Each of us builds a set of reference points in our flyfishing journey. We all have a history of where we went and what we caught, and what happened along the way, and with whom. It is a tapestry, in which our history matches that of a fellow flyfisher for only as long as it takes for our threads to cross. We spend a day together here, and then, and for an instant we saw the same frames in that movie in our minds that is the flyfishing aesthetic. For the rest of it, it is a personal and unique journey. We can wonder if anyone sees it quite like we do. It is a bit like contemplating a colour like Blue for example. We think we know what blue is, but how do we know that everyone else isn’t seeing it as what we call red!
So it is with our own personal histories of places visited, fish missed, and stuff along the way that make a place or time memorable. This is not about me, or anyone else having been further, fished more, or having pictures more clever than you. It is not a quiz. It is to say: “hey…you’ve been there too! Cool, we have something in common”. Have our flyfishing threads perhaps crossed unknowingly in this tapestry?
Let me know if they have:
Perhaps you have a tapestry of images in which I will recognise none of the places. This is the stuff that keeps fishermen seeking out new places, new friends, and new experiences.
I have a few good fishing pals who are older than I am. I really enjoy fishing with them.
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
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.
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.
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.
In Thomas McGuane’s wonderful book of the same name he writes “For the ardent fisherman, progress is toward the kinds of fishing that are never productive in the sense of the blood riots of the hunting-and-fishing periodicals.”
That is a deep thought, and one that makes me feel a little better. Clearly I am progressing, because I am not catching a whole pile of fish! Of course I would like to catch some better sized fish, or a few more of them, but I will bow graciously to this “progress” that has been bestowed on me.
The truth be told, I have done a great deal of progressing in my time as a fly-fisherman. Quite aside from my current slump, I have had some steep graphed periods in which I could not complain about the size of the fish, or the mix being in favour of “stockies” as is currently the case, because I caught nothing at all.
My kids have just ended school for the short September holiday, and it reminds me of such a ten day holiday of my own. We had stocked a small dam over on the far boundary of the farm, and the fish should by then have grown to a size that they were worthy of being caught. It was however a warm year, so I fished only the early mornings. It must have been before I was riding a motorbike or driving, because I remember walking there and back every day before breakfast for ten days straight. Each morning I would see a fish or two rise, or experience some small glimmer of hope, for I returned every single day. But every day I trudged well over a kilometer back to the farmhouse, empty handed and hungry for the first meal of the day. Ten days straight, I tell you, and not so much as a nibble.
A diary entry of mine in July 1998 records that one of my pals had his 17th blank day straight!
As a university student, a few of us once took off for a week and camped at Glengarry campsite. We fanned out each day and fished various stillwaters. One or two of the guys got a fish here or there, but they were very sparse, and I remember enough to know that I caught nothing at all. My diary records that it was so cold that my toothpaste froze, and I remember it being as miserable as that. After a week of camping and blank fishing days my buddies dropped me back at the farm, where I wasted no time in calling Guy, my other fishing friend, and arranging to go and fish Aberfoyle dam the very next day. We caught nothing there either!
Aberfoyle dam was a lovely NFFC water, close to town, but the rules were such that you had to park and walk to the dam , which put many people off. We often went there and fished, and waved at the drivers of the passing trains. On one trip back in 1989, the water was dirty, and we caught nothing at all, yet again. We did however consume a few beers, the effects of which had us wondering if we could employ a trick from the old stories in which a can of milk was poured into the river in the morning to clear up the water for later in the day.
The strange thing about these slow patches, it that they cause me to want to fish more, and to fish more carefully. They serve to heighten the pleasure of the days when it does all come together. But beside all that, some of the greatest mischief, some of the best memories, and the most unusual experiences, have been had plunking around in water apparently devoid of fish.
So here’s to progress!
May it end soon.
Every now and then, the eight to five world of suburbia, commitments and credit cards, releases me for more than just a day trip. In other words, every once in a while, I somehow find a gap, and head out on one of those fly fishing trips that involves a night or two in a fishing cottage. Not a few stolen hours, in which you are watching the time. I am talking about two or more days at a trot on the water.
It is heaven!
The anticipation of those trips is childlike in my case. It is childlike in that the lead-up to such a trip stirs in me a buzz no different from that I experienced as a schoolboy when a fly-fishing trip was on the cards. Back then, as it is now, the days leading up to my departure are filled with checking of tackle, filling fly-boxes, and picturing what else I might need out on the water. I am a slave to preparation and planning, but I love it. As the day of departure grows closer, I will be testing a new lanyard arrangement for my forceps, or swapping tackle between pockets in my vest. I will don my fly-vest in the lounge and swing my arms to check that the new this or that, doesn’t snag on my clothing.
I will move the beanie and gloves from that pouch to this pocket, and find a new container for this thing or that. One that fits better, seals better, or is more compact. Of course filling fly-boxes is a big one too. Removing odd lots from the fly-box, and filling gaps in the rows of favourite patterns that are showing the signs of battle loss.
It is a ritual, in which one pictures and anticiiptes the trip a thousand times. In picturing the days away, your tackle will be neatly stowed. Everything will stay in its place. Nothing will break, or go missing. Each time you arrive at a water, you will open up what you need. It will all be where you left it, your rod will be up in minutes, and you will be on the water without delay.
In reality, the trip will be one of switching vehicles, changing plans, and of rough roads, that somehow conspire to jumble everything that you take along for the trip. Everything will be coated in dust or mud. When you leave one water for another, you will have got in last, and rather than hold the guys up, your tackle will have been tossed, more than it will have been “stowed”.
You will have old leaders stuffed in shirt pockets, spare spools left in float tubes, and fly boxes under the seat in the other guy’s bakkie. That pair of forceps you attached so neatly with some ring or clasp or snap device will have pulled loose, and will be back in your vest scratching your fly-box as before.
When you return home on the last day, your hands will be rough and dry.
Your face a little red from the wind and sun, and your tackle will be a mess. Unpacking your bakkie and putting everything away will be a major task, undertaken in a state of quickly escalating exhaustion. You will hang up the wet waders behind the fridge with a satisfied sigh, and a smile in your soul. Once you are through the shower, you will collapse into a sleep as childlike as that you had as a young boy returning from a day on the beach. Instead of the sound of crashing waves repeating itself in your head, it will be the slap and suck of waves, or the babble of the stream, that carries into your dreams. You will sleep heavily, relaxed in the knowledge that the misplaced fly reel must be knocking around in your vehicle somewhere.
There is nothing like a good fly-fishing trip!