Why I fly fish rivers

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I spend so much time fishing, or thinking about fishing, ridiculously small rivers for ridiculously small fish.

I’ve been doing it for a long time and am no closer to the answer. Certainly, a few themes have become lodged in my mind. I say lodged in the way that a mirage or shape within a cloud can be said to be lodged; almost tangible, almost fixed but which disappear when you turn to point it out to someone else.

I suppose that there is a sort of romance that goes with fishing rivers with a fly. Some of the equipment would not be out of place on the International Space Station. Well, come on, obviously it would be out of place, but the materials of which it made wouldn’t be. Flies are little changed despite what anyone tells you. Also, there is a blend of old and new technology; grips for instance are still cork; that foam stuff never gained acceptance. I was made to study applied mathematics and theory of structures (and I did quite well at it), but I don’t understand the graphs in the glossy fishing magazines showing the transfer of forces through fly rods.

Techniques, methods, the casting stroke, trout lies (ambiguity intended), the evening rise, food forms, etc. haven’t ever really changed. There is a new breed of fly fisher who is part aquatic entomologist, part materials technician, part physicist, part hydrologist, part new age pseudo intellectual who will have you believe that the sport has become technologically refined.

They would have you believe that it is very, very difficult and have made it a mission to take the fun that comes from a natural intuitive rhythm out of it. That, however, is the way of the modern world. In my experience they are generally out fished shot-for-shot by the KZN Midlands farmer with an old nameless stick, a cracked weight-forward sinking line, a six foot level maxima leader and a Walker’s Killer (red, of course) that has seen inestimable seasons without replacement. (That has always been the way of the world.)

Fly fishing rivers is romantic. Perhaps it’s the heritage. Perhaps it’s the surroundings. I don’t know, it’s romantic. Leave it at that.

I’m also drawn to how absorbing the entire thing is. Reading water. Matching naturals. Casting. Drifts. Retrieves. Watching dries or indicators. An entire day can pass without me noticing it. I like that. When you’re in tune it is almost hypnotic or meditative. I’m not going to say soulful. It’s not surfing for heaven’s sake. If you keep it simple there is something very zen about it. No, really.

I’ve never been on a trout river that isn’t beautiful. Period. I love those that are high in the mountains. Steep little flighty things with overgrown banks. I love the way water dances around rocks and the giggling sound it makes. Small rivers are like silly young girls; giggly and excitable, always changing. I love being thigh deep in a clear stream with the current pulling at my legs. I love the sensual connection that I have with it.

I’ve seen so many insects, birds, flora and mammals on riverbanks and the plains adjacent to them. Certainly I would not have seen them had I not been there. Amphibians I like a little less. Arachnids and reptiles I don’t much like at all. But I admire them fleetingly and move on quickly. I’ve seen more puffadders than I care to mention and probably failed to see more than I’d like to think about.

You must have noticed by now that I haven’t mentioned the actual act of catching a trout. Obviously I like catching them. The take leaves your heart in your mouth and working out and landing tricky fish leaves you glowing. A wild brown trout is a beautiful thing to behold. Funny thing though; I don’t fish to catch fish. What I mean is that I don’t rate my day out by the number or size of the fish I’ve caught.

I’ve had great days where I’ve caught a single fish. Don’t believe the lying bastard who tells you he had fun but never caught anything. The universe doesn’t work that way. I’ve had horrible days where I caught a single fish. These are the days where your rhythm is off, you can’t connect with yourself, you can’t connect with the environment and the fish you catch are almost a mistake. It happens.

I don’t catch a lot of fish. Or maybe I do. I don’t know. I always fish alone (I’ve never fished a river with a more experienced friend or guide) so I don’t have a yardstick. Solitude, me time, blah, blah, blah. None of those. I just like to be alone. Always have. That’s also why I ride a motorcycle.

I can’t remember what I started off talking about. In fairness, I’m in a car park having arrived at a client an hour early for an appointment. (Seems memory is becoming a general issue.)

Oh yes, I was talking about why I love fishing small streams. I just do.

It’s got nothing to do with catching fish.

The overwhelming majority of fishermen don’t fish to catch fish. They just don’t know it. Please don’t explain it to them. There is nothing as pathetic as a middle aged man with an existential crisis.

Let them believe they fish to catch fish. What they’re trying to catch is something altogether different.

You take zen to the mountaintop.

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On Intelligence

I had a very unusual and not so pleasant experience a few months ago. The details are quite personal and are not necessary for this discussion, but it did get me thinking about the nature and expression of intelligence.

Let’s just get something out of the way – intelligence is not a predictor of, nor is it essential for success. I’ve done some study on this and I’m not going to go into the science of it. I’m not really sure that it’s science more than whatever you call a subjective conclusion gained from spending a long time gazing at successful people. Let me also just get off my chest my feelings on the measures or nature of modern success. Actually, let’s let that one go, it’s a whole other diatribe for another (long) day.

I know, I know, no matter which new learning deficit, neat social what-what term you want to give it stupid is, at the end of the day, stupid. There. I said it. Forget what the expert in remedial educational practices told you, if your kid has an IQ of 80-ish and below the best remedial educational interventions aren’t going to change the fact that the little darling is, well, not so bright. Don’t misunderstand me, they are perfectly valuable people (they are mainstays of my social circle) and are not necessarily destined for failure (whatever that means).

This reminds me, I need to express myself at some time on the relationship between mediocre intelligence and full-blown, off the charts narcissism. (Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

I’m also not going to get into the subject of EQ. It’s the word that’s on the lips of every corporate trainer and self-help guru of the modern age. The concept bred an industry and saved another.

The monk who sold his Ferrari? Horseshit. You’d think the pious prick would have given it away. No, well, that would bring into play the question of the exorbitant amount the author charges to attend his ra-ra sessions. Greed is good. Let us pray.

Tell you what, throw out your Robin Sharma books and go and read the eastern philosophy that he and his ilk so happily crib and pass off as unique insights. Or something. The dull among us sit in rapture at their feet begging for the next morsel of wisdom like a politician begs for a backhand across that fetid hole in his face. That too is another discussion for another day.

What were we talking about? Oh, yes, the nature of intelligence. Or, more it’s expression. I know nothing about the nature of intelligence. Zip. Nada. Zilch. On that topic I am the empty vessel that makes all the noise.

I just gaze admiringly at the expression of intelligence; it’s outward visage. It’s a very beautiful thing to see, despite my not understanding it. (I’m a founder member and poster boy of the under 80 club.) Surely that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize or admire what I don’t understand? I mean, like woman, baroque music, modern art, women, car engines, women, etc.

What I see in people I hold to be intelligent is this: they get it. Only that. They make the connection. Join the dots. Get the picture. Not the ‘penny dropped’, mundane connections but the profound ones.

Catch my drift?

What intelligent people do is to more than just make the connection between cause and effect. They understand the connections between seemingly unconnected things. Just that. It’s not a new concept and it’s certainly not mine. Leonardo da Vinci said that we should:

“Learn how to see.
Realize that everything connects to everything else”

There, in my simple reckoning, lies the nature and expression of intelligence. So then, why does this get so little airplay? The answer is easy: it can't be taught.

We try. We talk about 'lateral thinking' and that sort of thing, but if you're providing training to group of corporate executives, you're talking about making connections and they have a limited ability to make the connections you are unlikely to get the next (lucrative) corporate gig. They'll call you stupid. So we leave it out of our definition, and in turn don't bother to define it at all. (If you say I haven't got it, that it's what defines genius and you can't teach it to me then I refuse to acknowledge its existence.)

Corporations are the Petri dish in which to look at this stuff. The suits in the boardroom assume that they are complete and represent the Olympic swimmers in the gene pool. Not only are they the only ones with the answers but they think they are the only ones who understand the question. It is their duty to enlighten the dull. (Remember what I said about mediocracy and narcissism?)

Some dickhead quotes a bit of Ghandi and the hordes on the corporate ladder clamor to drop it into every discussion like a bible school recruit with a quiver of obscure memorized verses. They slap it in above their e-mail signatures and print it and pin it to notice boards and grey walls like Election Day posters. They just can't really connect it with anything they do. It's probably this mysticism that they find so profoundly attractive.

Now I'm going to spin off on a tangent. Business leaders need not necessarily be too intelligent. Neither do politicians. They absolutely need some intelligent people in their ranks, but the skills required for their personal success require a fairly average level of intelligence. Yes, darling, you CEO isn't a genius, he is just a narcissist with strong sociopathic tendencies. You think not? Take the time to read more widely and raise the veil of your ignorance. Oh, ignorance and stupidity are very different things; I didn't insult you.

Politicians? Don't get me started. They're too afraid of the implications of connecting the dots. Besides, they want to reach the widest most easily influenced number of people who wouldn't get it and who would run away mumbling about witches.

Managers? Dumb as a fucking plank, almost to a man. No need for intelligence there. Just a dash of problem solving ability (within a tightly constrained framework), a smattering of people skills, a rudimentary understanding of commercial principles and an overwhelming drive to tick the boxes provided to him by the bright guys.

Oh, hate to do this to you, but education doesn't make you smart. It makes you educated. Experience doesn't make you smart, it makes you experienced. The Talmud tells us that you can educate a fool but you cannot make him think.

So who makes my list of intelligent people? Creators of ideas do. In fact, creative people generally. The guys who see steam coming out of a kettle with force and build a train. The guys who see sip's masts gradually becoming longer before the ship appears and who connect this to geometry to postulate that the world is round. The guys who predict the existence of, position and paths of planets by manipulating numbers on a page. These are intelligent people.

You don't need to resolve some smoldering scientific conundrum to be intelligent. You just need to be able to construct one minor masterpiece from a series of seemingly unconnected blurred images. It's nothing more or nothing less. Einstein said that creativity is intelligence having fun.

And how beautiful is that?

I suppose I have to start to conclude this very poorly constructed collection of thoughts. A denouement is required. A grand closing statement. One that astounds and burns itself into your consciousness.

I'm procrastinating because, truth be told, bringing it all together requires I lot more intelligence than I have in my meager arsenal.
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Shit Happens

Let me say from the outset that I’m not a particularly positive person. That came out wrong. I’m not a negative person; I suppose I’m not the sort that one would describe as being ‘bubbly’.

My twitter timeline lately seems to be full of ‘everything happens for a reason’ type comments. You know, those ‘bad things are put there for us to grow’ sort of stuff.

I think it’s a load of crap.

Why must every bad experience be a precursor to something good? It’s nonsense. It defies logic.

That somewhere in a cell in Guantanamo Bay there’s a guy deprived of sleep for 40 hours, scratching at the scars and thinking how great the upside is going to be is just ridiculous. That somewhere a toddler has just been fished out from the bottom of a swimming pool or a child extricated from the wreckage of a car smash and the mother is thinking that it happened for a bigger reason is beyond me. (Let’s not go into the ‘God’s will’, head in the sand mumbo jumbo.)

I’m not suggesting that the human spirit cannot persevere and build a life out of the carnage of experience and go onto achieve great deeds and thoughts. That is part of the human condition; that it does persevere, but does it look back in gratitude at the past? – unlikely.

Look, those inspirational speakers with their ‘if I didn’t start out life in a ghetto’ have a point, but most often it is exaggerated and more than a little trite. Negative experience can result in the greatest triumphs of the human spirit, but so can positive experiences. It’s not an exact science.

We seek out the negative circumstances in people’s histories to hold higher their accomplishments. ‘The doctor said she’d never live and look at her now’. Blah, blah, vomit. ‘He was the child of a millionaire and took his father’s riches to build an empire’ type story won’t make the papers.

The fact is that not every cloud had a silver lining. Bad shit happens to good people for no good reason and with no upside. Ah, you say, look at Mandela. True, I say, his circumstances moulded his future, but what about Biko and the thousands of others?

There’s a lesson in bad experiences? Personal growth to be had? Yup, possibly, some of the time, but sometimes bad things are just bad. You get screwed. No lesson. No upside. No growth.

Be positive, count your blessings, look on the bright side, but remember that some things have no upside. They are there to be endured. They may not shape you positively, they may leave deep scars and they may ruin you life or relationships.

For me the lesson is that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. You may not get anything out of it but at very least don’t suffer it.

Because, in the best of all universes, shit happens.