It was during a Rhodes trip a few years ago, that I learnt of the death of Tim Wright.
Tim was an outdoorsman, an educator, and a gentleman. He was also a flyfisherman. I had the good fortune of benefitting from the fact that he taught and mentored both of my sons at junior school.
Tim was one of those guys, like my old friend Win Whitear, who punished schoolboys with what modern rules might decree as “cruel and unusual punishment”….(things like making them carry a rock, for rocking on their chair, or famously once throwing all a boy’s books out the window in the rain for some or other misdemeanor)…..and got away with it because the boys respected him so much.
He fed boys yellow Smarties ,from a tub labeled by his friend the pharmacist, as “homesick pills” , while on bush camps. Bush camps that he arranged and lead without profit, during his well earned school holidays. It was after a return from such a camp that he acknowledged me with a fleeting nod and a single sentence indicating that my boy was an accomplished outdoorsman. That eye contact, and brief appreciative nod, live with me as clearly as the lump in my throat that I felt all day on the upper Riflespruit on the day following his death.
On that day, and I remember it well, I was fishing with my friend Rhett. Rhett who I have no doubt would acknowledge the influence of his teacher, Pike. Pike hadn’t joined us that day. His legs were mountain weary, and I do believe he was in the pub while we did the Riflespruit. In Pike’s defence, he had brought Rhett along on the trip when he was a schoolboy, and I reckon he needed to be in the pub. On that trip we also had along some guys touching an undeclared age somewhere over 60. They were a little worried about the social dynamics of a schoolboy on our fishing trip.
Pike defended the judgment call, citing an assurance that Rhett would bring them beers and coffee. Rhett didn’t disappoint. Pike’s mentorship and judgment was as solid then as it is now.
Rhett now has children of his own, and he is coming along on our trip next month. Rhett had to eak out the money for the trip because he has school fees to pay. School fees which would have won over the fishing trip if it had come to that, because Rhett knows the value of a good school teacher.
In flyfishing circles in these parts, I reckon the value of a good school teacher is known. Countless fishermen have related to me how Win was such a great influence to them in their school years. The same Win who one year sat in my boat with a fly rod and a creased brow beneath his beanie and listened intently to one or other parenting problem. It is a good listener who says nothing until you have got it all out, and then delivers a few well considered sentences at the end of it all. Sentences that proved correct and apt and comforting to a parent sitting on an ice cold lake with a fly rod in his hand.
The other day I got a call from Murray. He wanted to clarify the identity of a man named “Pike”, who had taught his friend years back, and had introduced him to flyfishing. The friend wanted to look Pike up, acknowledge him, and thank him for getting him started with a ‘the fly’. The fact that he wanted to do that speaks volumes about his character, and also, might I suggest, the mentorship he received somewhere in his youth too.
It was indeed the same “Pike” . The same one who, when we are about to head out fishing, holds us back, chatting at the roadside to a farmer about his children, their schools and their progress. He does so with an intense interest, care, and attentiveness. It is no surprise that the farmers remember him. I am just the one with the strung up fly rod pacing a few yards away.
Pike once arrived on just such a trip as the aforementioned Rhodes trip, having taken a group of schoolboys fishing in East Griqualand. He related this story:
On a particularly slow day, he had elected to take an afternoon snooze in the vehicle while the boys fished a little way off. One youngster…a little guy called Leo who couldn’t open gates, and forgot a lot of stuff at home, and needed a lot of looking after …declared that he would stay back with Sir in the vehicle, out of the wind. He fidgeted. Pike tried to sleep. Leo then found a cable tie and asked Pike if he could place it on his wrist as a bangle.
“Not such a good idea” said Pike.
“Just loosely Sir” said Leo.
“don’t pull it tight now Leo! ” said Pike.
Pike dozed for a while…….
Then there was a high pitched “Sir!” from Leo.
You guessed it!
Pike has taken countless schoolboys fishing over the years. He says he is going to write a book called “looking after Leo, and other stories”
I sure hope he does.
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.
It was mid winter in 2012. The fishing club committee had arranged a week-end on a large stillwater, for us to see if we could help the hatchery there boost it’s brood stock with some hens and cocks.
On the Saturday I enjoyed taking my good friend Win out on the canoe. Win had had a rough year, health wise, and I enjoyed the opportunity to help him “break the fishing drought” so to speak.
Some of us took a few minutes to find our sea legs! The boat is stable in that it will never tip over, but it has this little “wobble zone” where it rocks without resistance through about five degrees. It’s the sort of thing that is a bit disconcerting when the Great Dane stands up and leans over one side for a drink. Win was a lot more co-operative than the Dane, and we soon settled happily into the fishing off a steep side on the Northern shore.
(Note the box between us: used for keeping brood stock)
The water was just seven degrees C, according to the journal, and the air temperature around 12 degrees, but with a moderate Easterly wind blowing. Despite an apparently mild mercury reading, it was cold. Properly cold! Win was wrapped up for the occasion.