap, Tommie O’Shea is 91 years old, “a dry fly fisherman, a Tricos and Caenis master and an expert entomologist, impatient to reach the river and reluctant to leave it, and always keen to ‘draw first blood’”.  The letter goes on to say “on our outings we each had our share of fish on#20, #22 flies and 0.12mm to 0.10mm leaders”.   He continues saying it is commendable to mentor young fishermen, but don’t ignore the elderly fishermen.  Keep them company, bring them fishing, or in this time of “fast everything”, take the time to visit them and listen to them”.  He concludes “May we all spend a lot of time fishing and turn the head of wild beauties at 91 and more.”  Wonderful, it gives us a lot to look forward to.

Roy, incidentally is on the RIGHT side of seventy

  Be right backBriarmains (1 of 24)

So, unless your flyfishing is some highly driven affair, in which you must know more, go further, stay out longer, and catch more; and in which you cannot bring yourself to drop a few of those: go fishing with some of the older guys.

They may be much older, in which case you will be taking them fishing as an act of kindness. Or they may be just a little older, in which case they are just a pal who happens to be older than you. Either way, get your head right. Listen more than you speak. Develop an understanding of where their fly-fishing has come from, and why they do what they do. Explore what they know, and quiz them about tactics, tackle and methods. Look at the similarity of the developments long ago with all the new fangled stuff you see on facebook nowadays and ask yourself how much of it really is new.

But more than that perhaps you will re-evaluate what it is about your fishing that is really important. I suspect that you might be prompted to consider that the older guy’s tackle is less complicated. I wouldn’t mind betting he carries fewer flies. He will still sometimes catch more fish than you.

Briarmains (22 of 24)

When he catches fewer fish, you might notice that it matters less to him than it mattered to you. And when he caught fewer fish I bet he was still enthralled by the day. Lunchtime might have been as enjoyable as the fishing itself.

Briarmains (19 of 24)

Lunchtime is when friendships are deepened. Its when you think about your fly-fishing relative to what your mates have tried. It is where new ideas are born, in the glow of conversation and in mixing your ideas, with those of others. When those lunch pals have been around a little longer, they have an intrinsic wisdom. They have tried some things, and can tell you if they worked or did not. They will instantly identify an idea of yours that has not been tried and is worth giving a bash.

If you fish and interact with an experienced flyfisherman over a day on the water together,  you may multiply your hours spent on the water with him, with all of his hours that went before.

Such is the value of that day in my book.

The Hardy anglers’ guide

When I was a child, my bedroom lead off a small study in our rather strangely designed house. That study was like a staging post between two long passages. One passage lead to the rest of the bedrooms, and the other to the lounge , dining room and kitchen.

In that study was a great big desk, at which my mother sat, with her “Facit”  adding machine and did the farm accounts.

Facit adding machine

She wound the handle vigorously, ran the lever across with gusto, and punched in numbers until the machine obliged with a delightful little ping, and she could write in the ledger.  If Dad came in from the farm for a break, we drank tea in that room, and sat about on the few easy chairs that were there. And from those chairs, my child’s eyes roamed across the book ends of a thousand boring books on the shelf that covered one whole wall.

That desk is in my home now, and it is tiny. The Facet, if it isn’t already there, belongs in a museum, and I don’t know what became of the bookshelf, but I will assume that it, like the desk, has shrunk.

One book from that shelf is still with me.

It is the 1926 Hardy anglers’ guide.

Hardys (1 of 9)

Unfortunately it is in an appalling state, and probably worth very little to anyone but me. To me it has immense sentimental value. Its appalling state is probably due to the fact that I carried that book everywhere as a young teenager, and devoured its contents. Despite its age, even all those years ago, it somehow was adequate a catalyst to get me fly fishing. Strange as that may sound, it was largely that old book, picked up in a state of boredom on some forgotten lazy afternoon, that was one of the things that sparked my interest in fly-fishing.

Its pages were filled with black and white pictures of heavy pewter-like reels of solid build, and split cane rods of various models, the descriptions and pictures of which did little to explain why there should be different models at all. Many items were endorsed by, or named after some fellow by the name of Halford.

Hardys (5 of 9)

In the front of the catalogue were informative articles on fly fishing. The book is from a forgotten age in which a catalogue was your “Google”, and the purveyor of tackle held a role more noble than that signaled by the ring of his cash register alone.

It could perhaps be said that my early exposure to something so dated as that little book, went a long way in cultivating an appreciation for the history and lore of fly fishing. The fact that the fragile book needed considerable TLC just to keep it from falling apart, perhaps contributed to my propensity to conserve the older things. And the fact that my grandfather’s Wheatley flyboxes, creel and rod hanging in the passage nearby, bore a resemblance to the tackle on those pages ,  served to strengthen my generational belonging within the realm of fly-fishing.

Since the late seventies, my eyes have been opened to books, magazines and slideshows, and fishing lessons that I could never have imagined. As I sat there in that big green wing backed chair, with my feet not reaching the floor, and turned those precarious pages, with the background noise of the “Facit” clanging away, I was not to know the enormity of the passion that was sparked in me that day.

Hardys (7 of 9)

Hardys (3 of 9)

Blogging on paper

This blog started in 1981.

I know, ………………………..there were no blogs in 1981, and our computers still ran on paraffin. But the concept started back then, even though I didn’t know it at the time. In fact I only came to that realisation the other day, when my son was paging through my personal logbooks, and he remarked that what I had there was a blog on paper.

That would be because my fishing log is so much more than that. From about 1983 I started recording every day’s fishing in the same format. The same format that you will find in the fishing log template in the “box.com” feature in the right hand column of this blog.  (Feel free to download the excel file, adapt it and use it. It works for me) By every day, I mean regardless of how few hours I fished, and what I didn’t catch. And then at some point about 8 years ago, I embarked on the giant task of marrying my considerable fishing history with my photo collection. I ripped every photo out of its album, and every page out of my old books, and interleafed them, in plastic sleeves ( the photos on black paper).

Then a year or two later, I printed all my essays and writing, and began interleafing them in the appropriate date slots. ( I have posted some of those here on Truttablog, but haven’t gone further back than about 2004.)

So when Luke was looking at one of them, with his technological mind abuzz, he saw a blog, and thanks to him Truttablog was born.