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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