Three score and ten, it’s crept up unnoticed – not really, perhaps I hadn’t thought too much of it until my wife said something about planning a birthday celebration. It means that I’m clearly now closer to the finishing line than when I bolted out of the starting gates in 1948. I’m lucky to have been blessed with good health and a level of natural fitness – he says as he reaches to grab hold of the nearest piece of wood. I’m fortunate that I can still get up hills where others, some younger than me, puff a little heavier. The reality of getting older is not always easy to accept – joints ache when cold and wet weather is on way, muscles are not what they used to be, balance is not as sure and you begin to wonder how many more times you will be able to run up mountains just to see the view or visit the family in the USA.
I’m not exactly an ‘old fart’ yet, at least I don’t think so, I am, I think, a little smarter and don’t take as many risks as I used to. I also think that age doesn’t necessarily bring wisdom, but you do build up a wealth of useful experience.
My love of fishing, all types, started at an early age
My parents ignited in me the spirit of adventure and a love of the outdoors
My Mom watching over me while I attempted to catch a trout in the Wolf River
Like the imperceptible development of reason in a young three year old, so does age creep up on us as flyfishers without warning. It probably becomes noticeable first in companions ten or more years older. Towards the end of the process it first shows itself in their slowing down – they don’t move with the same ease or speed that they once did, they seem to fuss a little longer with tackling up as you remember them – it’s almost as if there is some invisible haze covering their eyes and brain.
You notice the once accurate cast so perfectly presented, land awkwardly over the trout you had stalked. They begin to wilt before the day is done; you see it in the squint, the occasional stretch to lessen the nagging back pain, the limp, and the more frequent stops for a breather. It gets blamed on the flu last week, the extra few pounds added during the past winter, an old rugby injury, everything but the real truth. These are the kind of signs that will eventually come to us all, some sooner than later.
I knew JW for most of my life and I can’t recall the number of times we fished together and the wonderful memories we shared, but it was many. I don’t remember him slowing down. At 65 he seemed pretty much like he was in his thirties, animated, quick of movement and always with a positive outlook on life generally. 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 fly fishing, in some ways was surprising. When he reached his late fifties, his struggles this time with health started all over again – heart, kidneys and other 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.
My old tackle was simple and yet effective
JW 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 JW called, “the sweet of the year”, and then once again entering the chill of winter. Like the waters of the stream, gliding, rushing tumbling, light blends into water, water into light- it’s a cycle, a rhythm that flyfishers are keyed into – I don’t think we would have it any other way.
All of these make up the greater pattern of life – for flyfishers a fishing life. Many of us, started with an inexplicable draw to water and a link through our line to the pulse of life that swam below and into our hearts. Now younger than when I caught my first small rainbow in 1954, my grandsons have taken to asking about everything, “wha zat?” – surely the beginning of knowledge? I don’t think I was any different when I asked the same question, “wha zat?” Among 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 and mobility, I discovered more about the trout and unraveled some of the enigma about life and the rhythms of the stream.
There was the hunger for more knowledge in what for me seemed a natural progression in fly fishing. It led to 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. My passion for fly fishing now seems 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. In fly fishing, 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 that dramatically change things forever – weakening muscle, degenerating eyesight and hearing. We resist acknowledging the changes and sometimes don’t perceive what is happening until through someone else’s comment or a helping hand when stumbling in the stream: things that seldom happened ten years ago. It maybe 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 the white of its mouth opening underwater, or a painful hip after a long day on the stream.
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.
We are in the cycle of life, linked to its rhythms, poised between what we can do and can’t, still passionate about fly fishing, but accepting of a little less. There are still many undreamed of and new answers.