Get Busy Living or Get Busy Tying

In exactly a week from today it will be spring. The river season will open for us trout fishers. It is a time of great excitement, much speculation and general floor-pacing and frenzied muttering as the remaining few days trickle slowly by.

You know how it is when you’re in the car waiting to leave and your wife decides that she needs to go to the toilet (again) and you just sit there idling, staring into space and tapping the wheel? Well, the calendar has (again) construed to place spring day on a week day.  

I’ll be spending the first two days of the season idling my engine while engaged productively in my soul-destroying day job. (By “engaged productively” I mean tapping my pencil on my desk and staring out of the window with a sort of anxious smile. From time to time I might make a mock reach or tuck cast just to test my muscle memory. It’s a pretty desperate and sad thing to do and I always feel a bit embarrassed after doing it.)

You see, I have a lot of fishing lined up for this season. After the depressingly poor last season (I just re-read my depressing December ’15 column and considered offing myself) we’ve had some good late snow, unseasonable winter rain and what I hope is the onset of the spring rains proper. I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again but I think that this season is going to be a cracker. The only trouble is that I’m nothing if not consistent; I’ve left my planning to the last minute. 

The season kick-off is a boys’ weekend in the midlands. 10 of us will be dossing down in the old Research Centre above the indentations in the ground that were once the Kamberg Trout Hatchery and will, conditions permitting of course, be pestering the neighbourhood browns for a few days. Friends, fires, cold beer, a stream within 20m of my pillow and wild-spawned brown trout. I am indeed a rich man. 
I’m probably hyping up this opening weekend thing beyond any reasonable expectation. Opening weekends, to not put too fine a point on it, suck. Generally the water is too low, too clear and the inevitable last-minute front always blows in from the Cape to add frigid, aluminium-grey skies to the mix. 
Last season was no different. My ever-patient wife and I spent the weekend in the Midlands and while she was at the spa I met up with a recently acquired friend to test the Mooi. It was to have been the Upper Bushmans but the minute I met him at the appointed spot I realized my serious error of judgement. My friend, you see, lost a leg some time ago and while he mucks in and out-fishes the best of us (with a complete absence of self-indulgence that serves as a frequent and humbling lesson to me) climbing in and out of that particular valley would have been simply unkind. It didn’t bother me to change locations as he is the sort that is easy to spend time with regardless of where you’re doing it.

We drove about the neighbourhood and checked the condition of various haunts of interest and finally cast a disconsolate line above the old hatchery. We raised nothing but goosebumps and wind knots in the near freezing conditions, but on the way home we spotted two good fish rising happily in Poachers Pool on Riverside Farm (if you can think of a more appropriate name let me know). 

Now farmers are known to be a cunning lot and are given to ruminating for extended periods over a problem with a pipe clenched in their jowls and one shoulder against a gate post. 

Our host (unaware as he initially was of this designation) had fairly solved the problem of ‘Poachers Pool’ sometime in the closed season. While I was extracting my back cast from his barbed wire poaching solution he arrived with a “what do you think you’re doing” and I responded with a “don’t shoot, I have children” while my mate stood frozen to the spot.

That I received neither a firm agricultural klap nor a bullet wound is not the most surprising part of the day. Suspend your disbelief as I relate this – we actually received an invitation back. 

And that’s the thing with opening weekends. 

You just can’t tell. 

That I’ve done no preparation for this year’s opener is starting to prick at my nerves. I get daily messages and calls from what appear to be nine obsessive-compulsives regarding tackle choice, fly selections, directions to the reserve and – in one notable instance – whether there’s going to be clean towels, hot water and soap. Honestly, I have bigger things to worry about. Three weight. Floating line. Zak. Adams. Google maps. Are you planning on delivering a baby? Seriously, I have much, much bigger things than that to worry about. 

Like my upcoming trip to New Zealand, for example. 

This trip is filling me with such anxiety that I find myself pacing the floor in the dead of night when all reasonable people with clear consciences have been asleep for hours. It’s not that I haven’t done anything at all about it though – in a rare moment of preparatory foresight I googled “NZ spring fly patterns”. 

I wish I hadn’t have done that. 

Using a crude blend of arcane sciences, modern algorithmic statistical analysis, blind guesswork, recommendations from home and abroad, random probability generation, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and something that I like to call the “jeez, that looks cool” method of fly selection I narrowed my fly list to 41 unique patterns. 

41 patterns are not a lot. But some have hotspots or flashbacks. So let’s call it 58 patterns. Some are nymphs and you’re going to want them in at least three different weights. You’re going to need at least 3 sizes of each. Dries, obviously, also have small variations. Ants can be red or black, winged or flightless, etc. This brings the tally to 88 variations. 

Pause a second and do the maths. 88x3x3=792 flies. Ok, that’s steep, but I have two months to get them done. Considering 40 tying days over that period I need to tie around 20 flies a day. It’s not impossible, I’ve been telling myself, provided that I tie systematically and don’t mess about. 

Like an anvil dropped from a cliff settles gracefully onto the mirrored surface of an alpine lake the realisation has just struck me that my calculation of the ties that I need to tie is missing an important component – I need more than one of each fly.

Assuming a total of eight of each variant is required I need to tie 160 flies per session.

What was the line from Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living or get busy tying”?

Something like that.