Like the imperceptible development of reason in a young three year old, so does age creep up on all of us without warning. It probably becomes noticeable first in companions ten or more years older. In the case of flyfishers, they don’t move with the same ease or speed that they once did and fuss a little longer with tackling up – as if there is some invisible haze.
You notice the once accurate cast so perfectly presented land awkwardly. They begin to wilt before the day is done. You see it in the squint, the occasional stretch to lessen the nagging back pain and the more frequent stops for a breather. It gets blamed on the flu last week, an old rugby injury – everything but the real truth – signs that will come to us all, sooner or later.
I knew MK for most of my life. I can’t recall the number of times we fished together – it was many. I don’t remember him slowing down. At 60 he seemed pretty much like he was in his thirties, animated, quick of movement and always with a positive outlook on life. Considering he’d been through a tough upbringing and had battled more than his fair share of life’s challenges, his quick wit, warm personality and unquestionable passion for flyfishing, in some ways was surprising. When he reached his late fifties, his struggles this time with health started all over again – organs bruised and failing and yet he never complained. After a bout of illness he always said that he had never felt better. He had an interesting outlook on his health and felt that if they took an organ a year, he had enough left to take him as far as he wanted for his purposes – then suddenly he died.
MK had completed his cycle. Like him, the seasons and their weather patterns, the school year and its terms have their cycle – we live by their rhythms. The fishing season too – starting in spring after the dead of winter, the rebirth of all around us. Then into the dog days of summer with soaring temperatures and violent thunderstorms before sliding into autumn for what MK called, “the sweet of the year”, then once again entering the chill of winter. It is a cycle, a rhythm that we are keyed into – there is no other way.
All of these make up the greater pattern of life – for flyfishers, a fishing life that started with an inexplicable draw to water, a link through our line to the pulse of life that swam below and into our hearts. Now a few years younger than when I caught my first small rainbow in the Buffalo River deep in the Eastern Cape’s Amatola Mountains, my grandsons have taken to asking about everything from a pin to a beetle, “wha zat?” – the beginning of knowledge. I don’t think I was any different. I asked the same question, “wha zat?” Amongst it all I learnt to understand the drift of the line, to decipher the ring of a rise, the movement of life in the depths. I grew and learnt and read a lot, gained my independence, I discovered more about the trout and unraveled some of the enigma of life and the rhythms of the stream.
There was the hunger for more knowledge. It led to a better understanding and skill from the early fumbling attempts at casting and presentation to fooling even the most difficult of wild trout. How many, even apparently insignificant questions, but telling ones, led from then to now – so logical, a natural, happy progression from not knowing to knowing. But, it doesn’t end there and part of aging is learning how to learn – to assimilate, to modify and to adapt. It is seemingly a never-ending process.
It is always easier to recognise aging in a friend from slow changes to the sometime sudden often-unexpected incidents. We resist acknowledging the changes – indiscernible at first, but the signs are there – not hearing a companion’s voice above the wind, not seeing the shadow of a fish move across the bottom, or a painful hip after a long day on the stream. Growing old is not easy like the reasons for stumbling or clumsiness – it’s the harsh reality.
But, there are still good things that come with age – we stay away from water that we know from experience not to be productive, we choose the right fly without hesitation, we read the water better and we understand the rise forms because we have seen them all a thousand times. We have stopped false casting and finally have patience and are content with not being in a hurry knowing that the trout aren’t going anywhere – we understand our limitations, and know that there is no such thing as an expert in our sport and that we can still learn and enjoy flyfishing in the years we have left.
We are in the cycle of life (some of us perhaps nearer to the finishing post than the starting gates), linked to its rhythms, poised between what we can do and can’t, still passionate about flyfishing, but maybe accepting of a little less. There are still many undreamed of and new answers – but, I will never stop asking that question of my youth with the same enthusiasm and vigor, “Wha zat?”
All images and copy in this post are copyright Peter Brigg Photography © 2015. All rights reserved